Black celebrity deaths have not been handled in a deservingly delicate manner as media outlets appear to be in a mad dash to be first to break the news, neglecting the impact this could have on their loved ones. And while social media has become an epicenter for communication of all sorts that has empowered fans to grieve as well, it seems that those who know these celebrities the best are sometimes an afterthought as it pertains to the approach used when reporting their passing. Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy group, has called out the “lack of journalistic integrity” when reporting Black celebrity deaths, demanding that TMZ “ensure that families have been notified,” prior to reporting these deaths.
The petition was initially launched after the outlet allegedly announced Kobe Bryant’s death prior to his wife, Vanessa Bryant, and their family being notified by authorities. “Vanessa Bryant didn’t deserve to find out her husband and child passed on TMZ. While the Bryant family waited for official confirmation of the worst news of their lives, TMZ was all too eager to capitalize on their loss. TMZ had the responsibility to report factual information with integrity and they failed to that,” the petition says.
The NBA legend died in a helicopter crash, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others. However, TMZ was not the only outlet to inaccurately report Bryant and his daughter’s death. ABC reporter Matt Gutman incorrectly reported that all four of Kobe’s daughters were on the helicopter, resulting in his suspension from the network.
“We are in the business of holding people accountable,” Gutman said. “And I hold myself accountable for a terrible mistake, which I deeply regret. I want to personally apologize to the Bryant family for this wrenching loss and any additional anguish my report caused.”
The petition was updated following the recent passing of Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke, who was shot and killed in a home invasion on Wednesday. Color of Change condemned TMZ for reporting the rapper’s death prior to his family being notified. The outlet was also criticized for releasing video footage of paramedics attempting to resuscitate the rapper.
“TMZ disregarded the effects its rush news reporting has on surviving family members or fans of the deceased – even releasing footage of paramedics working to resuscitate the 20-year old rapper,” the petition said.
Though not mentioned in the petition, the outlet also released surveillance footage of Nipsey Hussle’s murder, showing the late rapper being shot several times and also kicked by his killer.
The petition went on to mention the outlet falsely reporting that Lil Wayne was in a coma and on life support in 2013. The complaint also criticized TMZ’s reporting of Whitney Houston‘s death, claiming that the outlet “bribed hotel employees into letting him into her room, so he could take photos of the bath tub in which her body was found.”
Color of Change is demanding that “advertisers drop TMZ until they institute a new policy to consult with families before reporting Black celebrity deaths.”
And above all, the civil rights advocacy group is applying pressure on outlets to respectfully report Black celebrity deaths.