October 27, 2009
Both stories appeared in the pages of Britain's tabloid press. Neither is true.
The two incidents were fake showbiz news tips phoned into newspapers by the makers of the new documentary "Starsuckers," to see whether they would be used without fact-checking. The fact that they were forms part of the movie's argument that the culture of celebrity has undermined journalistic standards and warped society's values.
"I didn't realize quite how much of our news is public relations, or lies, or on the basis of criminal acts," said the film's 33-year-old director, Chris Atkins.
"Starsuckers," which premieres Wednesday at the London Film Festival, takes aim at Britain's fiercely competitive tabloid press, but its real target is much broader. Atkins believes that society's obsession with fame — gaining it and being near it — has distorted everything from the way news is reported to our children's aspirations.
The film opens with the statement that "everybody is naturally and powerfully attracted to fame," and tries to show how big companies in entertainment, media and PR use that desire to create a world full of insatiable consumers.
Through a series of stunts reminiscent of Michael Moore's movie polemics, Atkins aims to show how dignity, truth and even the law go out the window in the pursuit of celebrity.
Atkins is particularly scornful of reality television — the way such shows distort reality and stretch the limits of what people will do to be on TV.
The film introduces viewers to a Nevada boy named Ryan, who wants urgently to be famous — at five years old, he is already a veteran of agents, auditions and public appearances.
In another sequence, Atkins set up a booth in an English shopping mall purporting to be casting for children's reality TV shows. The filmmakers recorded as parents happily signed waivers for their children to appear on shows with titles like "Baby Boozers" and "Take Your Daughter to the Slaughterhouse" — for which he filmed children cheerfully trying to decapitate rubber chickens.
Critics might say Atkins manipulates people in the same way as the shows he criticizes.
"We tricked people into being in our film," acknowledged Atkins, whose last film, "Taking Liberties," looked at what he saw as the erosion of civil rights under Prime Minister Tony Blair.
"Yes, we had moral qualms, but I firmly believe we're doing it for the wider point. There was subterfuge involved to serve a wider public interest."
Atkins uses the same defense for his attempts to dupe newspapers in a bid to prove that Britain's tabloids won't let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Checkbook journalism and stories sourced to anonymous "friends" are long-standing practices in Britain's popular press. Even murkier tabloid methods have come under scrutiny since 2007, when a News of the World journalist was jailed for illegally hacking into the phones of royal officials. The newspaper insisted it was a one-off blunder, strongly denying claims that phone-tapping of celebrities was widespread.
"Starsuckers" suggests that some tabloids, at least, won't let the truth get in the way of a good story. Newspapers as far afield as India printed the too-good-to-fact-check claims that a blown fuse had singed Winehouse's signature hairdo and Ritchie had given himself a black eye while juggling cutlery.
Even more worryingly, perhaps, Atkins also secretly filmed tabloid reporters as he offered to sell them medical records of celebrities' cosmetic surgery.
Buying such records is illegal in Britain, but the reporters seemed keen. They didn't know that the documents offered by Atkins — purporting to prove Hugh Grant's facelift and Guy Ritchie's chemical peel — were fake.
"We're trying to turn the tables — to put the boot on the other foot," said Atkins of his stings, which also included covertly filming celebrity publicist Max Clifford as he talked about the famous clients who pay him handsomely to keep damaging stories about them out of the headlines.
Atkins said his tactics had prompted letters from lawyers, including those working for Clifford, threatening legal action against the film.
Some viewers of "Starsuckers" may feel that Atkins doesn't give people enough credit. Surely most people know that what they see on reality shows or read in the showbiz pages of tabloids might not be 100 percent true?
Clifford, whose clients include Simon Cowell, said a lot of celebrity stories are "25 percent reality and 75 percent exaggeration" — but that we shouldn't worry too much about it.
"It's entertainment," he said. "The public believe what they want to believe."
The subjects of celebrity stories are less easygoing about it. George Clooney, asked about "Starsuckers" by The Associated Press, said a combination of shrinking newspaper staffs and the Internet meant misinformation could spread instantly around the world.
"Somebody will write a story and it will be in 1,800 different outlets from one person's story," Clooney said.
"It'll be false, and you'll go, 'It's not true.' And they go, 'We're not saying that, we're saying that a London tabloid has said it.' They're just reprinting and reprinting things that aren't necessarily true."
Atkins says the problem is that the blurring of fact and fiction is not confined to celebrity stories. British newspaper editors are frequently former showbiz reporters.
