Category Archives: celebrities

This Was The Week That What?


How can we raise the level of civil discourse when we can’t even be civil? Or civilized? 

I was going to fill in the blanks of my long absence here by explaining that I had spent so much time watching, listening to and reading about last year’s presidential campaign that I ended up not writing about it. There was so much commentary and drama ad infinitum that I didn’t think another voice was needed in the conversation. However, after all the campaigns were over and I had fully digested the political spectacles on both sides, there was one word left that pretty much summed up those long months for me and what I thought of the level of public discourse:  disgusting.

On the Republican side there was the egregious name calling, lying and fear mongering of the lowest levels, and on the Democratic side there was also mudslinging and a well oiled pr campaign that was almost too slick, too seamless, and too flawless. No one’s that perfect. Creating that kind of celebrity status for a presidential candidate left me feeling very uncomfortable, and I’m not sure that I can explain why.  We already have too much emphasis on the cult of personality over substance, and I so wanted substance.

It was no wonder that then candidate Obama’s personal and political eloquence was such a breath of fresh air, rescuing us at moments from the hype und drang. Granted, one can argue that that’s what makes presidential politics so much fun, and I must admit, it’s the only sport that  I follow with glee.  But there was something in all of the primaries and the subsequent presidential campaigns that just left a bad taste in my mouth.  It got downright uglier than usual, in my estimation.  Having watched for years from the inside of the news when I worked at TIME, where I lived through two presidential campaigns, I perhaps have a different perspective than most casual viewers. Those of us on staff who were curious enough (that would be me) would question writers just off the campaign buses and planes to dish out the gossip on both sides of the political circus. Always yummy fodder. But it wouldn’t get reported or spoken about much outside of those hallowed and, for the most part, discreet halls.  I personally wouldn’t dream of repeating hearsay to anyone outside of the office. How unseemly.

But something has changed in our 24/7- live-out loud-in-public-on-the-Internet-with-no-boundaries-or-shame society.  It seems to this observer that we now live in a time when apparently nothing is sacred. Now things that might have been told to me in whispers seem to be shouted out loud to the media by the guilty parties themselves.  I just don’t know what to make of this. Honestly, I’m in culture shock at my own culture.

In the past few months we have been witness to:

-Governor Mark Sandford’s confession: Yes, I played hooky from my job, disappeared and lied to everyone I know, including my family, to be with a mistress whom I love more than my wife, but you should still want me to work for you because I am the chosen one…

-ditto Senator John Ensign: Yes, I’m an adulterer with a mistress whose family happens to work for me and to whom my parents gave thousands of dollars, but I’m still a good person and I confessed so it’s all better now…

–right wing radio and TV talk show hosts happlily spewing  their daily doses of vicious hatemongering, with no censure…

–right wingers carrying signs of the president of the United States as Hitler in a Nazi uniform and pugnaciously shouting down their elected officials in public forums.

But this week left me flummoxed. I couldn’t believe my ears or eyes. Say wha? —

–Congressman Joe Wilson: I can heckle the President of the United States during a serious address to the nation, while the world watches, and I will only apologize when forced  to and now you should give me money….

–Kanye West–I am a complete and utter boor in public in front of millions of people (which includes my fans) and I think this is OK because…

–Serena Williams–It’s normal to lose my temper and show off my potty mouth because millions of sports fans are not watching me on TV in one of the most important tennis matches of the year…

and even, heaven forbid, President Obama–Of course I can use foul language in public to a news anchor since my mic isn’t on and, after all, they never talk…

People, please, don’t apologize in public or share your private moments.

Here’s what I want:   Be ashamed.  Be very ashamed. 

Sometimes shame is a good thing. It’s a responsible feeling.  Shame says, “I know that I have done something very, very wrong, and I feel bad about that. I should amend my ways.” 

What happens when uncivil and uncivilized behavior goes unchecked? What kind of society do we want to have?  The word “civil” is derived from the Latin word “civilis”, which means “citizen”.   I’m for that. Let’s put civility back in the citizen. 

Civility seems not only to have left the building but also the continent. Can we raise the level of public discourse in this frothing fray?  I voted for intelligence and rationality.  At least in public, we can show a little class. Media training, anyone….?

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We Walked The Line


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WGA Strike     Day 16     Hollywood Blvd. Rally

Who are these people, why are they on cell phones in the middle of the WGA strike rally in Hollywood, and why is JS smiling at Ray Romano?

