THE PUBLICIST: Bad publicity is better than no publicity, unless you're Jacko

I've generally always believed in the old adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity. Being criticized teased, mocked, or ridiculed is still, in most cases, better than being ignored in the celebrity game.

I've generally always believed in the old adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity. Being criticized teased, mocked, or ridiculed is still, in most cases, better than being ignored in the celebrity game.

Many an entertainer or public figure has seen his fortunes rise after a dose of controversial PR. Just recently, I worked on a movie that was the target of an unflattering and disagreeable story that ran while it was still in production. And suddenly everyone knew about the movie. Some folks told me they couldn't wait to see it just because of that article. So, yeah, I've always thought no publicity was worse than bad publicity. Until now. This whole furor over the Michael Jackson interview on ABC has made me reconsider. There are two things from a publicist's perspective that are most puzzling. Why did Jackson agree to it? And why did he allow access over such a long period of time? (Eight months, I think it was.) I've often said that it's risky for stars to permit journalists to hang around over a period of weeks or months because it creates a false sense of trust and kinship. The subject begins to think he's winning the interviewer over with his charm. (Almost all stars think they're irresistible; it's what drives them to become performers in the first place.) Big mistake. Smart reporters - and there are plenty out there - exploit this feeling of intimacy, encouraging the stars to take them into their confidence. There's nothing unethical about that. It's up to the star, and his publicist, to realize they are talking to a writer with a job to do - not their mother or shrink. Apparently Jackson assumed that he and the filmmaker had become such good friends that the latter would omit anything objectionable from the documentary and turn it into a fluff piece. Fat chance. The other amazing thing is that so many people are still fascinated by Jackson. The viewing audience was 27 million! As the US verges on war, threats of terrorism loom, and the administration treats the Constitution like bird-cage lining, why do Americans care about a man-child whose primary purpose has been reduced to satisfying our curiosity for the freakish? Based on immediate reaction to the documentary, the once-gloved one is very adept at arousing our indignation. A double whammy. But wait a sec...the last person to do both got himself elected to the office of...hmmm...maybe Jacko knew what he was doing after all.
  • Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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