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Thoughts on Kobe Bryant coverage

Monday 1/27/20

I read this morning about how a Washington Post writer was attacked by a lot of people--verbally attacked, in terms of emails--after tweeting yesterday, shortly after the news of Kobe Bryant's death, about his alleged rape in Colorado. She did this via a link to a piece, was quickly "ratioed," as they say (while saying she did not write the piece, which was really not the point, as she knew; so passive aggressive and Janus-faced), made a few other tweets about the nasty comments and threats she was receiving, adding, not incorrectly, I don't think, that this speaks to why people would be hesitant to come forward when something does happen to them--an attack, a sexual assault, a rape--when their accuser has money, power, fame. What she said was well said.


How well she said what she said does not seem the point to me. The point, as in her intention, was to create attention for herself. I want to be very careful with my language here. I don't know what Kobe Bryant did or did not do in Colorado. I also know that the findings of the judicial system can be very misleading. A lawyer will tell you, "You don't want to be in the system," because what can happen in the system is not necessarily an indication of any justice. Was Kobe Bryant a rapist? I have no idea. It would not surprise me, it would not not surprise me. If he was cleared in a court, that would not mean to me that he was not a rapist. Legal (and civil court) exculpation and exculpation in reality are sometimes two very different things. It could also mean that someone else had great trauma, was intimidated in many ways, by many people, and she wanted to be done with it, and not be destroyed, who was also offered money that could help in their life, help their family. Exoneration, in my view, is something more complicated, often, than the law or what a judge or jury says. People are used to various levels of stress in their life, too. They are not used to day in, day out, trauma. I live with trauma. I don't have a trauma-free moment. I live in constant anxiety, fear. I throw up every day, I have panic attacks every day. It's not something you can endure indefinitely. It can be very hard to endure at all. Any way out can seem like the way to go, even if you are never completely free. Trauma is like the carbon in fossils; there are always elements of it.


But I also know this. The Washington Post writer had previously tweeted about the deaths of people who are worse than Kobe Bryant, even if he did what he was alleged to do in Colorado. People who murdered thousands of people. And she put out these tweets as though these were decent men, or, at least, if the whole murdering-of-thousands thing was an afterthought, bore no mentioning.


When you are that inconsistent--which is the charitable word; hypocritical is perhaps the more accurate one--I have a pretty good idea of your motivation. When you put out a tweet mere moments after the tragic death of someone--which involved their kid, and other people, other young people--I know what you are trying to do. When the inevitable response happens, which is in part what the person wants, they can do the victim thing. And yes, they are a victim of people saying awful, heinous, twisted, frightening things. But they also courted that, all for the attention, and the attention is a two-fold outcome. They don't just want attention the once; they want it two ways. It has to be about them, even when we, as a country, as a people, as individuals, ought to be feeling our own mortality, for here is a potent reminder, a whole lot of cold water to the face. And I understand that many of us have that on a given day, if we are sick, if we have sick loved ones, if we are marking a sad anniversary, or no longer want to live and feel our grasp on humanity slipping away (as I feel myself, and it is terrifying). But that's not most people on most days. And yesterday was a day when most people, I think, felt something at the same time about mortality.


She said, correctly, that when we tell the story of a person's life, we should tell the whole story. I wonder if Americans can handle the whole story of anyone's life without trying to destroy them after the fact. Because every person you look up to, every filmmaker, musician, sports person, writer, artist, has a lot of things in their history that are far worse than what we see people have their lives ended over every day. You just don't know it, because you don't take the time to learn. Read a biography of Abraham Lincoln. John Lennon. Picasso. Anyone.


Here is how I would look at this. When a person dies tragically, and it is that very day, leave it go for a bit. The telling of the whole life (especially matters of two decades ago). Because it's more than about that person who died. It's about the people who are processing shock, their own grief. That takes a little time. Let them have that time at first--certainly for a day, the very day. Obviously this happened to Kobe Bryant, his young child, and his family, but in other ways it happens to other people, too. It's jarring. If you are like me and you saw the standard political whinging yesterday over the course of the rest of the day (I am increasingly convinced that there is a direct connection between mental illness and proclivity to post about politics on Twitter and Facebook), you were just so put off by it, so fatigued by it, you wanted to say, "Jesus H. Christ, for one moment can we stop the baloney." You just want to get through the day, absorb the shock. It's not just the shock of this particular famous person dying. It's the reminder of mortality. It hits, it hits home. Or it should. The tweet I am talking about was an affront to the grieving process. That's why it was so poorly received. A lot in life is a matter of timing. It's not always a matter of what we are saying being correct--it's a matter, also, of when we say it.


What I did yesterday is I texted Emma, and I mentioned being safe, saying we live in a city, it is easy to become distracted, to make sure she looks both ways multiple times when she crosses the street. Later, when I see her in person, because this is more in-person stuff, I will say something to her about how if she ever feels unsafe, or if someone--anyone--has done anything to her, to say something to the people who care about her, no matter how scared or embarrassed or whatever she might feel--and it's okay to feel anything--because those people are going to help her, and help keep her safe, just as she should help her friends, the people she cares about, her fellow humans, safe in the same way, keep an eye out for them, too. If someone did something to her, and she thought they had power over her, authority, what have you, to never lose sight of the fact that people love her, and they are going to help her be okay, no matter how scared she might feel. And you always speak up--you don't just let someone hurt you. [EDIT: Spoke to Emma about this.]