Celebrities may lose phony war on paparazzi
Thursday, February 23, 2006
BY TIM CAVANAUGH
LOS ANGELES TIMES
“I was terrified that this time the physically aggressive paparazzi would put both me and my baby in danger,” Britney Spears announced last week after getting caught driving with her unsecured infant son on her lap. Back in the halcyon days of 2005, this excuse might have gotten a sympathetic response from the public, the media and even law enforcement officials. But age and wisdom have made us all more skeptical of blaming the paparazzi — the last acceptable prejudice.
It was just last month, as a troubled nation began to cope with the crisis of Lindsay Lohan’s rapid weight loss, that an important piece of Lohania vanished right before our eyes. Criminal charges were dropped against Galo Cesar Ramirez, the celebrity photographer who in May was arrested after an automobile accident with the star of “Herbie: Fully Loaded.”
LOOK AT THE RECORD
This is no surprise, considering Lohan’s abysmal driving record, which includes a previous accident that resulted in the starlet’s being sued by an injured driver, and a fender-bender that she also tried without success to blame on a paparazzo. But the young photographer’s hair-breadth escape from the law also signaled a turning point in the trumped-up war against “stalkerazzi.”
For a brief, shining moment in 2005, Lohan’s accident was the centerpiece in an anti-paparazzi campaign waged by celebrities such as Cameron Diaz, who last year settled a suit by a shutterbug she’d assaulted and robbed of his camera; Reese Witherspoon, who filed a false-imprisonment charge against photographers that turned out to be bogus; and Halle Berry, who in 2000 pleaded guilty to a lesser charge related to a nonpaparazzi hit-and-run accident in which another driver suffered a broken arm.
In any disinterested reading of the accident reports, these actors come off as a gang of dangerous, lead-footed rageaholics, while the hardworking photographers appear guilty only of giving celebs too much of the attention they crave.
So how did pampered multimillionaires manage to attract fawning media attention to their cause and eventually push through an anti-stalkerazzi law in California?
Simple: They waved the bloody shirt of Princess Diana and advanced the preposterous notion that Los Angeles’ streets are being menaced not by their own hot tempers and reckless driving but by aggressive photographers. Scarlett Johansson attempted to blame paparazzi for an August crash in the Disneyland parking lot, but there were no shooters involved. The notoriously high-strung Jennifer Lopez blamed an April panic attack not on her own sagging career but on chimerical photographers who supposedly surrounded her chauffeured vehicle.
Diana’s 1997 death in a drunken-driving accident remains the standard cautionary tale about photographers gone wild. Yet prosecutors abandoned the attempt to build a case against the paparazzi, and even the dogged Mohammed Fayed lost his civil suit against three of the alleged pursuers.
One point was well established in every court but the court of public opinion: The paparazzi were blameless in this, the foundational deadly paparazzi incident.
What did photographers do to deserve this abuse? Look to the celebrities themselves. They’re being marginalized by changes in entertainment habits, by businesses no longer interested in celebrity endorsements, by a public increasingly bored with stars whose most entertaining high jinks are covered up by publicists.
In this fix, the prima donnas are lashing out, in classic nouveau-riche fashion, against their underlings.
So far their campaign has been successful enough to produce a bad law. Late last year, actor-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the measure that triples damages awarded for photography-induced accidents and prohibits paparazzi from profiting from the photos that ensue.
The free-speech implications are ominous, but there’s at least one sign that instant karma may be coming around: Shortly after the bill became law, Schwarzenegger crashed his motorcycle in a nonpaparazzi-related accident, requiring 15 stitches to his face.