Anastasia Alvarado, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Spring 2014 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: “A reality TV star was in a club and had too much to drink. A reporter happened to be at the club at the same time and overheard the star ranting about certain minorities in the club. The star called them ‘second class citizens’ and wished the club would be stricter about who was admitted to the club. The reporter wrote a story detailing the star’s comments. Does the star have any recourse?”
I recently watched on TMZ that Kobe Bryant had to pay a fee of $100,000 to the NBA for murmuring, “fucking faggot” to the referee after making a call that Kobe disagreed with. His statement was not necessarily meant from the bottom of his heart, but rather slipped out of his mouth in a heated situation as a result of anger. The referee immediately heard his remark and made the incident public by throwing Kobe out of the game and fining him $100,000 to the NBA. The referee did not necessarily intend to ruin the decorated NBA star’s career, but rather just did his job and shared what he had experienced with him. The rest is history and left up to the public for interpretation.
If a reporter found a reality TV star in a club, the reporter has the right to wander closer to him since his intentions do not necessarily have to be to inflict any type of damage to him. But say the reporter overheard the star ranting about the minorities in the club, calling them “second-rate citizens” and wishing the club would be stricter about who they admitted into the club. The star is expressing his freedom of speech, yes, but that does not mean he is protected from that information being published into a magazine. If he did not intend for that information to be known publicly, he should not have said it out loud in a public setting.
Like the referee in Kobe’s situation, the reporter has every right to do his job and make the incident public. As a result of Kobe’s homophobic slur, Kobe did what he should have and apologized to the public, saying that his intentions were not to hurt anybody and that what he said was just a result of a heated situation. This reality star should do the exact same thing and if not “blame it on the alcohol,” let the public know that his intentions were not to hurt anybody and that he doesn’t think the other people in the club were necessarily “second-hand citizens.” That is if he really is sorry and/or wants to protect his reputation. If not, he should not have a problem with the story the reporter wrote.
Anastasia Alvarado is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Advertising.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.