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Media Slammed for Poor Judgement and Misreporting in Coverage of Kobe Bryant’s Death

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  • NBA superstar Kobe Bryant died at the age of 41 Sunday morning, alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others who were killed in a Calabasas, California helicopter crash.
  • L.A. authorities specifically condemned TMZ for breaking the story before the victims’ families had been notified.
  • Other outlets faced public criticism for their errors, like ABC News which incorrectly said all four of Bryant’s children had died, ESPN which reported that one of the victims was retired NBA player Rick Fox, and the BBC which mistakenly used footage of Lebron James instead of Bryant.
  • An MSNBC reporter also faced backlash for appearing to say the n-word when covering the story, though she later apologized and explained that she stuttered on-air, combining the names of the Knicks and the Lakers to say “Nakers.”

TMZ Reports Kobe Bryant’s Death

Minutes after Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash, TMZ was already reporting the death of Kobe Bryant.

TMZ’s coverage—along with coverage by various other outlets—sparked a national debate over how to handle celebrity deaths, especially as they break. 

Bryant’s death was first reported by TMZ before authorities were able to fully contact the victims’ next of kin. From there, the story propagated on other major media outlets like ABC, the BBC, and ESPN.

At a press conference Sunday, Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva criticized TMZ directly for leaking the information so soon. 

“There is wide speculation of who the identities are,” he said, “however, it would be entirely inappropriate to identify anyone by name until the coroner has made the identification through their very deliberative process, and they’ve made notifications to next-of-kin. And it would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one was perished and that you learned about it from TMZ. That is just wholly inappropriate, so we’re not going to be going there.”

Later, Los Angeles Undersheriff Tim Murakami issued a similar statement on Twitter, though he stopped short of naming TMZ directly.

“I am saddened that I was gathering facts as a media outlet reported the Kobe had passed,” Murakami said. “I understand getting the scoop but please allow us time to make personal notifications to their loved ones. It’s very cold to hear of the loss via media. Breaks my heart.”

Bryant is not the first celebrity death TMZ has broken, a trait the celebrity gossip site is known for. In 2009, it first reported that Michael Jackson had died. In 2012, it broke the story that Whitney Houston had died and in 2016, it also broke the news of Prince’s death.

On social media, the hashtag #BoycottTMZ trended, with many users saying the site exploited his death to break the story.

ABC, ESPN, and BBC Slammed

TMZ isn’t the only news organization being criticized for its coverage of Kobe’s death. In the first few hours following Bryant’s death, reports were highly varied.

During early coverage, ABC News reporter Matt Gutman reported that it was believed all four of Kobe’s daughters were aboard the helicopter and had been killed. That then led to a number of ABC affiliates reporting the same information. In reality, neither Bryant’s wife Vanessa nor his other three daughters were on the helicopter.

At the same time, you had ESPN reported that one of the victims was Rick Fox, a former player for the Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers. Fox, however, was not on the flight and was later confirmed alive by an NBA reporter on Sunday. 

The BBC also caught major criticism during its airing of an obituary segment for Bryant where it mistakenly used footage of Lebron James, who is still very much alive. That footage included direct shots of James’ “23” jersey with his name on the back. 

MSNBC Anchor and Buttigieg Criticized

MSNBC’s Alison Morris—while not criticized for misreporting—was accused of dropping the n-word when talking about Bryant’s death. 

Morris later took to Twitter to clarify her comment, which said she was a stutter between trying to say “Knicks” and “Lakers.”

“Earlier today, while reporting on the tragic news of Kobe Bryant’s passing, I unfortunately stuttered on air, combining the names of the Knicks and the Lakers to say “Nakers.” Please know I did not & would NEVER use a racist term. I apologize for the confusion this caused.”

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg also came under fire for insinuating Bryant was a football player while on Fox News.

“Our lives are often touched by people we never even meet, and there are millions of people, not just in Los Angeles but around the world,” Buttigieg said. “Right now, mourning because they were inspired by what he did he did on the field, what he meant off the field.”

However, in an earlier interview, Buttigieg used the term “court.” On Twitter, he also used the term “court.”

What Do We Know So Far?

While a preliminary report likely won’t be published for another month and a full report likely won’t come until next year, many details surrounding the crash are still being learned. 

During their initial reports Sunday morning, many media outlets said five people—including Bryant and his daughter—had been killed; however, Sheriff Villaneuva later revealed that nine people had been aboard the aircraft when it went down. 

“There were no survivors,” he said. “We have a manifest that indicates that there was nine people onboard the aircraft. The pilot plus eight individuals.”

Victims include Bryant, his daughter, college baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, elementary school basketball coach Christina Mauser, a parent named Sarah Chester and her daughter Peyton, and pilot Ara Zobayan.

