Great article on the front page of the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal about the travails of celebrities and their lawyers. As I’m sure most people are aware there is an ongoing battle between celebs and the articles written about them in Star, the National Enquirer, and other tabloids. Although no one with good sense (in my opinion) would believe anything in these trashy rags, the celebrities apparently really get their noses out of joint about some of the reporting. And when they do, they call their tabloid-buster lawyers. The lawyers write letters threatening lawsuits, and the tabloids back off or print retractions.
The times they are a changing. Now the tabloids are fighting back against not the celebs, but against their lawyers as well. And I’m loving it.
Most (probably all) celebrities make a Faustian bargain when they get get into the celebrity business. I’m sure that each of them in their pre-celebrity days has watched all agog as some already made celeb got out of a limo and was mobbed by fans and paparazzi and said to themselves: wouldn’t that be cool; I’d give anything to be like that. When their day comes, I’m sure they bask in it for a while, but then get tired of never having a moments privacy. Then they get snitty, and do the old I just want to be left alone. But it’s too late. They’ve made the bargain, and there’s no turning back.
The WSJ article featured Reese Witherspoon, whom I hold in great distaste for a remark she once made. Asked in one of those moronic interviews about what she would or would not ever do, she said: “I would never date someone older, like, someone who is 50; how creepy.” Since I was about that age at the time, I was highly offended. I vowed never to date Reese Witherspoon, even if she were to come crawling. (Which, BTW, she hasn’t yet.)
Apparently, Star magazine published an article titled “Going for Baby No. 3” implying that Ms. Witherspoon was pregnant with her third child. After publication of the article, which apparently flamed its subject who is in the process of a divorce, Star was hit with a letter from her lawyer, John Lavely Jr. of Lavely & Singer, a Los Angeles law firm famous for their celebrity clientèle, demanding a retraction.
In the past, a tabloid such as Star would have taken a powder after an intimidating letter from a powerful law firm. No more. This time Star went on the attack. In a sort of retraction the Star wrote: “Reese’s attorney assures Star that the Oscar-winning actress is not pregnant.” And ran a picture of Ms. Witherspoon with the caption: Reese Mystery Solved: She’s not pregnant…It’s Bloat!” (You can draw your own conclusions from the photo to the left.)
Ms. Witherspoon was, of course, outraged and sued Star. The case is pending.
The WSJ article goes on to detail a handful of other celebrity-tabloid tiffs with the same kinds of outcomes. Many of the magazines are now publishing the actual threatening letters (along with commentary on them) they receive from the attorneys representing the celebrities these papers trash. There is no doubt that the intent of these letters is to intimidate the tabloids that receive them, so it was with delight that I read the following reaction from the LA law firm:
As far as Lavely & Singer is concerned, the snide retorts aren’t mere editors’ fun; they are “mean-spirited mockery” used as “an intimidation tactic” to deter the firm and other lawyers from protecting clients’ rights, wrote Lynda Goldman, a partner at Lavely & Singer, in an email.
“An intimidation tactic?” Puh-lease. I love it when the shoe is on the other foot.
Not only are the tabloids getting more aggressive, the courts are raising the bar on what constitutes defamation of a celebrity. This last is about Britney Spears, late of no-underwear fame:
Last month, a California state court rejected a defamation claim brought by Lavely & Singer on behalf of Britney Spears against US Weekly. Ms. Spears alleged the magazine libeled her when it published an article about a sexually explicit home video she purportedly made with her husband. (Ms. Spears recently filed for divorce.) Lavely & Singer says it hasn’t decided whether to appeal.
In dismissing the suit, the court suggested that times have changed. “In ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’ a married couple slept in different beds, but in ‘Sex and the City,’ the single women slept in many different beds.” US Weekly’s article on the sex video wasn’t defamatory, the court said, since Ms. Spears has “put her modern sexuality squarely, and profitably, before the public eye.”
Boy has she!