The Fine Line Between Newsworthy vs. Human Decency 

I was on my way down to New Orleans for Realscreen Summit 2020 when the woman in front of me announced to the plane that Kobe Bryant was dead. By the time we landed, the rumor was confirmed and the breaking news splashed across every smartphone in sight. In this digital age where it often feels like everything is newsworthy and nothing is private, the media’s interest in the tragic helicopter crash that killed all nine people aboard was predictable. We value a free press, but the downside of treating the dissemination of truthful, newsworthy information that is of legitimate public concern as sacrosanct is that sometimes we forget to consider that privacy is a fundamental right too.

Vanessa Bryant’s subsequent lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was about privacy and not the First Amendment, but it’s worth the reminder that journalists are tasked with striking the delicate balance between the two. The First Amendment does not shield one’s “morbid and sensational prying”[1] for no more than a “voyeuristic thrill.”[2] That is why you cannot fly a drone over some celebrity’s pool in the Hills or use a telephoto lens to sneak a peak into a mogul’s Central Park penthouse. In addition to these areas of the home and person, the law also recognizes the deeply personal act of mourning as being private and not deserving of unwarranted intrusions by the press. The thread that runs through these examples, the “mutilation of a deceased family member’s body, desecration of the burial site, and public display of death images,” is that they shock the conscience and offend basic notions of human decency.[3] Maudlin curiosities and schadenfreude are real aspects of our baser instincts, but the law does not give them credence.

I bet the Mambacita would have preferred to simply mourn in peace instead of having to police the shameful conduct of those tasked with protecting the public, but I agree with how the jury ruled. As much as we crave insight into the lives of the celebrities we worship, these are real people and extreme and outrageous conduct has consequences.

Michelle Lamardo

This article is intended as a general discussion of these issues only and is not to be considered legal advice or relied upon. For more information, please contact RPJ Associate Michelle Lamardo who counsels clients in areas of  entertainment and media, intellectual property, privacy and employment law. Ms. Lamardo is admitted to practice law in New York.



[1] Sipple v. Chron. Publ’g Co., 154 Cal. App. 3d 1040, 1049 (Ct. App. 1984) (citing Rest., 2d Torts, § 652D, com. h.).

[2] See Haynes v. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 8 F.3d 1222, 1232 (7th Cir. 1993).

[3] Marsh v. Cnty. of San Diego, 680 F.3d 1148, 1155 (9th Cir. 2012).