ABC Suspends Chief Correspondent Over Major Mistake In Kobe Crash Reporting

Chaos erupted in media when Kobe Bryant, 41, and his daughter, Gianna, 13, died in a helicopter crash along with seven others on Jan. 26, 2020.  Not only was media outlet TMZ chastised by Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva for allegedly reporting the news before family members were notified, but there was also inaccurate reporting about the incident itself. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department initially said, for instance, that five people had perished instead of nine in total. Some news organizations ran with the lower figure before seemingly confirming it with multiple officials, subsequently making it even more shocking when the true death toll was released. Although these slip-ups were regrettable, ABC Chief National Correspondent Matt Gutman's error in reporting about the crash was especially unfortunate. That's because the reporter inaccurately reported that all of Kobe and Vanessa Bryant's daughters perished in the accident. 

The backlash was intense and swift. ABC suspended Gutman and issued a statement (via E! News): "Reporting the facts accurately is the cornerstone of our journalism ... Matt Gutman's initial reporting was not accurate and failed to meet our editorial standards." Although the journalist's error was seemingly an honest mistake, there has been ongoing fallout from the incident. Here's everything you need to know about how Gutman has been handling this unfortunate situation.

Matt Gutman is sorry about his mistake

Matt Gutman made the regrettable mistake of reporting on-air that Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash along with all four of his daughters: Gianna, Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. It was later confirmed that Gianna was the only sibling who lost her life. 

"Today I inaccurately reported it was believed that four of Kobe Bryant's children were on board that flight," Gutman tweeted about his mishap. "That is incorrect. I apologize to Kobe's family, friends, and our viewers." 

Many folks seemed to respect the journalist's honesty. One commenter tweeted: "Major props to you on your transparency to tweet this. In a situation where you could have simply not addressed your inaccuracy you did. This should be the standard for news in this situation." Another said: "Bottom line... so many in journalism these days are more worried about 'first' rather than being 'accurate,' and throw human lives and those affected to the side to 'break news.' You fell trap to that. It's admirable you owned it. Now grow from this."

Although it's not clear how long Gutman's suspension will last, it's obvious he had a successful career prior to this incident. The New Jersey native joined ABC News in 2008 and has worked for 20/20, World News Tonight, Nightline, and Good Morning America. He also published a book about the boys who were rescued from a Thai cave in 2018, titled, The Boys in the Cave: Deep Inside the Impossible Rescue in Thailand.

The Bryant family wants to set the record straight

Conflicting news reports and rumors haven't been easy on the Bryant family. "We are disappointed in some media's broad use of unnamed sources and blind quotes, and remind everyone that the Bryant family will speak on our own behalf when appropriate," Molly Carter, president of Kobe Inc., said in a Jan. 30, 2020 statement to the Los Angeles Times. Carter added, "To this point, no one has been authorized to speak on behalf of the family regarding any personal details surrounding Sunday's tragedy, including stories related to the family's previous air travel decisions." The part about "air travel decisions" is likely in reference to the rumor that the couple wouldn't fly together in helicopters as a safety precaution. Carter ended her message with a plea to the media: "We ask members of the media for respect and responsible judgment during this difficult time. These inaccurate reports only add unnecessary pain to a grieving family."

Vanessa Bryant hasn't directly addressed Matt Gutman or other inaccurate reports head-on, although she did request privacy at this time. "Thank you for sharing your joy, your grief and your support with us," she said in a message shared to Instagram. "We ask that you grant us the respect and privacy we will need to navigate this new reality."

Vanessa and her kids are in the midst of healing

Hopefully, the media will respect Vanessa Bryant's wishes for privacy and will take measures to prevent inaccurate reporting going forward. In the meantime, Vanessa is seemingly focused on healing and finding comfort in the happy memories of her beloved husband and daughter. "Seeing my baby girl smile and happy again with a basketball under her arm, wrapped in love just warmed my heart," Vanessa captioned a beautiful drawing of Gianna in her dad's Lakers jersey. The image was given to her by a designer and illustrator named Reina Koyano.

In addition to finding support in fan art, the mom reportedly requested some of the items left at the makeshift memorial for Kobe and Gigi Bryant at the Los Angeles Lakers' Staples Center. NBC News reported on Feb. 4, 2020, that "14 banners, 25,000 candles, 5,000 letters, signs and flags, 500 stuffed animals, and hundreds of shoes" were collected at the site. It's unclear how many of these heartfelt donations Vanessa will keep, but it's obvious there is a lot of love to go around in the midst of this tragedy.