By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It’s a relatively small patch of grass, really, but I can’t shake the feeling that we are gathered in a remote wilderness meadow of some pristine valley, perched high in the Rockies, miles from civilization. Mountains loom in the foreground and horses graze indifferently, even as Colorado 5th Judicial District Attorney Mark D. Hurlbert addresses our congregation, tuned in, along with an international television audience, to learn the fate of NBA golden boy Kobe Bean Bryant. Hurlbert announces that, to the People of the State of Colorado, Bryant is no longer number eight in your program. He is now Case Number 03CR204.
Eagle County, my home for more than a decade, has been portrayed as little more than an Opie-and-Andy boondocks ever since a visiting circuit-court judge gave Eagle County Sheriff Joe “Barney Fife” Hoy permission to abandon protocol and arrest Bryant on the suspicion of rape before Hurlbert had an opportunity to evaluate the evidence. Anticipating a sensational smorgasbord, the media buzzards began circling.
Fortunately, our outpost “somewhere near Vail” does offer Internet access, cable and even satellite TV. Otherwise, how would we know that “a general store, pizzeria, bakery and two saloons are the extent of commerce” in this “tranquil valley that is home to more deer and elk than people”? And all this time we thought this was one of America’s most popular resorts.
It is on this patch of grass — between the county courthouse and the parking lot — that such reports originate, where the bellows of television’s talking heads now emanate from full torsos shielded by power ties and where news scribes seek out reliable teenage sources who may have gone to high school with the former cheerleader Bryant is charged with sexually assaulting. From beneath a small but largely symbolic circus tent, Hurlbert attempts to deflect a barrage of questions from well over 100 journalists stalking him with cameras and boom microphones like hungry lions circling the rookie ringmaster.
Reading the reports, one wonders how far their authors have strayed from the sanctuary of this field, perhaps too distracted by the humility of the community to recognize that the New York Philharmonic Orchestra is entertaining the elk a few miles upstream in this same tranquil valley. Barney Fife drives a Saab at that end of the hollow; world-renowned orthopedists piece elite athletes back together at the local clinic. Some of those athletes call the valley home, as do franchise owners from both the NBA and the NHL.
The media have taught us much about this little mountain hamlet, known locally as the Eagle Valley. Mostly about its ability to keep secrets. Since the night of the alleged attack, on June 30, very little has emerged about the case beyond the covert nature of the arrest, a timeline of the alleged events, and sporadic details of the accuser’s background offered up by a handful of former classmates willing to dish the goods only after weeks of prodding and the occasional bribe. One supposedly sold a peek at his high school yearbook to a New York tabloid for $50, and others are confirming reports of the alleged victim’s recent drug overdose brought on by emotional turmoil.
Now, The Vail Dailyreports that Lindsey McKinney, the young lady who was quoted extensively in the Orange County Register on that subject, claims she was “tricked” by the reporters and has since turned down $12,500 from the National Enquirerfor further dish. “Nothing is worth losing a friend,” and “nothing is worth what the victim went through,” the local paper of record quotes McKinney as saying. As for her friend, just about all the county’s 40,000 residents know her name by now, but you won’t hear it in public or read it in print outside of FreeKobe.com.
The show, of course, has only just begun. Reality television will be redefined by the time Bryant attorneys Harold Haddon and Pamela Mackey complete their crucifixion of the alleged victim through the predictable “nuts and sluts” defense. Accusations that Hoy was “biased and unfair” in his hasty arrest will cast him as the Hispanic Mark Fuhrman. And a backlash that already includes cyberspace death threats against the pill-popping whore trying to take down the NBA’s best talent for the sake of a buck will escalate under the slick spin-doctoring that surrounds the industry that is Kobe Bryant. Can’t we simply rewind back to Vail’s own Ryan Sutter, the fireman who used poetry and muscles to woo Bachelorette Trista Rehn?
By now, everyone realizes that Bryant exercised a colossal lack of judgment, whether it was sexual assault or simple adultery. And while it would make little sense for a celebrity of his stature to rape the concierge an hour after checking into the hotel where he expected to spend the next three days, it’s equally difficult to believe that the first mousetrap he stepped into was set by a 19-year-old from Mayberry who flunked out of American Idol.
Perhaps he was set up. And maybe Nikes really can make you a better basketball player. But if the media have taught me anything from Case Number 03CR204 so far, it’s to question how we can know our celebrities so well when we hardly know our own neighborhood.