Tuesday, Nov. 20, was day 16 of the WGA strike and thousands of WGA writers, producer/showrunners, and SAG actors showed up to march down Hollywood Blvd.  in support of the ongoing walkout.  Also there to lend some muscle was the Teamsters Union, who parked three enormous rigs on Hollywood Blvd. 
teamsters-trucks-_2-sm.jpg  It seems that lots of folk are jumping on the bandwagon (there was an actual band wagon, where Alicia Keys performed two songs) to support the striking writers. I even saw a small contingency of nurses, who arrived with their union signs and joined the march.  Lending culinary support were members of CAA who walked around with mountainous trays of scrumptious scones and provided hot cider.

So, who are my mystery people on phones and why was JS at the rally? I was invited to join entertainment professional Philippa Burgess, of Creative Convergence, pictured in the above left photo with the showrunner/executive producer of “Lost” Carlton Cuse.  Philippa and her partners were conducting a live teleconference with over 100 emerging writers around the country, letting them experience the strike first hand.  Philippa and I marched with the strikers and lent our support while we asked anyone we recognized within range to give the teleconference writers some words of advice and/or encouragement and answer the big question of the day “how can these writers who live far away support the strike?”  

 Besides Mr. Cuse, also joining the teleconference were Ray Romano (pictured above with yours truly) and, on the right, Jonathan Lisco, showrunner/executive producer of the new TV show “K-Ville“.  In addition, speaking to the cell conference was a showrunner from the Disney Channel and the very gracious and lovely Debra Messing.

Talk about a moveable feast! Or was that a moveable feat?  While marching with thousands of people shouting strike slogans, and the ever present choppers above, we could barely hear each other speak, yet somehow these notables managed to keep pace with the crowds and talk on the cell phone to the writers around the country. My hats off to them for a) being troupers and showing up for the strike with no fanfare or self-agrandizing and b) lending their impromptu support to strangers on a phone thousands of miles away.

The rally ended two hours later at Grauman’s Chinese Theater with some rousing speeches by the WGA and Teamsters reps and a heartfelt talk by Sandra Oh.  All left feeling well supported and pumped, and hoping for a happy Hollywood ending.  Soon.

Stalk the Stalkarazzi? LA Press Club Panelists Ponder Paparazzi Pandemonium


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David Willis, Allison Hope Weiner, Giles Harrison, Blair Berk, Rob Nelson

More accurately, last Thursday night’s panelists vigorously discussed and debated the question of celebrity “news” and the “stalkarazzi”, but I do love alliteration.  Officially titled “HOLLYWOOD GROUND ZERO: Where Celebrity, Paparazzi and the First Amendment Collide”, the event was sponsored by the LA Press Club and PR Newswire  and took place at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood.

Moderated by BBC World News correspondent David Willis, the panel consisted of Blair Berk, a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney whose client list includes numerous A-list celebrities; Giles Harrison, top-earning paparazzo of London Entertainment/Splash News; Rob Nelson of KABC-AM790 and E! Entertainment THS Investigates; and Allison Hope Weiner, a Los Angeles based reporter for The New York Times (who is currently covering the Anthony Pellicano story).

The evening began with a ten minute viewing of the E! channel’s hour long program THS Investigates: Paparazzi. Hosted by panelist Rob Nelson, the investigative story covered the current state of celebrities and the paparazzi in Los Angeles and the legal issues involved. Two of the panelists had appeared in the story: Berk was interviewed in her office, and Harrison took Nelson with him one day as he drove around in his vehicle, on the job as a paparazzo. In one scene of Nelson’s story, we see Katie Holmes with baby Suri emerge from a building and arrive at the sidewalk. As the paps lunge for her, they practically knock down the woman next to her–Tom Cruise’s mother.  Another issue is that car chases become commonplace on the highways when the paparazzi spot a celebrity in their car, knowing not only the type of car they drive but also the license plate number. In another scenario, Jude Law leaves his house with his children. When he spots the cameras on them, he crosses the street to where the paparazzi are standing, blocks the TV camera lens with his body and in a very angry tone of voice threatens to turn in the photographers for being pedophiles if they don’t take their cameras off his kids. End of scene.

