Tabs gang up on Kobe’s accuser
“Do you think she’s innocent?” That’s the most common question I’m asked about Lilly Fuller (a pseudonym used to protect her identity), the alleged victim in the Kobe Bryant case.
I often have to remind people that Fuller isn’t the one who is on trial. Bryant is.
The question never comes as a surprise, however. Thanks to a number of pretrial motions filed by Bryant’s lawyers, coupled with tabloid spin, Fuller has been introduced to America as a deceptive, promiscuous young woman out for attention and financial gain.
Despite the tall tales spun by Bryant’s lawyers and dazzling publications such as the Globe and National Enquirer, nothing could be further from the truth.
For several months Bryant’s lawyers, Hal Haddon and Pamela Mackey, have made suggestive statements in court and filed a series of motions that imply Fuller is a promiscuous, mentally unstable young woman who is framing Bryant to get attention from her former boyfriend.
Prosecutors say that’s false. The consensus in the Eagle County law-enforcement community is that Bryant’s lawyers are trying to persecute Fuller in pretrial motions before they’re constrained by stricter guidelines later.
The accusations have served as the inspiration for a number of tabloid stories, all of which are dedicated to exploiting the reputation of Fuller.
In the process, the tabloids have revealed Fuller’s real identity and opened her up to a number of death threats, which have resulted in federal prosecution.
I’ve kept nearly every supermarket tabloid story since this case began, and of the numerous stories that have featured the Bryant case, almost none of them shine a light on the admired NBA superstar.
No such luck for celebrity clients Robert Blake, Michael Jackson and Martha Stewart – the tabs scourged them. Even former Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., who was never formally charged with any crime, found himself accused of murder outright by the tabloids and their so-called sources.
Instead of pursuing Bryant, the tabloids have devoted countless hours to stalking the alleged victim, revealing her private locations and personal relationships. As a result, the 19-year-old has had to abandon her studies at school and spend most of her days in hiding. Fuller had to quit her last job in Florida when, after two days of working there, a Globe reporter showed up to interrogate her.
Later, when she arrived at her apartment, she was astonished to find the reporter waiting for her inside. Apparently her apartment manager let him in.
Less than one year ago, Fuller was an anonymous college student hoping to develop a career in music performance. Today, she can’t walk down the street without checking her back for a tabloid reporter, Bryant investigator or random stalker.
Although all six supermarket tabloids appear to be competitive with one another, they’re all owned by American Media (the National Enquirer, Star and Weekly World News), which bought out Globe Communications (the Examiner, Globe and Sun) in 1999.
American Media is partially owned by a New York-based holding company called Evercore Partners Inc., run by one-time Whitewater figure Roger Altman, who served as President Jimmy Carter’s assistant treasury secretary and President Bill Clinton’s deputy treasury secretary. Altman resigned from the Clinton administration in 1994 after he delivered what has been termed “inaccurate” testimony to the Senate Banking Committee.
Altman, 53, has a history of brokering brilliant mergers. In 1995, he served as the lead adviser in Westinghouse Electric Corp.’s acquisition of CBS. In 1999 Altman served as the principal adviser to CBS in its $37.3 billion merger with Viacom Inc. Ultimately, the merger was approved, and Altman received $10 million for his services. That same year, Altman’s company acquired the American Media empire, controlling the nation’s tabloid news, which boasts a weekly audience of several million. The company now reports annual earnings of $118.3 million.
Before the merger, when I was a cub reporter for the Globe on the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, I learned a great deal about John Ramsey’s lead attorney, Hal Haddon, who now represents Bryant. Haddon, who ran Sen. Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in 1988, likely would have become the nation’s attorney general had his candidate been elected. Since then, Haddon has represented a cast of interesting clients ranging from esoteric author Hunter S. Thompson to Rockwell International Inc., a company that the Justice Department charged with numerous environmental crimes at the Rocky Flats nuclear site.
Around the same time that Altman testified about the Whitewater investigation in 1993, the commission had ordered President Clinton to turn over his income-tax returns. When the commission finally received the returns, they were released by Haddon’s law firm in Denver. Haddon, who specializes in criminal-defense work but does no known tax consulting, apparently represented one of the president’s accountants. Although Haddon never represented the president himself, David Kendall, one of his well-known professional acquaintances, did. Ironically, Kendall’s law firm, Williams & Connolly, also represents the National Enquirer.
The tabloids’ treatment of Lilly Fuller seems to mirror that of previous female witnesses such as Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones. During Kenneth Starr’s investigation of Clinton, I noticed that the National Enquirer and even my own tabloid rarely attacked the president. They did take a virulent interest in the women who testified against him.
During my time as a Globe reporter I was given special access to the Clinton White House, where I used to work as an intern. Ironically, my internship in Clinton’s administration overlapped that of Lewinsky’s in the spring of 1996. Many staffers hinted that Lewinsky’s charges were true. To my surprise, however, my editors declined to continue investigating some of the more damaging leads we had uncovered because the owner at that time, Michael Rosenbloom, was a Clinton admirer. Instead I was ordered to focus on destroying Lewinsky’s credibility.
Later, when I suggested the idea of investigating Starr, my editors declined, since Starr had once represented the tobacco industry, a primary source of advertising revenue for the tabloids. I quickly realized to what extent politics and advertising influenced editorial decisions for the tabloids and how they wielded their power over public opinion.
In the tabloid industry, some celebrities and national figures are granted immunity from humiliation and exposure. Politics, financial connections and even the exchange of information about other celebrities all can buy a taste of freedom for people whose reputations are held captive by the tabloids. Celebrities and political officials granted this special protection are sometimes called “untouchables.”
Since the Bryant case began, nearly every story published by the American Media empire has focused on destroying Fuller’s reputation. None of the tabloids hesitates to stalk, intimidate and defame a 19-year-old woman who lacks the political connections, power and resources to fight back.
Meanwhile, Bryant, shielded in a multimillion dollar Newport Beach, Calif., mansion, has not received the same maltreatment. Perhaps he’s been granted the immunity enjoyed by other national figures who have something to offer in return, or perhaps the tabloids just know what people want to hear.
After all, it’s every tabloid’s job to sell copies. No one wants to see Bryant get convicted, because he’s the good guy, the spectacular NBA star who even Shaquille O’Neal once termed “the best player in the league … by far.” No one wants to believe that Bryant is guilty. With a little bit of help from Bryant’s dream team and the supermarket-tabloid industry, maybe nobody ever will.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is an investigative journalist who worked for the Globe tabloid from 1997 to 1999 until he reported his editors to the FBI for criminal violations. He is the author of “Kobe Bryant: The Game of His Life” and reports on the story regularly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org