George Clooney proves why shaming the tabloids is more effective than suing them


George Clooney (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Celebrities rarely acknowledge tabloids — at this point, there are so many outlets writing maybe-true-but-probably-not posts, it’s pointless to go after every single one. So when a star actually responds to a story, it’s noteworthy.

And in the case of George Clooney, it goes viral. Early Wednesday morning, Clooney blasted the Daily Mail for publishing a story that claimed his fiancee’s mother was not pleased that her daughter was marrying someone outside the Druze religion. In a lengthy op-ed on USA Today’s web site, Clooney slammed the British tabloid for that fact being completely false. But more importantly, the story said there are jokes “about traditions in the Druze religion that end up with the death of the bride.”

That, Clooney wrote, is where the tabloid crossed the line. Noting that he normally doesn’t care what papers make up about him, he added, “This lie involves larger issues.”

“The irresponsibility, in this day and age, to exploit religious differences where none exist, is at the very least negligent and more appropriately dangerous,” he wrote. “We have family members all over the world, and the idea that someone would inflame any part of that world for the sole reason of selling papers should be criminal.”

When Clooney so aggressively went after the actual content and explicitly pointed out what was wrong, the Daily Mail was shamed into an unusual step of its own: Deleting the story from its Web site and launching an “investigation” about what went wrong with this article, written by a freelancer.

The story caught fire for a couple reasons, one being that Clooney is an A-list star who generally stays mum on the thousands of things printed about his love life every year. The second is that Clooney hit the tabloid point for point: Fiancee Amal Alamuddin’s mother is not Druze; she’s didn’t tell everyone she was against the marriage; she’s not against the marriage. And, oh yeah, it’s probably not a good idea to stoke the flames by writing in the story that some Druze brides who marry outside the religion end up dead.

This brings up what should be a valuable lesson for celebrities who are horrified to see false stories printed about themselves every day. When they’re particularly egregious, shaming is probably more valuable than suing them.

While the process of suing a tabloid for a false story is a complicated and generally very difficult venture (for reasons explained over and over again), sometimes it works. Among stars who have tried include Tom Cruise, who sued Life & Style for $50 million for defamation over claims he abandoned daughter Suri after he split with Katie Holmes; David Beckham went after In Touch Weekly for libel and slander after writing he had sex with hookers; even Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie filed a lawsuit against News of The World for claiming they had broken up.

While a lawsuit definitely makes a point, there’s little chance that people will actually get to read evidence about why the story was wrong. Generally, people’s eyes tend to glaze over at the word “lawsuit” and legalese in general.

By specifically pointing out just how many things the Daily Mail article got incorrect, Clooney caused a firestorm. In fact, many more people picked up those quotes (and the Daily Mail’s retraction) than the actual story.

As Clooney points out in his op-ed, one of the most destructive parts of the Daily Mail story is that other, more reputable outlets started running with the story, citing Daily Mail as the source. Now, with Clooney’s very public, detailed reprimand, those same Web sites will likely think twice before trusting the Daily Mail again. Same with the people that read the site, and likely certain celebrities thinking about cooperating with them.

At the end of the day, that’s far more damaging than a lawsuit.

Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter and pop culture blogger for the Style section. She joined the Post in May 2008, a week before she graduated from the University of Maryland, and worked on Lisa de Moraes' TV Column and blog.
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