Sure, we make fun of Britney Spears' excuses — it was the cobblestones, it was the nanny, it was the paparazzi. But does the pop star have a legitimate complaint when it comes to how the media have covered her? How has this coverage affected her losing custody of her children? Could the trappings of fame be partly to blame?
"When you become a celebrity and you choose to be in the spotlight, there are certain things that come along with that," said Us Weekly correspondent Jill Martin. "You don't see Jessica Simpson getting into this kind of trouble."
Of course Jessica doesn't have children — but she does have a team. Britney, meanwhile, lost her personal rep, two different managers and two divorce/custody lawyers in the last year — largely because of her erratic behavior (see "Britney Spears Seems To Be Drowning In Troubles, So Why Won't She Listen To Anyone?"). Without a consistent team, she doesn't have the ability to run a campaign, dodge bombshells or otherwise effectively get her side of the story out there. So while her stock continues to plummet, her ex-husband's has continued to rise.
"People hated Kevin Federline when Britney filed for divorce," said TMZ Managing Editor Harvey Levin. "And now, 77 percent of our viewers that we polled think the kids are better with Kevin."
"Have I seen K-Fed in action as a parent? No. But I definitely think he's the better parent," said celebrity-gossip blogger Perez Hilton (see "Britney Spears, Bad Parent? Taryn Manning, Perez Hilton Weigh In"). "It's because of the environment he's created for the children. His house is away from the paparazzi. You never see him out and about with the children."
"It doesn't up the value of the photos to have Britney with the kids at this point," said Brandy Navarre, who owns the photo agency X17. "Now, if we saw Kevin with the babies, that would be bigger. A shot of him with both kids in a public situation doesn't exist."
Which of course begs the question — wouldn't Britney being photographed spending time with the kids at least prove that she spends time with the kids, versus handing them off to a nanny? Do we actually know what Kevin does with Sean Preston and Jayden James? "What is he doing all those hours with the kids?" Navarre asked. "He's locking them up in the house? That's kind of weird."
So while Federline may make just as many parenting mistakes as Spears, hers are the ones that are documented and scrutinized. When a Los Angeles judge ordered that both of them enroll in a Parenting Without Conflict program (or seek help from a mental-health professional) and participate in joint co-parenting counseling, the headlines focused on Spears' end of the bargain (see "Britney Spears Must Undergo Regular Drug Testing, Parenting Classes In Custody Case").
"If we have a really big exclusive Britney story, it can double our traffic in one day," Navarre said.
Sure, Federline is less of a celebrity, but it's also a juicier story to proclaim Spears is a bad mother versus Federline as a bad father. He's already been down that road and has been actively working to counteract that image ever since leaving Shar Jackson while she was pregnant with his second child. Lucky for him, he's had a consistent team to help him do so, and once he filed for custody, that team has been in overdrive."Kevin Federline has had this campaign, this anti-Britney campaign, going for the past few months," Navarre said. "I think he and his legal team have been playing pretty dirty, and it does seem to be having an effect."
"The media gets played all the time," TMZ's Levin said. "We get played. I will openly admit it. When people call us with info, we have to make sure it's true and consider their reason for telling us. There are people who want to put certain stories out there."
All those planted leaks from unnamed "sources" (sometimes legitimate, sometimes not) also help divert attention elsewhere, even if they confuse matters with the court. So while Federline is left alone, the paparazzi swarm Spears and potentially endanger her and her children, at least from her point of view. Her bodyguard was charged in September for attacking a paparazzo in Las Vegas in an attempt to protect Sean Preston (see "Britney Spears And Parenting: A Timeline Of Tumult"). But was Britney seeking the attention to begin with?"I think ... she's addicted to publicity," Levin said. "She is much smarter than people give her credit for, in terms of knowing that she's going to attract cameras and sometimes it seems like she courts it. ... I think she gets a rush [from it]."
"She knows a lot of our photographers," X17's Navarre said. "We have a special relationship with Britney."
"She seems to like the paparazzi," Us Weekly's Martin said. "On many occasions, she's invited the paparazzi to come along with her."
Could Spears be seeking out the paparazzi in a misguided attempt to control her own publicity? Is this her version of damage control, to make sure she remains in the public eye? Then again, if damage control is what's on her mind, then why back out of interviews for Allure and OK! magazines or run out of the photo shoots (see "Britney Spears 'Meltdown' Chronicled In Revealing Magazine Article")?
"I've been screamed at, hugged, but I've never been stood up [before]," said Allure contributing editor Judith Newman, who was to interview the singer after she completed the photo shoot for the magazine's September cover. "Britney, you should have done it. We would have had a good time.""She's started to give interviews, then backed out, and then she gets all these negative magazine covers," Navarre said. "I'm sure if she had someone trying to protect her it wouldn't be quite so bad for her. I'm not sure Britney can do her own damage control. I don't think she's up for it."
"I don't think Britney can do the proper damage control because she doesn't understand what's going on around her," Levin said. "She either doesn't understand or she doesn't care."
Lucky for Britney, she doesn't have it all on her own shoulders anymore. With her yet-untitled studio album, which is due November 13, her record label is shifting into gear with its own campaign — to promote the music. Whether that's a form of damage control in itself is too soon to say, but it sure couldn't hurt to have somebody looking out for the singer besides her latest divorce attorney.
"It's not Jive's place to fashion a public-relations campaign with respect to Britney's personal issues," label spokesman Allan Mayer said, "but Jive does care about her and does support her. We're not pointing fingers — because the media and the paparazzi wouldn't exist if there weren't an appetite for it. But there's no question that when you have someone at this level of celebrity, they become like cartoons or soap-opera characters, and we forget that they're human beings. People say that's the trade you make, that you have to give up your privacy or the ability to lead a normal life, but sometimes you make that bargain before you realize what it entails and it's too late. Britney's a grown woman, and she makes her own choices, and we respect that. But she's been at a disadvantage [without a consistent team], and obviously that makes it harder to cope."
Jive isn't planning on trotting out Spears for publicity purposes — at least not yet. The label has other promo plans involving the "Gimme More" single and video for now, which should give the singer a break and allow her to consider the following advice from Perez Hilton: "Britney, you just need to go away for a while, for real."
Perhaps a break from all the publicity — good, bad and otherwise — would do her some good.
For more on Britney's child-custody setback, check out: