Another fable about how image is truly nothing
We called him Dudley Do Right in our newsroom at a little weekly newspaper in a saw mill Sierra Nevada town an hour or so north of Lake Tahoe.
He was the every-hair-in-place California Highway Patrol officer who served as media contact, local DARE program coordinator, if I recall correctly, and friendliest face down at the patrol headquarters.
He was also a proud born-again Christian, married and father of two well-behaved children. He often brought us information about his church’s doings.
Talk about a fellow with a squeaky clean image. And he was a very polite, likable guy despite coming across as so damn perfectly good.
So the news fell hard that our favorite CHP officer had a wild double life, exposed after he handed one of his girlfriends his service revolver after midnight on a deserted Main Street and asked her to shoot him.
Following the story became my job. Our press attorney opened the CHP files to me. I attended the administrative hearings of the officer’s case. His poor wife, glaring with a most uncharitable hatred, handed over my paychecks down at the bank every other Friday.
The town really didn’t want to hear the sordid tale about relationships with women he met on duty, illegal drugs he allegedly took pains not to see, a female motorist who caught him looking into her home through binoculars a day or two after pulling her over on the freeway. More than a few folks asserted I was just making it all up, even though I was reporting from hearings, documents and sadly disturbing interviews with the poor people living that particular nightmare.
Image dies hard.
I grew up with the Los Angeles Lakers, played high school basketball in suburban LA, and have followed the team closely ever since. It’s fair to say I’m a fan of Kobe Bryant the player, and I’m well aware of his squeaky clean image. But as an LA kid, I also know O.J. Simpson had a wonderful image for a long time, too.
Sure I was dumbfounded when our assistant editor, Randy Wyrick, told me he’d just taken a call suggesting Bryant was being investigated for sexually assaulting a local woman the previous night. No way. This guy seems too bright, too motivated, too in love with his wife and baby to be capable of such despicable behavior.
But two things: Business is business, and our business is to check out such reports no matter how strange they seem, and we get a lot of them. The other is this work teaches you quickly that people you think you know are capable of completely surprising you in the best and worst possible ways. Bleak cynicism is an occupational hazard for journalists.
So now Kobe is not a basketball player but a suspect. We’ll see soon enough whether he has to answer to the People of Colorado in addition to his wife for whatever happened June 30 in the Lodge at Cordillera.
If he committed a criminal atrocity, a “merely” moral sin or this is somehow just a big misunderstanding as millions of his fans obviously hope, the consequence should fit the offense. Obviously.
The investigators and prosecutors have the most difficult job of sorting all this out, coldly deciding where the facts leave them in terms of whether there’s a case that can hold charges and which charges are appropriate, if any. Their own brush with celebrityhood, PC politics, pressure from us press types and their rivalries with each other are all sideshow dramas that have intruded too far into the case already. What does the DA have in fact that he can prove in court?
Bryant’s basketball talents mean little in this arena, and the sheriff’s checkers match has little place in the decisions that are the district attorney’s to make.
The game does not trump reality. Image is really nothing. The wonder is how we think we understand our celebrities so well when we barely know our neighbors.