YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Survival Of The Cutest

Celebrity children are targeted by tabs and gossip websites, and the emphasis isn't on family values.

January 06, 2008|Monica Corcoran | Times Staff Writer

On last week's cover of Life & Style magazine, a towheaded toddler pouted above the headline "New Trouble for Shiloh." Good thing the 20-month-old daughter of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie can't read, because the story went on to detail the "sad pattern" of her neglect. Just a week earlier, Life & Style's cover line screamed, "Britney's Kids to Be Tested for Drugs: The crisis at home is the most heartbreaking it's ever been!"

These days, kids sell. Whether it's a softer-than-pablum feature on Suri's Scientology parenting or a cover story proclaiming that Zahara Jolie-Pitt is a child of rape, taste and ethics are of minor consideration.

"The proliferation of weekly tabloids means a fight at the newsstands to get copies sold," says Lisa Granatstein, managing editor of Media Week. "They need something to write about, and you have these major star couples like Brad and Angelina and Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck having kids."

That's not to say that these couples are the first perfect storms of celebrity to become parents. But in the past, celebrity kids didn't get hounded because magazines respected their privacy and avoided exposure that could compromise a family's security, and there weren't nearly as many tabloids desperate for fodder.

But it's not just those weeklies that report like gossipy aunties on kids and pit them against each other in survival of the cutest contests. On the Web, coverage of celebrity kids has also hit a fever pitch, and the atmosphere is more vicious than a schoolyard brawl. Babies are branded "ugly losers," and awkward teens get called out as "homely hippos."

In's end-of-the-year pop-culture quiz, readers were asked: "Who is the most adorable celebrity baby?" Violet Affleck won, with 36% of the vote. In mid-December, Forbes -- once more devoted to business culture than nursery news -- went so far as to rank "Hollywood's Most Influential Infants" on its website. For the record, it was Shiloh for having garnered mention in 2,000 articles over the course of the past year.

When it comes to the right or wrong of slinging insults at innocent youths, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton is blunt. "I don't feel bad at all," he says of posts on that poke fun at the prominent chin of Rumer Willis (daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis). Or his physical criticism of Christie Brinkley and Bill Joel's daughter Alexa Ray Joel ("no supermodel"). In fact, his ribbing of her prompted the 22-year-old singer to strike back on her MySpace page by calling him "dangerous."

The blogger sees celebrity kids as fair game because they're out in public. So do other celebrity gossip websites, such as A Socialite's Life ( and the Evil Beet (, that mock celebrity kids on their physical appearances.

The bloggers definitely make the tabloids look better. But they also up the ante for snarky coverage. Us Weekly recently ran a "Fashion Police" page in which their critics pitted Courtney Love's daughter Frances Bean Cobain ("She must be Marilyn Manson's kid") against Willis ("Her lack of style is no rumer.")

Ask the editors of these publications for an explanation and they're either mute or coy.

Us Weekly editor Janice Min declined comment on the magazine's coverage of celebrity kids.

Michelle Lee, editor of In Touch and Life & Style, was a little more helpful. She says that about 10% to 15% of their covers feature children of celebrities. "We definitely have ethics when it comes to covering kids. Our stories aren't necessarily about the kids but what their parents are like. We weren't attacking Shiloh on our cover story." (In essence, the magazine reported Angelina and Brad didn't bring their infant along on a bike ride with the family in New Orleans.)

Granatstein dismisses most stories as harmless but says certain publications cross the line. She found it "disgraceful" when it was widely reported that Zahara Jolie-Pitt, whom the couple adopted from a woman in Ethiopia, was a child conceived as the result of a rape. (The story was originally reported by Reuters in November.) "It's one thing to cover public figures," Granatstein says. "These kids are paying the price for having famous parents."

And their parents, no matter how high up the celebrity ladder they are, probably don't have much legal recourse. According to Sandra Baron, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, the coverage of kids is a breach of good taste rather than the law. "It's the Faustian bargain that these celebrities make for fame," she says. "Part of that pact is paid for by their families -- their children and their spouses."

That pact never expires either. At the moment, finds Suri Cruise "adorable." But when she grows into an awkward adolescent?

"I'll say, 'What happened to Suri,' " Hilton says, "if she's ugly."


Los Angeles Times Articles