The celebrity gossip machine had burbled for a day or two about Ozzy Osbourne’s marriage, and for weeks about Jada Pinkett Smith’s. Yet both stars hit a breaking point at about the same time — and took to Facebook.
“Open marriage?” Smith wrote on her Facebook wall late Sunday. Indeed, that had been the buzz about the Mr. and Mrs. Will Smith relationship since some ambiguous comments she made in an interview. All she meant, she wrote, was that she and her husband share a mutual trust: “This does NOT mean we have an open relationship . . . this means we have a GROWN one.”
Hours after TMZ claimed that Osbourne and wife Sharon had split, the heavy-metal legend made his own disclosure online Monday night: For months he had abused drugs and “was [a jerk] to the people I love most, my family,” he wrote. But “just to set the record straight, Sharon and I are not divorcing.”
So that settles that? Perhaps. But if the stars wanted the rumors to vanish, their denials inspired a whole new cycle of stories, even in mainstream news outlets (hello!) that ignored them earlier.
Celebrities are increasingly facing rumors about themselves head-on, via social media. It’s how Chelsea Handler denied gossip reports she was dating 50 Cent; (“calm down, [we met] about a potential project”); former child star Raven-Symone finessed speculation about her sexuality (“I’m not one for a public display of my life”); and Billy Joel’s singer-daughter Alexa Ray addressed claims that she’d had plastic surgery (only that one nose job, she said). Last month, country stars Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert conducted a jokey Twitter dialogue about a supermarket-tabloid story that they were headed for divorce (“can’t wait to read if we make it or not”), coyly letting fans know they were tweeting from the marital bed.
The tactic flies in the face of the standard publicist advice: Just ignore it.
“Let’s say the rumor is false: Are you just giving more attention to it?” asked Tony Fratto, a Washington strategic communications expert. “Are you expected to go out and knock down every false rumor? Which can keep you busy.”
Many stories, after all, will go away if celebrities don’t dignify them with a response. But for the public figure being gossiped about, it can be hard to turn the other cheek, or to gauge how minor the rumors really are. (“When you’re in that bubble, you tend to think that everyone’s talking about you,” Fratto said.) Social media gives stars the impulsive outlet for venting that an old-school handler might have blocked. Justin Bieber’s online rant against the media last month just raised more questions about his recent behavior. Lauryn Hill’s kooky, conspiracy-laden Twitter explanation of her tax woes got more publicity than the tax woes themselves.
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