The Message

The Thong Show

Had the Post placed the transcripts on its website during the five hours between getting the message and being told by Ruckriegle not to share them, the judge's decree would have been moot. That's the approach the Post took on July 28, after a sealed document was inadvertently included in a special Kobe web archive. The two-page "Formal Stipulation for Physical Evidence Taken From Defendant at Hospital," which dealt with "penile swabs" used on Bryant, was only online at www.courts.state.co.us for about an hour that afternoon. Attentive Post personnel spotted it during that span and made it available, sans the woman's name, at www.denverpost.com before Ruckriegle could cry foul.

As it turned out, though, publishing the transcripts wasn't quite as simple. Editor Moore says the e-mail came to Lipsher's home computer at a time when he was out on a story. Upon Lipsher's return, all three e-mails -- the pair from Goodbee, and Ruckriegle's capper -- were waiting for him. That meant the Post would have knowingly violated the court's edict had it immediately put the transcripts on the Internet. Moore was reluctant to take that step, in part because of the document's extreme length. "We needed to take the time to read it, to try and figure out what we had," he says. Moreover, Post execs made the shaky assumption that Ruckriegle's command would be hastily swept aside by a higher court. "It took a lot longer than we had anticipated," Moore concedes, "and took a few different turns than we anticipated, too."

The biggest twist involved the Colorado Supreme Court, which, in a July 19 decision, voted 4-3 not to allow the transcripts to be published. This wasn't a total victory for Ruckriegle, since the court majority quashed his directive to trash the transcripts and told the judge to decide if part of the information could be made public. Still, RCFP's Dalglish found herself agreeing with dissenting justice Michael Bender, whom she paraphrases as saying, "The State of Colorado had an obligation to protect this young woman, and the State of Colorado blew it."

The next step for the Post and its fellow plaintiffs was the U.S. Supreme Court, but Justice Stephen Breyer's July 26 response to their entreaty largely dodged the prior-restraint argument. He noted that Ruckriegle, in the wake of the Colorado Supreme Court's actions, had said some of the material in the transcripts could probably be released. With that in mind, Breyer gave Ruckriegle two days to do so.

This deadline came and went, prompting Rocky editor/president/publisher John Temple to weigh in on the matter. In a July 31 column, "The Media May Have Miscalculated," he wrote, "I think it would have been better if at least one of the seven [media organizations] had published a story at the outset." Like this line, the piece as a whole implies that the Post and company were being gutless by not breaking unjust judicial pronouncements, even if the consequence might be an epic court wrangle. But Temple didn't exhibit much boldness when he failed to so much as mention the Post in his salvo -- an all-too-typical example of letting crosstown competition get in the way of good journalism.

Calls and e-mails to Temple about his column weren't returned. Moore, for his part, shrugs off his fellow editor's quasi-veiled criticism. "That's easy for him to say," he maintains. "You need time to determine the value of information. You don't just get information and immediately post it; that's silly. We wanted it to be an ethical decision-making process, and it was."

The delay had another drawback for the Post. The paper would have had a significant scoop, at least locally, but when Ruckriegle finally released the transcripts on August 2, a week after Justice Breyer gave him 48 hours to comply, he made them available to the media in general. Hence, the Post's coverage appeared on the same day as the Rocky's did. Even so, Moore isn't complaining. "Those are the breaks of the game," he says.

The cuts made by Ruckriegle were fairly modest. Reporter Peggy Lowe, writing about the transcripts in the August 3 Rocky, said the judge redacted "any mention of the woman's name, some of her sexual activity, mental health history, medications and any drug or alcohol use." As for Moore, he characterizes the redactions as "minor. Nothing to be upset about. They kind of make you wonder why there were redacted at all."

For this reason, the Post and the other media outlets have dropped plans to further pursue the matter in court. In Moore's words, "I don't believe it sets a precedent, and our lawyers and media partners don't believe it does, either. This is a unique case." Yet he says the paper has learned a lesson: "In light of the shifting sands in rulings on prior restraints, the media will have to make some additional calculations. And we'll do that."

In the meantime, the August 10 filing promises that Kobe Bryant news junkies will have plenty of opportunities to decide between right and thong.

Back to court: Two media-oriented legal conflicts previously noted in this space are progressing in intriguing ways.

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