There’s a big story regarding Tom Cruise’s purported romance with
actress Katie Holmes. But the story isn’t whether the supposed affair
is a crock, and Holmes is Cruise’s beard. The issue is the press’s
suddenly harsh, mocking and critical coverage of Cruise.
In the past, there were few in the media who dared to come right out and suggest that Cruise’s marriage to Nicole Kidman was bogus or that his alleged involvement with Penelope Cruz was inspired by something other than true love. Celebrity reporters hinted these things at times, but they were circumspect in what they said. For the most part, the marriage of Cruise and Kidman was presented straight, so to speak.
This has not been the case with the relationship between Cruise and Katie Holmes. The New York Post’s Kyle Smith, for instance, has done two lengthy feature articles poking fun at the affair. The Daily News gossip writer have likewise questioned the whole thing, as has the Associated Press, Page Six – and almost everyone else asked to report on it. Liz Smith even recently compared Cruise to Noel Coward in respect of the way Coward would often be seen in public with actress Gertrude Lawrence to reassure the public that he was not in his private life what they suspected.
Nor has the skeptical reporting on Cruise been limited to the print media. CNN questioned the seemingly unstaged photo ops Cruise and Homes arranged – as did much of the rest of the electronic media, even including the Today show. One leading newsmagazine actually went so far as to commission a nationwide telephone poll to see if average folks in the heartland were buying the Cruise-Holmes hook-up.
Moreover, when Cruise went on Oprah and said he was in love with Holmes and jumped on a couch to show his enthusiasm for her, the press covered this in terms of the fall-out that this – in their view laughable cover-up – might have on his career and the movie of “War of The Worlds” that he has coming out.
So why is it there has been this abrupt shift in the way that Cruise is being covered? The answer, it seems, lies in Cruise’s change in publicists.
From almost the beginning of his screen career, Cruise was repped by Pat Kingsley, head of the super-powerful PMK public relations agency. To get some sense of how rich its client roster is, consider that earlier this year Kingsley fired her subordinate Leslee Dart for not generating enough business. Yet when Dart left this aide took with her a client list which included Ellen Barkin, Ron Howard, Woody Allen, Brian Grazer, Scott Rudin, Conan O’Brien, Jonathan Demme, Mike Nichols, Wes Anderson, Sydney Pollack, Anthony Minghella and Martin Scorsese. Among the clients Dart left behind were Nicole Kidman and Tom Hanks.
Name a big star in Hollywood, and it’s a good bet that Kingsley handles them. This makes her a vastly powerful figure in the media. After all, most of the press can’t function without access to these celebrities. The magazines need them for cover photos which boost newsstand circulation sales. The newspapers need them for interviews and features that feed the giant maw of stories going into their daily “Living” sections. And Kingsley is a very tough woman. Writers who wrote critical pieces about her clients or who included material or asked questions about matters considered verboten – like that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s father was a Nazi or that Burt Reynolds beat up both of his ex-wives – are put on a list and denied access to name actors. Kingsley previously killed stories in which reporters planned to ask Jodie Foster about John Hinckley and wouldn’t let Calista Flockhart on the Today show when its producers refused to promise not to ask Flockhart about her weight. Further, reporters who cause trouble are not only refused the chance to do major interviews. They are also denied admission to many major industry events like movie screenings and press conferences. In effect, their careers are ruined.
Ironically, attempts to fight this blacklist are thwarted by anti-trust regulations. When a group of West Coast magazine editors led by former People editor Lanny Jones tried to organize to break the blacklist they were told by in-house legal counsel at their respective companies that they would be in violation of the Sherman anti-trust act.
And guess what? Last year Cruise fired Kingsley and replaced her with Lee Anne Devette. In addition to being his sister, Devette is a fellow member of Scientology. Her sole client appears to be Cruise. In other words, reporters are no longer at risk of being blacklisted for attacking Cruise. In fact, bitter as Kingsley likely feels about Cruise’s dismissal of her, she may well be looking favorably on the ruination of his reputation. In short, Cruise’s decision was only a step shy of career suicide. So the real issue isn’t the press’s nasty – but seemingly truthful – coverage of his latest “romance”. Rather, it’s that the “independence” they’re showing now is the same courage you show as a twelve-year old when you punch your eight-year old cousin in the head.