Sunday’s heartbreaking news about Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others dying in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California is among the most tragic sports stories we have covered. The news was nothing short of shocking, and it spread throughout the world instantaneously. Unfortunately, the confluence of widespread interest in the matter, uncertainty over what happened, and the irresponsible actions of some reporters, resulted in misinformation, rumors and inaccuracies spreading.
From the moment TMZ reported that Kobe Bryant had died in the helicopter crash, incorrect information spread, which is not unusual as a story of this magnitude unfolds. To start, TMZ wrote in its original report that Bryant was survived by wife Vanessa and his four daughters. This turned out to be incorrect, as we later learned that Bryant’s second-oldest daughter, Gianna, also died.
TMZ also said five people died in the crash. So did the LA County Sheriff’s office.
Avoid the area until further notice.
— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) January 26, 2020
The county sheriff’s office later told the public nine people died — the pilot and eight passengers.
Larry Brown Sports included both pieces of information in our original story — that Bryant was survived by his wife and daughters — and that five people died. We take responsibility for sharing this information that later turned out to be incorrect, though we believe both were trusted sources — especially an official authority like the county sheriff.
Another major issue was watching reporters trying to figure out in real-time who had died in the crash.
ABC reporter Matt Gutman said on live TV that all four of Kobe’s daughters were believed to be on the helicopter and dead.
This is absolutely horrific, ABC now saying all four of Kobe’s Children on board… pic.twitter.com/bSmh8yXVKv
— Matt Couch 🎙 (@RealMattCouch) January 26, 2020
Gutman did not state that as an official report, nor did he cite where the belief came from, and no other outlets confirmed the report at the time. Other outlets like TMZ and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed that only Gianna had died.
The story was of too great importance and Gutman was on too large of a stage to pass along something so significant in such a casual manner. But video from Gutman’s report spread throughout Twitter, causing many to believe all of Kobe’s daughters had died, multiplying the tragedy by tenfold.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter later said that Kobe’s three other daughters and wife Vanessa were NOT in the crash.
Then there was some rumor that former Laker Rick Fox was on the helicopter. That rumor did not appear to originate from any actual legitimate source, but for some reason began spreading on Twitter and had to be shot down. To confirm: Rick Fox did NOT die in the crash.