It's hard not to see symbolism in the career of Piers Morgan, who went from entertainment reporter to editor of The News of the World and the Daily Mirror. After he was fired by the Mirror — for running fake photos of British soldiers allegedly abusing Iraqis — he became a celebrity himself, as a judge on "Britain's Got Talent," which launched Susan Boyle to stardom.
"It's the same journalists who write about Amy's hair who write about weapons of mass destruction," Atkins said.
October 21, 2009
Britney Spears has settled a lawsuit with a photographer who claimed she ran over his foot in 2007.
On Monday, a notice of settlement was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, and while the terms of the agreement have not been released, the photographer, Ricardo Mendoza, had originally sought more than $200,000.
The Oct. 2007 incident occurred as Spears was driving her white Mercedes out of a Beverly Hills parking garage. It was an especially bad day for the singer: Earlier, a judge had temporarily suspended her rights to see her sons Preston, now 4, and Jayden, now 3.
Mendoza, who was working for TMZ.com at the time, claimed the singer intentionally ran over his left foot and told the site that Spears's handlers should have been aware that she "was not in the mental, emotional and/or physical condition to operate the subject motor vehicle in a safe and reasonable manner."
TMZ.com later auctioned off Mendoza’s tire-stained sock and donated the money to charity.
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October 17, 2009
In a strange twist to an already complicated legal situation, artist Shepard Fairey admitted today to legal wrongdoing in his ongoing battle with the Associated Press.
Fairey said in a statement issued late Friday that he knowingly submitted false images and deleted others in the legal proceedings, in an attempt to conceal the fact that the AP had correctly identified the photo that Fairey had used as a reference for his "Hope" poster of then-Sen. Barack Obama.
"Throughout the case, there has been a question as to which Mannie Garcia photo I used as a reference to design the HOPE image," Fairey said. "The AP claimed it was one photo, and I claimed it was another."
New filings to the court, he said, "state for the record that the AP is correct about which photo I used...and that I was mistaken. While I initially believed that the photo I referenced was a different one, I discovered early on in the case that I was wrong. In an attempt to conceal my mistake I submitted false images and deleted other images."
In February, the AP claimed that Fairey violated copyright laws when he used one of their images as the basis for the poster. In response, the artist filed a lawsuit against the AP, claiming that he was protected under fair use. Fairey also claimed that he used a different photo as the inspiration for his poster.
After Fairey's admission, a spokesman for the Associated Press issued a statement saying that Fairey "sued the AP under false pretenses by lying about which AP photograph he used."
Fairey said that his lawyers have taken the steps to amend his court pleadings to reflect the fact that "the AP is correct about which photo I used as a reference and that I was mistaken."
The artist expressed his remorse in his statement, saying that he is taking "full responsibility for my actions which were mine alone. I am taking every step to correct the information and I regret I did not come forward sooner. "
He added: "I am very sorry to have hurt and disappointed colleagues, friends, and family who have supported me in this difficult case and trying time in my life."
Fairey's statement said he regretted that his actions would distract from the issue of fair use for artists. "Regardless of which of the two images was used, the fair use issue should be the same," he said.
October 14, 2009
The 39-year-old actor thought he was used to the coverage location shoots get from snappers until he teamed up with Aniston in 'The Bounty', when the paparazzi blocked shots and forced them to re-take, reported Daily Express.
"Unfortunately for poor Jennifer, this roadshow comes out all the time, and then of course there were all the rumours about her and I dating, just because we're doing a movie together, which brought out even more paparazzi," the actor said.
"A lot of the paparazzi are really good people but some of them are a nightmare. They go out of their way to disrupt filming and it's really sad because you're there with a crew of 200 just trying to make a living. You're there for 16 hours a day and you have these guys who don't care if they're standing in your shot," Butler added.
The '300' star also said that he was shocked by the way photographers conduct themselves around a outdoor shoot and the liberties they take.
"They'll flash, so the film you just shot is useless. It's unbelievable sometimes what they do and you're thinking, 'This is allowed?' That can be very frustrating," Butler said.
October 13, 2009
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed an anti-paparazzi bill making it easier to sue media outlets that use photos that invade celebrities' privacy.
A statement issued Monday says the former "Terminator" star had signed a number of bills, including the amendment to a decade-old law that allows fines against paparazzi who illegally or offensively take photos or recordings.
The amendment permits lawsuits against media outlets that pay for and make first use of material they knew was improperly obtained.
Tabloid magazines, TV shows and Internet sites sometimes pay millions of dollars for celebrity fodder.
The amendment takes effect in January.