Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dealing with High Profile Ugly Incidents and Celebrity Crisis Media Relations

Lindsay Lohan in handcuffs     Court pool camera image
Los Angeles, CA—The most meaningless police incidents can quickly elevate to crisis proportions.  That’s especially true for celebrities.  We’ve all seen damaging video of celebrity’s antics surrounding minor conflicts.  When such an event becomes national news it’s no longer insignificant. 
When you become a celebrity your privacy can become all but non-existent.    Along with the big cash and perks comes the media magnifying glass. 
Whatever you do pick your new friends carefully because all manner of danger can come from strangers with big smiles.   Drug dealers, extortionists and stalkers always seem to circle around celebrities like sharks.
It never hurts to have a new friend or business associate quietly checked out by a reputable private investigator.   That can save you millions later.  When you hire bodyguards look for recently retired cops or qualified licensed private investigators.  They must know how to avoid troublesome conflicts. 
As a long time cop and defense investigator I have seen both side of celebrity cases.  I need to begin with a shocking fact; cops, prosecutors or judges never treat celebrities equally.  For too many of these government officials, attaching themselves to celebrities brings brushes with fame and hope of fortune. 
The O.J. Simpson case changed many lives and made lucrative careers for cops, lawyers and low ranking journalists. 
What I’m saying is that cops are far more inclined to arrest a celebrity than to give the benefit of the doubt.  Prosecutors likewise will commence a prosecution of a celebrity where they’d normally be inclined to not file the case.
We’ve seen many high profile Hollywood criminal case acquittals that were not tied to great legal work but the all out effort to bring even the thinnest cases against celebrities.     
Some celebrities have become regulars to petty scandals and media frenzies.  We think of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan as troubled.  Were they not famous, they might have escaped arrest, conviction, and publicity mud baths.   Frankly none of their offenses deserved the massive attention they received.  Celebrity justice is by far the best reason to bar cameras from America’s courtrooms. 
Celebrities are natural targets for drunks, fools and publicity seeking parasites.   When out in public celebrities are always in danger of some unprovoked conflict.  
The best advice I can give anyone who is either famous or infamous is to lay low.  Hide behind those sun glasses and floppy hats when possible.  Pay with cash or a credit card with a business name at stores.   Discretion and conflict avoidance are paramount. 
However shit happens and you may be on the receiving end of a simple traffic citation.  You may become the victim of a disgusting criminal allegation made by some opportunist.   What you do during or after such an even can destroy or leave a career somewhat unscathed. 
Take the retired Chicago burglary detective, and now well-known actor Dennis Farina.   He once forgot he had a small loaded handgun in a bag as he was boarding a plane at LAX.  Was this some ugly crime, scandal or terrorist event?  Of course not, but Farina never had a chance with the TSA goons or LAX police. 
Eventually after spending thousands on a fine lawyer and avoiding additional publicity Farina was able to mitigate the forgettable mess into a non-conviction.  Farina’s career moved forward without a staining his reputation.  He never publicly lost his dignity.
Here are some rules:  Behave well during an arrest.  Argue your case in the courtroom and not on the street or in the press.  Always smile and try to look your best for police booking photos so they don’t look like wanted posters.  Never answer police questions, tell them you want a lawyer present first. If you’re unable to avoid the paparazzi, never try to hide your face from news cameras that looks terrible.  If cornered by journalists never say, “No Comment!”  Instead say something, WITH A SMILE,  “The matter is under investigation right now, thank you for your concern.”  If you’re already charged or indicted simply say the matter needs to be tried in the courtroom.   
Let your attorney and publicist handle the media fallout.  Unfortunately many otherwise good defense lawyers have their own publicity agenda or are not experienced to make wise media strategy.  Not all publicists are equal when it comes to crisis management.
Always remember the less said to the media is usually the best.   Always smile and never let anyone see you upset, angry or sweating.  Never slam you door or gas peddle when leaving uncomfortable locations.
Remember the paparazzi will get the big money for images and video of seemingly bad or emotionally motivated behavior.  Regrettably you will see those images again and again. The pictures will never go away and with the Internet they will out live all of us.   
Good luck, have fun, stay safe and enjoy bringing your talents to the world.

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