Three weeks and counting on the Kobe beat
In a slightly more profound way than “just wanna sell papers,” we at the Daily should thank the sheriff for jumping the gun with Kobe Bryant.
The decision of when to report on the investigation would have gotten very interesting by week three if Joe Hoy hadn’t had the NBA star fly back and get booked into jail in secret on the Fourth of July. The District Attorney’s Office wasn’t too appreciative of the stunt, and still isn’t, since the sexual assault investigation had not progressed to the point of deciding on charges yet.
But it sure cleared the way for us, and every other news outfit from Los Angeles to New York, in predictable “all Kobe all the time” fashion ever since.
I recall being angry in that petty press way at the Friday surprise when we understood that nothing would happen until after the Independence Day weekend.
No report from the Sheriff’s Office on Saturday or Sunday to our police reporter about the biggest arrest in Eagle County’s history. Then with an unceremonious fax Sunday night, and a report from The Associated Press, the frenzy was set in motion. Only rookies go out of their way to blow off their local paper. We alone aren’t leaving when the circus departs town.
Fibbing to the local paper’s editor doesn’t go very far, either. It wasn’t much, a Columbo moment of pretending to have never heard of Kobe Bryant soon after authorizing the arrest warrant for him. I know from 16-17 years now that sources can lie. First time a sheriff did, though, and I’ve known a few under tougher circumstances than this for their departments. I’ll get over it, but I know better than to trust the guy again. Too bad.
We recovered well, I thought. Assistant Editor Randy Wyrick, who opened the Kobe beat the same day the young woman reported the incident, had his cell phone handy in case the district attorney called with news that weekend. Turned out Mark Hurlbert didn’t know what the sheriff was up to, either. Boy, one thing to hide something from the editor. Quite another when it’s the DA.
But Wyrick had enough to turn in a strong report. And the chase was on. Thanks to Cindy and Amy Ramunno, along with some home-court advantage, he had the jump on the bigtime press. Cindy, daughter of the mayor and a correspondent for the Daily and Enterprise, has a lifetime of contacts in Eagle. Same with Amy, home from college where she is studying journalism. Amy has the other advantage of being in the same generation as the victim in the case and her peers.
Wyrick, an old UPI wire service guy, has his own long list of sources culled from covering this county for the better part of the past two decades, and he’s lived in Eagle for nearly 10 years.
So we were well positioned for a story such as this, with authorities going tight-lipped when they weren’t trying to BS the media – and by extension the public, I should add. The victim just happened to be an Eagle resident, and the events happened at the Lodge at Cordillera, where we know some of the folks who work there, though they couldn’t tell us much.
So Wyrick and the Ramunnos were able to break much of the news about the case each day for the past two weeks while our big city brethren reported some nonsense (a commotion? not) and Randy had a passel of new best friends, growing with each visit to the Justice Center.
Yes, we extended ourselves to announce a news cycle early that the DA planned to charge Bryant with sexual assault Friday afternoon. That infuriated some Kobe Bryant fans who were sure we were just making it up.
We’ve worked hard on oft-times wild leads dealing with the case, trying to track them to truly reliable sources. The process has frustrated all of us greatly – on a nightly basis – as what we thought we had washed out on closer vetting. The mantra has been “we have to be right.” No “heard from someone who heard from someone …” kind of stuff. Has to be documents and sources we know to be true.
Sounds high and noble enough, doesn’t it? Try holding that thought knowing that every big leaguer in our field is on the same trail. We have to get the story, ideally first as well as best, and we have to refrain from going too far even if the others don’t. This has been the nightly high wire running against our midnight deadlines, sometimes right up to the minute.
Along the way Wryick and the Ramunnos earned well-deserved praise, but we also took heat. I refused to run a story about an investigation that first week. Why? There are lots of investigations into all kinds of wild things, and this was no different. I felt, strongly, that it had to amount to something before I’d let us go smearing a star’s (or anyone’s) good name or bringing a nation’s attention on a 19-year-old girl.
How long, though, before we’d report on an investigation with no arrest or charges? Good question. My thanks to the sheriff for not making us have to answer that one.
So why break the story of charges to come? Because that one we knew.
Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or email@example.com