After introductions by the panelists, Willis got the discussion going by asking the important questions: Do the paparazzi go too far? Should the press and/or the paparazzi be regulated?  Who are these people? He called on the expertise of each panelist and asked for their take on the situation.  Panelist’s positions were clearly defined: Weiner was opposed to any press regulation, defending a free press and fearful that trying to regulate the tabloids could lead to putting a stranglehold on all press. Berk defended the rights of celebrities as individuals who deserved a degree of privacy and spelled out the personal and public safety issues of paparazzi gone wild. Harrison tried to create a more balanced view of the paparazzi, reminding the panel and audience that they are not all aggressive stalkers, including himself.  Harrison, who prides himself on his forthright behavior as a paparazzo, was introduced as someone who had once spent time in jail for an incident early in his career. 

Why all the paparazzi madness? With the proliferation of supermarket tabloids and the pressure for lurid stories and photos, there is more money than ever for the photo agencies and the swarms of paparazzi have increasing competition for the high-paying scoop shots.  “Reality” TV shows also feed into our voyeuristic culture, often including celebrities who expose far too many details of their private lives. At the same time, there is the growing mainstreaming of an industry of “celebrity news”, for example AOL owned TMZ.com.  But is it really “news”–stories about actual events?  Or just old-fashioned gossip–innuendo, hearsay and outright lies?

After the much publicized car crashes of Lindsay Lohan and Scarlett Johansson (see “Scarlett Johansson Crashes Car While Fleeing Paparazzi”), both of which were caused by being chased by paparazzi, as well as the actions of an aggressive photographer at the Disney theme park with Reese Witherspoon and her children, Democratic Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez introduced a California state bill aimed at the paparazzi. The bill, which became law on January 1, 2007, triples the damages celebrities can claim from paparazzi if they are assaulted while being photographed. Further, the bill prohibits photographers from making money on any photographs taken during an altercation. 

But, commenting on this new law Thursday night, lawyer Berk deemed it virtually “useless”, as it calls on celebrities to press charges and file lawsuits, which most are reluctant to do since that only draws more attention to the situation and then creates …another tabloid story! 

Nonetheless, Gov. Swarzzenager was more than happy to sign the bill. As reported on MTV.com “When Schwarzenegger was an actor, he testified against two photographers who used their cars to surround his as he was picking up one of his kids from school in a 1998 incident. At one point, Schwarzenegger had suggested creating a buffer zone between paparazzi and celebrities.”  In fact, it turns out that panelist Harrison was one of those photographers.

This particular incident was mentioned in today’s Sunday LA Times West Magazine cover story by Robin Abcarian, which profiles the owners of the X17 photo agency.  X17 is noted for hiring amateurs, including former waiters and valet parkers, and “it is considered to be something of a rogue.”  According to Abcarian’s story: ” X17 is understood to be the Britney Spears specialist, with a seven-man team devoted just to her. She is their bread and butter…Each morning, MBF [name of the Britney team] arrives at Spears’ doorstep off Mulholland Drive around 10 a.m. and follows her around town until she retires for the night.” 

Sounds like stalking to me.

The problem, of course, is that the celebrities don’t mind a little of this; they want to be noticed in a positive light at least and seen in the tabloids for the free publicity. But the relentless chase for photos has gotten to the point of being non-stop, excessively invasive, overly aggressive and overtly dangerous.  As Berk says on camera in Nelson’s THS story “It’s not a matter of if, but when” someone is going to get killed.  Commenting on her onscreen prediction, she said at the panel that she believes it won’t be another celebrity, like Princess Diana; it will be the innocent bystander on the street or someone in a car who is driving nearby on the highway.

For an example of this paparazzi pandemonium in the streets, see the video here posted by TMZ.com on February 21, 2007. Britney Spears is mobbed by paparazzi as she steps into a car, which is being driven by a friend [?]. (Be sure to listen for the number of camera shutters you can hear clicking away).  A police car comes to their rescue (did they dial 911?), disperses the paparazzi on foot in the street who are blocking the car and other traffic, and, over a foghorn, instructs Britney and friend to make an illegal and potentially dangerous right hand turn from the left lane and around the other cars stopped at a red light in front of them.

Throughout the panel proceedings, Willis would ask Harrison his opinion on issues brought up by the other panel members. Harrison would invariably preface his answer with the caveat “Well, I don’t do that but…”  Finally, unable to contain his skepticism or curiosity any longer, Willis asked Harrison directly, if he was saying that he had never done anything wrong?  Harrison admitted only that one early altercation, for which he spent 39 days in jail, but since then he adamantly maintained that he has been as rigorous as he can in “not crossing the line”.  Willis then asked to what did he attribute such a high degree of professional integrity.  Without taking a breath, Harrison replied “39 days in jail.”