NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Miley Cyrus, who has rocketed to fame by playing teen idol Hannah Montana, is only 15 years old. Yet she's already savvy enough to grasp the bedrock of image-is-everything Hollywood: There's no business like ... damage control.
It's as easy as blaming the media!
After all, who will your loving fans believe: you, portraying yourself as a victim of media manipulation, or a pack of sleazy, do-anything-for-a-headline journalists?
Cyrus understands how the process works. She and her managers have been whining about media manipulation ever since an outcry began about photos of her that appear in the current issue of Vanity Fair.
Center of the scandal
The most talked-about picture, shot by famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz, shows Cyrus "wrapped in what appears to be a satin bed sheet, looking over her shoulder with her back exposed," the Associated Press reported. As a result, some folks are fretting that Cyrus is too young to be depicted as a ... movie star.
The Disney Channel , which airs the Hannah Montana show, is naturally freaking out about what this controversy might mean to its young fans and, more pointedly, their parents. Maybe they're secretly fretting that Cyrus will morph into another Britney Spears.
"Unfortunately, as the article suggests, a situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines," the network said in a press release.
Loose translation: Blame the evil media (of which Disney is a part) instead of its meal ticket.
Cyrus herself said through her publicist: "I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be 'artistic' and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed. I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about."
Loose translation: Gosh, the Disney Channel flipped out on me! Don't they remember I'm just a kid, too? DON'T BLAME ME!
In response to the flap, Vanity Fair said: "Miley's parents and/or minders were on the set all day. Since the photo was taken digitally, they saw it on the shoot and everyone thought it was a beautiful and natural portrait of Miley."
Leibovitz, the photographer at the shoot, is the most accomplished celebrity photographer of her era. Over her lengthy career, she has put famous people in imaginative, sometimes bizarre or even disturbing poses. For example, Leibovitz masterminded Vanity Fair's cover of a very pregnant Demi Moore and took one of the final photos of John Lennon, in which he lay naked in the fetal position, with his wife. Almost always, Leibovitz's photographs put their subjects in the spotlight.
Along similar lines, Vanity Fair is often the first choice of publicity-hungry stars who want to promote their movies, music projects or television shows. The Conde Nast-owned magazine tends to help (more than hurt) celebrities by publishing informative, if occasionally star-struck, pieces on them.
This Cyrus "controversy," which might well have been engineered by her sophisticated media-advisory team, can only serve to help her sell more CDs and to generate more publicity for Cyrus, her Hannah Montana character and the Disney Channel.
A win-win situation
Let's face the facts. Cyrus has been in the business long enough to know what she's doing. Her father, Billy Ray, had a huge hit with the song "Achy Breaky Heart," and he surely understands the publicity game. He even appeared with his daughter in at least one of the photos that Leibovitz took.
Miley Cyrus is one of Hollywood's most dependable stars. Her "Best of Both Worlds" tour was a sensation, selling out arenas. Her 3-D in-concert movie garnered $31.3 million in its opening weekend. Some have projected that the Hannah Montana franchise will be worth $1 billion before too long.
And you're telling me some semi-risque photos in Vanity Fair isgoing to bring down that empire, destroy the Disney Channel and turn a million young girls into party animals overnight? Get serious.
The incident won't inflict any real damage to Cyrus' reputation or her career. It will, if anything, help her by making her seem more grown up and showing, uh, another side of her to her fans.
Talk about the best of both worlds!
: Did Vanity Fair take advantage of Cyrus, or is she engaging in good, old-fashioned damage control?
: Warren Buffett's most startling accomplishment has little to do with his imposing affluence or his impressive philanthropic record.
It's that he has almost single-handedly made being wealthy seem cool to the masses -- especially to the media.
The latest example of this occurred Monday, with Buffett's involvement in candy maker Mars Inc.'s $23 billion takeover of Wrigley . The media, who have lovingly dubbed Buffett the Oracle of Omaha (yes, we're suckers for alliteration), lavished such praise on him that you would've thought he had just presided over his daughter's wedding instead of further enriching himself.
Buffett can count on kid-gloves treatment from an adoring media, in contrast to the tougher scrutiny that most top executives get.
The media should remember that Buffett doesn't do these deals for the greater good of society. He does them to make more money. He may be a hero of capitalists everywhere, but the media should give him the same kind of skeptical reception as everyone else gets.
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By Jon Friedman