Wed, Jul 30, 2003 - Page 9 News List

US media gears up for sports star's trial

From cable-news channels to Comedy Central, Kobe Bryant's legal troubles are expected to dominate the nation's airwaves and newspaper headlines

DPA , LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

You can see the gleam in their eyes whenever the name Kobe Bryant comes up -- which is about every five minutes in the current media climate.

The NBA superstar faces a rape charge, and the pundits, both the serious and not-so-serious kind, are salivating to provide their "take" on the matter.

For those not familiar with the case, on June 30, Bryant, perhaps the most consistently dazzling basketball player in the world, arrived at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera near Edwards, Colorado.

A man previously renowned for his devotion to his wife, Vanessa, and his 6-month-old baby, and a reputation for steadfastly rejecting the advances of beautiful women, is seen flirting with the 19-year- old former cheerleader working at the resort's front desk.

After her shift ended she went to his room, where the alleged rape took place later that night. On July 6 Bryant's arrest was made public to the delight of the celebrity-obsessed US media.

Now, legal experts on the 24-hour-news channel are priming themselves to spew out reams of speculative opinion for the duration of the NBA star's rape trial, another channel -- Comedy Central -- already is engaged in probing the satirical aspects of the case.

Perhaps the most salient comments come from the lighter side. For example, John Stewart's Daily Show, a spoof news program, showed its correspondents preparing to cover the biggest trial since the O.J. Simpson murder case.

"We'll be showing lots of shots of lawyers getting out of cars, and afterwards, getting back into them," said one correspondent.

The wry Stewart, meanwhile, said the case justified his network's decision in 1998 to set up a state of the art Kobe Bryant coverage center.

"If Americans thought the O.J. Simpson trial was the theater of the absurd, wait until they finish watching Kobe versus The Cheerleader," said NBC sports commentator Ron Borges.

"We pay more attention to the case than we do to whether or not our president juiced the info he used to start a war," Borges said.

"No wonder the people of Iraq would just as soon we go home," he said.

Out of the headlines

Borges was not strictly accurate, however. For a few moments last week, when most, but not all networks were able to replace pictures of the scandal-ridden basketball star with the gruesome images of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's dead sons, and the homecoming of the Iraq war heroine Private Jessica Lynch, the case actually went out of the headlines for a few hours.

But by Friday it was back with media pundits righteously debating whether or not to reveal the name of the alleged rape victim, and news anchors breathlessly reporting that the millionaire Los Angeles Lakers player had bought his wife a US$4 million diamond ring days after he was accused of the heinous crime.

Bryant, 24, held a press conference in the middle of last week, admitting to making the "mistake of adultery."

Suddenly, friends of the alleged victim came out of the woodwork -- some detailing how seriously the woman was injured -- others revealing how she had bragged about the Bryant encounter at a party a few days later, and that she had tried to commit suicide with a pill overdose in February.

The coverage sometimes made it seem that the whole issue was just another episode of a particularly lurid reality TV show, and it was easy to forget that the lives and reputations of real people were at stake.

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