The helicopter reportedly took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County just after 9 a.m. It passed over Boyle Heights and near Dodger stadium. It then circled Glendale, and it was on its way to Kobe’s Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks for a basketball game. Just before 10 a.m., the craft then crashed onto a hillside in Calabasas.

The helicopter itself was a Sikorsky S-76B model, which has been manufactured since the 1970s. Bryant specific helicopter had been in operation since 1991. It was outfitted with twin turboshaft engines and contained room for 12 passengers and two crew members. 

Bryant reportedly began using the helicopter as a way to beat L.A. traffic and spend more time with his children. Since his death, a clip of Bryant explaining his decision on The Corp has circulated on social media. 

Bryant was also known for offering his helicopter to help his teammates make doctors’ appointments.

What Will the Investigation Look Into?

As for the investigation, many Angelenos took notice of a thick fog encompassing the region Sunday morning; however, it is wholly unknown if this caused or even played into the helicopter’s crash. 

Despite that, on Sunday prior to the crash, L.A. police and the sheriff’s departments did deem the fog hazardous enough to ground their helicopters. Reports Monday morning indicated that Bryant’s pilot had given special permission to fly in the fog. 

Fog by itself does not mean that a pilot cannot fly a helicopter. Instead, helicopters need to be equipped with specialized instruments that help pilots fly in those conditions. If not using those instruments, a pilot would only be able to use what’s known as VFR — right, visual flight rules. Pilots can request special clearance in inclement conditions to use VFR if a pilot is rated high enough to not fly only by instruments.

According to the LATimes, an audio recording between the pilot and air traffic controllers suggests that indicates the helicopter was using VFR because the pilot told a controller he was “in VFR at 1,500″ feet. The newspaper, however, also noted that none of this has been confirmed yet. 

Regardless of whether or not fog was the culprit, it is expected to play a factor in the official investigation.

That investigation will also look into if there were mechanical problems aboard the helicopter, though it’s extremely rare for Sikorsky S-76B’s to experience twin-engine failure. From 2006-2016, the model saw the lowest number of fatal crashes among all of the major civilian helicopters in the country.

It is likely possible that both the weather and some form of mechanical failure took place, causing the chopper to plummet, but any official cause will likely not be known for some time. 

Fans and Friends Remember Kobe

Following news of Bryant’s death, many fans and friends mourned the loss of the NBA superstar, with many in L.A. saying he perfectly represented the spirit of the city. 

Perhaps one of the most memorable responses came from footage showing the Lakers returning to the city, where Lebron James can be visibly seen tearing up. The team reportedly learned about the crash on their flight back to LA. 

Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan also lamented the loss of Bryant. 

“Words can’t describe the pain I am feeling,” Jordan said. “I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force.”

Major politicians such as President Donald Trump and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama also issued statements via Twitter. 

Throughout Sunday, many fans gathered around the Staples Center where the Lakers play. Bryant also saw more tributes at the Staples Center later that night when stars like Alicia Keys, Aerosmith, Lizzo, and Lil Nas X all honored him at the Grammys.

In Philadelphia, people have set up a memorial in front of the Kobe Bryant Gymnasium at Bryant’s high school.

At the same time, there have been multiple reports of fans rushing to the crash site to set up a memorial. The traffic became so heavy that authorities shut down roads leading to the hillside where the helicopter crashed after that traffic made it harder for emergency personnel to perform their jobs.

That disturbance also risked contaminating the crash site as investigators work to both preserve and examine the scene to determine what caused the helicopter to go down.

Bryant’s 2003 Rape Allegation

While millions mourn Bryant’s death, others have used this as an opportunity to reminded people of Bryant’s 2003 sexual assault allegation, when a then-19-year-old hotel employee accused him of raping her. That case was later dropped because the accuser refused to testify in court. The accuser then settled privately with Bryant.

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual,” Bryant admitted in 2004, “I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”

People like Evan Rachel Wood noted the tragedy of the situation but also refused to shy away from addressing the accusation.

“What has happened is tragic,” she said on Twitter. “I am heartbroken for Kobe’s family. He was a sports hero. He was also a rapist. And all of these truths can exist simultaneously.”

Additionally, Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez tweeted a Daily Beast link to a 2016 article titled: “Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case.” Sonmez later tweeted that she had received over 10,000 abuse and death threats after posting the link.

Source: @feliciasonmez

As of Monday, her tweets on Bryant have all been deleted and she has reportedly been suspended by the Post.

However, many were frustrated by those bringing up the rape case at such a sensitive time, including Comedian Corrine Fisher, who offered her take on the matter. 

“MY REPLY WHEN YOU TELL ME KOBE IS A RAPIST: ‘I know. We all fucking know. You think I don’t know? I fucking know. Go away,’” she said on Twitter. “Welp, he’s dead at 41 AND his 13 yr old daughter is dead. They crashed in a helicopter & burst into flames. Is that the justice you wanted you monsters?”

