TMZ and the Ethical Implications of Kobe Bryant’s Death

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Aidan Rich, Copy Editor

The day was January 25th, 2020, a normal Sunday that changed the face of sports culture within a matter of seconds. That afternoon, millions of Americans opened various social media sites to see a headline report that read: “BREAKING: Kobe Bryant dead in helicopter crash.”

The news was broken by tabloid news site TMZ. No other information was offered at that time, which made the story suspicious. However, over the course of the next few hours, more information was revealed regarding this helicopter crash, including the names of the other eight victims.

Using social media, many questioned the validity of the breaking story when it was first reported. As details began to trickle in, so did prayers and tributes for Bryant and his daughter Gianna, as well as for the rest of their family. That night, NBA players took intentional 24 second shot clock violations and eight second backcourt violations to honor Bryant’s jersey numbers. Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, announced that his team would retire the number in tribute of Bryant’s talent and influence on the game. 

In the midst of this, others began to question whether TMZ had done that right thing by reporting on the death of a celebrity without proper details and before authorities had a chance to inform the Bryant family of the situation. 

The controversy only grew in publicity as time went on. In the following days, “#CancelTMZ” trended on Twitter. One man even created a petition on for TMZ to be shut down by its parent company, Fox. Over 600,000 people signed in favor of this course of action. Jeremie Gasirabo, the creator of the petition, felt passionately that TMZ had caused incredible distress to the Bryant family by breaking the news prior to being alerted by the proper authorities. One specific Twitter user, who goes by the handle Positivitea, sympathized with the Gasirabo and the Bryant family, saying, “Imagine having to find out such devastating news from TMZ or your social media being filled with ‘rip’ comments before you even knew.”

Similar issues have plagued TMZ for a long time. In 2018, the site falsely reported on a domestic violence case involving lawyer Michael Avenetti, who, at the time, was representing Stormy Daniels in her coverup case against President Trump. TMZ also commonly faces issues that parallel those of the paparazzi. They intercept celebrities, primarily musicians, for interviews in candid and unsuspecting environments. Some of these celebrities, including Kanye West, have been vocal in their discomfort with this practice. 

TMZ’s reliability issues are a major problem in current mainstream media, especially for a reader who only wants to hear the facts. When asked about what he looks for in a reliable news source, Pentucket Senior Ethan Paszko stated, “Usually, I look for sources that show the entire story rather than sources that use bits of the story and take them out of context.”

TMZ and other tabloid sites and magazines operate on the basis of purely sales, meaning they will do whatever it takes to sell copies of stories and therefore make more money for themselves. When checking out at the grocery store, one may see a rack of magazines with catchy titles and bright colors that are about the latest celebrity gossip. They draw you in with the eye-catching appearance and recognizable names. 

In most cases, these magazines do not care about the information; they only care about the money. Pentucket Senior Kendall Begin pointed out how “most of the stories are clearly made up” to sell copies. Misinformation is a media sin, and this is a sad reality within the media, but it will continue to persist despite its lack of ethics. 

As for the Bryant family, their grievances have been felt worldwide. Losing multiple family members is hard enough, but continued media coverage puts pressure on the Bryant’s. TMZ’s actions serve as a lesson for everyone: what you write can have a profound effect on someone, whether or not you expect it to.