‘The Kristen Stewart, Katie Holmes Playbook’: How Hollywood Is Using the Internet to Control Its Own Media Destiny (EXCLUSIVE GUEST BLOG)

Tom & Katie Split!
Inside scoop about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' divorce.
Writing exclusively for Celebuzz, New York Times best-selling author and pop culture expert Richard Rushfield explains how the Internet is allowing today’s celebrities to seize control of their own PR spin when it come to scandals. Rushfield is also a frequent contributor to The Huffington PostThe Daily Beast and formerly served as online entertainment editor for Los Angeles Times.

For so long, when times got tough, the Internet became a star’s worst enemy. Celebrities accustomed to controlling their images carefully found, thanks to the internet, that again and again, the debate slid away from them and sucked them into PR hell.

But finally, a young generation of stars is learning how to take the web into their own hands and become the captain of their own media destiny.

Tom Cruise’s couch jumping, Britney Spears’s head-shaving, Lindsay Lohan’s… everything, would have barely scratched the surface of public consciousness without the Internet there to repeat those moments, copy them, meme them and ultimately mock them within an inch of their lives. What would have been a passing embarrassment became a tool for their haters to come out and taunt.

For stars, the idea of bypassing the media and speaking directly to the public has always been very attractive.

But in the internet age, more stars than not have found that the web is not the rope that will save you but exactly enough rope to hang yourself.

When scandal struck, those stars who tried to use the Internet to call for help only ended up pouring nitroglycerine on the fire. Charlie Sheen, in leaving Twitter last week, was acknowledging that what would have been a run-of-the-mill star-hitting-a-rough-patch story turned into a five-alarm inferno thanks to his tweets and his straight-to-web videos. John Mayer attempted to use Twitter to apologize and calm the furor arising from his controversial comments to Playboy, but only fanned the flames more and more with each Tweet.

For the past years, as the Internet has behaved like a roving lynch mob, seeking new victims to throw on its campfire, the smart celebrity was one who kept his or her yap zipped.

But today, a few stars are proving impressively savvy at using the media to take control of the story and perhaps, taking back the streets of the internet for scandal plagued celebrities everywhere. First it was Katie Holmes, orchestrating the revelations of her divorce like a master conductor; taking the media and the internet by surprise, fleeing Cruiseland with a ready-made packet of revelations that were dripped out over the following days, insuring that her version dominated all accounts of the divorce. Awed by the details, the internet fell in line and Katie became a cause celebre.

Then last week, as rumors of Kristen Stewart’s infidelity swept the media, Stewart suddenly released a statement, posted online, apologizing to her boyfriend and to the world. The quick, smooth and unequivocal move effectively sucked all the oxygen out of the story, perhaps saving her career.

Before the internet, a star would have had to find an easygoing journalist — a Barbara Walters — to sit down with and hope their version would find sympathy. Now, they can rely on the speed of the web to simply dominate the story, if they play it right. There are three simple rules for stars to doing just that, straight from the Holmes/Stewart playbook:

1. Surprise: The Internet is a beast that always must be fed. But it is possible, even in this age, to get in front of it and shock it into submission. No one saw the Holmes/Cruise divorce coming, so before the world could even take it in, Katie was raining her side of the story down on it. If Stewart had waited another few days to issue her statement, by then the story would have raged out of control. The fact that she did it while the scandal was still getting on its feet, knocked its legs out from under it.

2. Have a clear story to tell: Stars in the past have thought they could simply charm or dazzle their way out of a scandal, but no more. You have to have a simple statement of where you are coming from, tailor made to win sympathy. My children were being held hostage by a cult. I made a mistake and I’m sorry. Keep it simple with no, ifs and or buts for people to latch onto and quibble with.

3. Then shut up. Once you have gotten your clear, simple story out there, don’t keep talking. Stars think they can rebuild their connection with the fans during this period by talking to them, but in fact their fans are hiding under their beds when scandal breaks, as the lynch mob roams the streets. One more slip of the tongue, one silly aside and the story stays alive for another week.

The alternative to this approach: the recent career of Mel Gibson, who years after his troubles broke still has yet to get ahead of the story and this finds his once invincible screen career lying in ruins.

Richard Rushfield

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