The fairest course for all
Kobe Bryant’s sexual assault case lies at the epicenter of a tectonic clash in constitutional values. Here is where the rights of the free press and the public to know collide head-on with guarantees to a fair trial and the court’s right to limit information.
The backdrop is a community where rumor still runs faster than newsprint. And thanks to the Internet, anyone in the world with a computer can learn the name of the victim. The judge can change the trial venue, but to where? The Daily is getting e-mail from overseas now.
For the journalists, what’s the right course? Line up behind the authorities, report only bureaucratic processes and leave the story to the gossip line running from the local Texaco to Dublin? Run every fresh scrap? Some outfits saw the victim cracking a joke at a party three weeks after the incident worthy of reporting. Guess she’s violated some tenet in the rape victim’s little book of etiquette that we’ve misplaced somewhere.
A couple of Denver Post columnists Friday archly expressed their disdain for Kobe Bryant coverage, while we understand that paper has no less than six reporters working the story. Yeah, you can say the journalists are conflicted.
A nightmare for the regular press is that documents and first-hand reports exist that are relevant and are facts in the life of Kobe Bryant’s young accuser. That’s mixed in with the pile of salacious nonsense gleaned from third-hand gossip.
The press response to this challenge has ranged from holding noses and refusing to touch the case outside the bureaucracy to providing sound bites and taking quotes from people with no knowledge or insight whatsoever.
The Daily’s approach has been to pursue all the leads that might be relevant back to first-hand sources or documents we trust as reliable, then decide what fits and what doesn’t. Party talk three weeks later didn’t make the cut; the overdose incidents did.
We’ve missed scoops because we hadn’t yet tracked tips to first-hand, and we’ve broken news that might reflect unfavorably on Bryant one day and the alleged victim the next, after evaluating the information and the sources as carefully we could. The mantra is that we have to be right. Time will tell if we’ve lived up to that.
Our role is not the same as the court’s. The court can fault the press for running too much sketchy material. But the court can likewise be faulted for keeping too much secret and setting up an environment where rumor prevails. It’s harder to contaminate the jury pool with accurate information.
These are tough, close calls. But we think the Founding Fathers intended for the press to report. So we’ll do our job. The fairest course for all is the truth.