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (The Los Angeles Times) (NBC News)

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Why This Japanese Politician Taking Paternity Leave Is A Major Culture Shock

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Shinjiro Koizumi, Japan’s Minister for the Environment and future prime minister hopeful, announced he will take a two-week paternity leave to care for his newborn son. Last year, when Koizumi announced he was considering taking leave, he was met with praise but also criticism, with some accusing him of not caring about his job. The negative reaction stems from Japan’s heavy emphasis on men in the workplace, one that expects those men to give extreme loyalty to their employers.

Despite common practice in the country, its law actually allows both men and women to take up to a full year off following the birth of a child; however, while many mothers take substantial child care leaves, only 6 percent of eligible fathers capitalize on the right out of fear that their employers will retaliate against them. The generous laws themselves were put in place to combat another issue Japan currently faces: rapidly shrinking birth rates. Koizumi’s choice represents a very public revolt, with Koizumi saying he hopes more men step forward to challenge the system. 

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At Least 60 Treated After Delta Jet Dumps Fuel Over LA Schools

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  • A Delta flight headed for Shanghai was ordered to return to LAX shortly after departure due to an engine issue. 
  • To reach a safe landing weight, the plane released jet fuel that showered over six LA schools, causing minor injuries to at least 60 students and adults. 
  • Though rare, fuel dumping typically happens at high altitudes or over an unpopulated area. 
  • Local officials are demanding answers and accountability and the Federal Aviation Administration is launching an investigation to understand why normal fuel dumping procedures were not followed. 

Dozens Treated for Injuries 

At least 60 people were treated for minor injuries on Tuesday after a Delta flight making an emergency return to Los Angeles International Airport dumped fuel over several local schools.  

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Unified School district confirmed that a low-flying plane discharged jet fuel around noon, however, the district could not confirm how many campuses were affected. Based on reports of injuries, it’s estimated that it was at least six. 

Approximately 20 schoolchildren and 11 adults from Park Avenue Elementary School were treated after they were exposed to fuel that rained on over a playground, according to LA County firefighters. 

In a statement, the district said, “Students and staff were on the playground at the time and may have been sprayed by fuel or inhaled fumes. Schools immediately called paramedics, who are on the scene and are treating anyone who is complaining of skin irritation or breathing problems.”

“Educators are also visiting every classroom to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students and staff,” it added. 

Several other students and adults treated were from San Gabriel Avenue Elementary and Tweedy Elementary in South Gate, Jordan High and 93rd Street Elementary in South Los Angeles and Graham Elementary in Inglewood. 

Many patients complained of skin and eye irritation but were treated with soap and water and were not taken to the hospital. Others also reported a strong toxic smell that lingered in neighborhoods, making it hard to breathe. 

Emergency Landing 

LAX officials said a Delta Boeing 777 on its way to Shanghai when it declared a mechanical emergency shortly after takeoff and was ordered to return to the airport. 

According to an online flight tracker, the plane turned around just 24 minutes after departure. 

None of the 149 passengers on board were injured and the aircraft landed safely after the release of fuel, which Delta said was “required as part of normal procedure to reach a safe landing weight.”

However, according to aviation safety experts, the move is rare and in most cases, it’s done over water or unpopulated areas at a high altitude so that the fuel can disperse and vaporize before reaching the ground. 

Delta released a statement about the incident acknowledging the impact it had, saying, “We are concerned about reports of impacts on the ground from the fuel release, and are in close communication with Delta and first responders as their investigators continue. We thank LA County Fire, the LA Fire Department and other responding agencies for their fast response and we are working to learn more.”

Locals Demand Investigation 

Residents and local officials have expressed anger over the incident, demanding answers and action. 

“Sadly, our entire community has been adversely impacted by this incident, including dozens of children,” Cudahy City Councilman Jack Guerrero said. “I am calling for a full federal investigation into the matter and expect full accountability from responsible parties.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the Federal Aviation Administration promised to investigate. 

“The FAA is thoroughly investigating the circumstances behind today’s incident involving a Delta Air Lines flight that was returning to Los Angeles International Airport,”  the agency said in a statement before acknowledging that the move was unusual.

“There are special fuel-dumping procedures for aircraft operating into and out of any major U.S. airport. These procedures call for fuel to be dumped over designated unpopulated areas, typically at higher altitudes so the fuel atomizes and disperses before it reaches the ground,” the agency added.

Health officials advise anyone who might have been hit by the jet fuel to shower, get rid of the clothing sprayed, and seek medical attention if symptoms persist.

See what others are saying: (CBS LA) (Los Angeles Times) (USA Today

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