The Media’s Role in Relation to Kobe Bryant and “Tiger King”

The year 2020 has had a strange start. From Kobe Bryant’s unexpected death to Netflix’s true crime documentary, “Tiger King” becoming a national sensation. While both seem to have absolutely nothing in common, they both have ignited a media frenzy.

Kobe Bryant was a predominant basketball player who passed away with 8 others in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA on January 26th, 2020. Before authorities were able to notify the families of those involved in the crash, the popular media outlet TMZ leaked the story that Bryant had died in the crash. It was roughly an hour after the crash was reported that TMZ posted the story which had a domino effect with other media sources. Soon, the news was plastered everywhere on social media where the Bryant family unfortunately found out that Kobe and his 13-year-old daughter Gia had passed away. There have been no repercussions for TMZ leaking the story.

While Bryant’s death showed a negative aspect of media, Netflix’s “Tiger King” shows positive aspects.

“Tiger King” was released on the streaming platform on March 20, 2020. It documents Joe “Exotic” Maldonado-Passage, an eccentric zookeeper in Oklahoma who runs the G.W. Exotic Animal Park which homes more than 200 cats such as tigers and lions along with more than 50 species of exotic animals. Maldonado-Passage is shown the entire show feuding with his nemesis, animal-rights activist, Carole Baskin who owns the Big Cat Sanctuary in Florida. As the show runs its course, it is assumed that he orchestrated a murder-for-hire plot involving getting rid of Baskin, which lands him in prison. While this may seem deserved, many of the show’s viewers disagree and have signed petitions asking to release Joe Exotic. With so much media coverage, it has now reached the White House where President Trump has stated that he will take a look into potentially pardoning Maldonado-Passage.

In addition to this, many viewers of the show are convinced that Carole Baskin was involved in the disappearance/death of her late husband, Don Lewis. Fans of the show along with snarky comments made by Joe Exotic and other animal handlers in the series believe that Baskin fed Lewis to her tigers. While this is simply hearsay, it was enough for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to re-open their investigation into what happened to Don Lewis.

This brings up the burning question of: what role should the media be allowed to play? In Bryant’s case, many agree that TMZ should face repercussions as well as potentially seeking legal change through new legislation. However, in the case of “Tiger King” many see the media as a way to help the unfortunate Joe Exotic, who many view, has been wrongly imprisoned. If the media is too involved, there will be more cases similar to Bryant’s or even Princess Diana. But, if they were not to be as involved, Joe Exotic may not have been able to get his story to the President who is looking at a potential pardon or Don Lewis’ family may not receive closure as to what happened to him. Where should the line be drawn and who decides where it should be drawn?

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Angelica Ocampo

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