Empowered by social media and driven by zeal to protect their children, some of Hollywood's most famous moms and dads are pushing back against the snappers who snap at their heels.
Here's a nasty new nickname for a much-loathed media species: the "pedorazzi."
It's even worsethan calling them "stalkerazzi."
But the celebs who are hurling the epithet are mad as heck. Empowered by social media and driven by zeal to protect their children, some of Hollywood's most famous moms and dads are pushing back against the snappers who snap at their heels.
"If it sounds nasty, that's because it is nasty," says Kristen Bell, actress (Veronica Mars), mom (11-month-old daughter) and newly minted crusader with her actor husband, Dax Shepard (Parenthood), against the paparazzi pack they say is terrorizing their baby.
On Twitter, she calls them "hunters" and "predators," and she she mocks their rights under the First Amendment.
"The Founding Fathers could never've anticipated such misuse of the #FirstAmendment. #PhotographersGoneWild #pedorazzi," she retweeted from another user Feb. 24, adding "Well said."
"I think social media is a great way to bring an issue to the most powerful place in the world — the court of public opinion," Bell says.
But even her admirers wonder whether she can prevail over a billion-dollar worldwide celebrity media machine bolstered, at least in the USA, by a free press under the Bill of Rights.
"Good for them, " says Howard Bragman, veteran PR maestro and vice chairman of Reputation.com. "But I have some severe doubts about what they'll actually accomplish. They have a handful of important media on their side, but not the vast majority."
Still, celebrities have won some initial rounds. They've persuaded California lawmakers to pass another anti-paparazzi law, which took effect in January. This one makes it a crime, punishable by a year in jail and a $10,000 fine, for anyone to harass a celebrity's child to take a picture, even in a public place.
Two more laws are in the pipeline; two others are already on the books, and though one of those was thrown out at the trial court level, it's now on appeal.
Opponents in media contend these laws are unconstitutionally broad, and they promise to fight them in court once someone is arrested and charged. Their fear is that legitimate news-gatherers will be swept up by the law, says Gregg Leslie, legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
In August, Jennifer Garner and Halle Berry showed up in Sacramento and tearfully described how paparazzi had stalked, shouted at, provoked and chased their children in public to get pictures.
"(Lawmakers) don't have a strong argument other than the fact that their celebrity constituents want this," says Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel of the National Press Photographers Association. "(Celebrities) want their cake and eat it, too. They want free publicity, and they want to be left alone when they're out in public, and the rest of the world doesn't have that choice."
Bell and Shepard are attacking the other end of the celebrity gossip food chain: publishers, editors and ultimately consumers. They've attracted support from A-listtargets such as Jennifer Aniston, Bradley Cooper, Ellen DeGeneres, Amy Poehler,Ben Affleck (Garner's husband), Amy Adams and Scarlett Johansson.
Last month, Bell and Shepard started a campaign on Twitter demanding all media pledge allegiance to their #NoKidsPolicy, promising not to publish photographs of celebs' children without their parents' permission.
"Parents sign a permission slip for their child to be photographed at their school. I don't see this as any different," Bell says.
Changing media minds
But why her and why now?
"'Razzi never used to hunt kids but with all the magazines and blogs looking for picture content now, things have gotten out of hand because there is a lot of money to be made ... at the expense of little kids who didn't sign up for this," Bell says.
Among those who have taken the pledge: Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood,Extra, E! Entertainment, Inside Edition, NBC's Today show, US Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, Reuters, the Associated Press and the big kahuna of celeb media, Peoplemagazine.
But not general-interest newspapers such as USA TODAY. "We feel confident enough in our standards and ethics on photojournalism not to have to sign pledges that come along like this, though we support the ideas behind the campaign," says David Callaway, editor of USA TODAY.
Still, why have some powerful media agreed to voluntarily restrict themselves in their publishing decisions? Maybe because Bell and her allies are refusing to talk to them unless they do. Maybe because the celebrities are urging their Twitter followers to boycott magazines, newspapers and websites that won't pledge.
The new People editor, Jess Cagle, published an open letter online saying the magazine has always been careful about photos of kids but is now even more "sensitive."
"Of course, there may be rare exceptions based on the newsworthiness of photos," Cagle wrote in a caveat, adding that editors sometimes face "a tough balancing act … when dealing with stars who exploit their children one day, and complain about loss of privacy the next."
Still, "if People gets better interviews because of this and if others lose, then it will send a message," Bragman says. "But are there enough publications (signing up) to make a difference?"
Sean Burke, a former bodyguard for celebs who helped get the just-passed anti-harassment law enacted with his Paparazzi Reform Initiative, says the mainstream media — have nothing to fear. "It's about the conduct of the paparazzi at the time they're taking a photo, yelling at a child or saying demeaning things or offensive language" that causes emotional distress or trauma to the child, he says.
He can't understand why the media can't all agree to a code of ethics (he supplies one on his website) that would make aggressive paparazzi behavior off limits. "For me it's a human-rights situation," he says. "Everyone should have the right to privacy even if they walk outside."
But even if it were possible for the hydra-headed American media to act in concert, the paparazzi and the agencies that buy their photos don't have to go along.
According to paparazzo Jason Webber and former paparazza Jennifer Buhl, who has a book about the pap life coming out this week (Shooting Stars: My Unexpected Life Photographing Hollywood's Most Famous), the interest in celebs and their kids has grown in the past five years. Webber says most readers of celeb news are young moms who like to read about stars and their children.
"You don't make money trying to injure (celebrities) or their children," Webber says. "You want them to be calm because it's better to get the smiling, happy pictures the magazines want."
But the pay is not great; few of their photos sell for as much as they used to (as little as $50), and the lifestyle is stressful and dangerous. But it's not immoral or unethical, says Buhl, a former CNN producer who's now a part-time photographer in Colorado.
The other side of the lens
"I get that it's annoying," she says. "I felt guilty when I photographed Jodie Foster once with her son — it felt a little invasive. But after that, I started to understand more about the symbiotic relationship, and how (celebrities) use us and need us and want us most of the time."
She says there are only about 10 celebrities who are followed constantly, and Kristen Bell isn't one of them.
According to Frank Griffin, co-owner of the Bauer-Griffin paparazzi agency, there are 1,149 pictures of Bell and none with her daughter in the agency's photo archive, compared to more than 80,000 of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and their kids.
The paparazzi "are so easy to avoid," Buhl says. "Just cover your face, and if you do that every day, they're not going to get any pictures, they're not going to make any money and they're not going to sit outside your door anymore."
In any case, Griffin says, there's nothing new about loathing the paparazzi. He concedes that Bell's use of social media gives celebs more leverage than ever before, but he doubts they can stamp out demand entirely.
"They may well be able to shame some people, but in the end, they (publishers and readers) will make a decision based on the bottom line, not whether it's right or wrong," Griffin says. Even though People has signed Bell's pledge, he says, "I bet Life & Style and InTouch are rubbing their hands in glee. One less competitor for celebrity kids pictures."