Tom Cruise is taking on another “mission impossible” task; he’s filed a $50 million defamation lawsuit against two tabloid magazines. Although he’s not likely to get very far in court, the suit is a rare reality check on increasingly reckless reporting by celebrity magazines and Websites.
The practice causes two major problems. It undercuts the credibility of legitimate reporting based on real sources and it’s patently unfair to news outlets and Websites that try to maintain some standards in their reporting.
The competition for newsstand sales and Website page views is so intense among celebrity outlets, they go overboard week after week with outlandish stories based on the flimsiest evidence, always from unnamed sources.
The use of anonymous sources is grounded in journalistic tradition going back to the days of Watergate in the 1970s. It’s one way to get at the truth when government officials, or celebrities, don’t want the truth to be known.
But the practice has become so widely abused almost any ridiculous claim can be reported by citing anonymous “sources.” More often than not, however, the sources likely don’t exist. Or, if they do, they are no more informed than anyone else.
Sadly, Google, the source of 70 percent of all pageviews through its search engine, is a culprit as well. It rewards the worst players in the celebrity “source” game because it gives original content, or “exclusives,” higher search rankings, whether the stories are remotely even true.
Cruise is suing because of a particularly odious claim by In Touch and Life & Style magazines, both owned by Bauer Media, that he had abandoned his daughter Suri, following his divorce from actress Katie Holmes.
“Tom is a caring father who dearly loves Suri. She’s a vital part of his life and always will be. To say he has ‘abandoned’ her is a vicious lie. To say it in lurid headlines with a tearful picture of Suri is reprehensible,” said his lawyer Bert Fields.
“He’s not a litigious guy. But when these sleazy peddlers try to make money with disgusting lies about his relationship with his child, you bet he’s going to sue,” Fields added.
Almost every A-list celebrity has complained about made-up stories in the tabloids. James Franco was the latest. He was forced to deny reports he was dating “Spring Breaker’s” actress Ashley Benson, who is 12 years his junior.
“I also hear that I’ve been dating Selena Gomez, Kristen Stewart and Ashley Benson. Hot damn, am I a lucky guy,” the 34-year-old actor wrote in the Huffington Post.
“I wish I had actually gotten closer than the 13th row of the theater in Toronto where Kristen gave her “On the Road” Q&A, but I didn’t; not only did I not talk to her, I didn’t even go to the SoHo house where I supposedly asked her out on a date.”
Don’t expect the situation to change because of Cruise’s lawsuit. But thanks, Tom, for the reality check.