Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, an associate professor in the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University, writes about women and social media. She was spokeswoman for international affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion on CNN.
With a new film on the horizon, George Clooney can expect to face significantly more press coverage than usual. Paparazzi photos, after all, come with the territory of being a celebrity. But that doesn’t mean his preschool-aged children should be forced to share that spotlight.
On Thursday, the 60-year-old actor said as much in an open letter to Britain’s Daily Mail and other media outlets, asking them not to publish photos of his children. Clooney argued that because his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, fights terrorist groups, publishing photos of their twins would put their children’s lives in danger.
The media should honor Clooney’s request, of course – but it should also refrain from publishing photos of the children of anyone in the public eye without permission. Clooney is right that the nature of his wife’s work increases the need for privacy in order to protect their twins. But, even if that weren’t the case, it’s unconscionable for paparazzi to target the children of any celebrity.
Having to dodge adults’ attempts to record them while on a public playground, at school or on a walk robs a kid of his or her childhood. It prevents them from enjoying the carefree moments that should be everyone’s birthright. Every kid should have the chance to go through their awkward adolescent phase, miss an easy shot at basketball practice and experiment with faddish clothes without their every move being recorded for posterity.
This constant surveillance also deprives them of the anonymity to explore the world and make new friends without people knowing the identities of their parents. A kid who makes a new buddy at soccer practice in between camera flashes can never know whether the person is genuine or merely wants access to a famous family.
What’s more, part of the process of growing up involves making mistakes and exploring different identities. A kid who can’t go out in the world without being known as George Clooney’s daughter or son doesn’t have this chance – a denial of anonymity that the child never signed up for.
Being targeted by photographers also endangers a person’s safety. Think of how Princess Diana died in a car crash as her driver fled paparazzi, or the tabloid photos of Britney Spears driving with her son unbuckled in her lap. Spears later said she was trying to dodge photographers, explaining, “I instinctively took measures to get my baby and me out of harm’s way, but the paparazzi continued to stalk us.” No child should ever be endangered like this.
And a child who has these kinds of experiences is likely to be afraid to go out into the world; paparazzi swarms are disorienting even for adults. The pandemic has shown us all firsthand how awful it is for the mental health of children not to be able to leave their homes. No child should be made to live a caged existence like this in a post-pandemic world – no matter how luxe their home may be.
In his letter, Clooney argued that he himself never publishes photos of his kids, but that’s also irrelevant. Parents should have the right to share a holiday photo with fans without giving paparazzi permission to stalk their children on their way to school.
Clooney specifically mentioned the Daily Mail because the tabloid had published photos of the 1-year-old child of actor Billie Lourd, later removing them. Moving forward, the Daily Mail and every other media outlet and website should adopt a strict policy against publishing photos of the children of people in the public eye, unless they have specifically been given permission to do so by the child’s parents, or the child’s parents have chosen to bring them to an event knowing in advance that media will be in attendance (such as a movie premiere).
Photographers also have to be given incentive to stop this practice. Media outlets should refuse to hire photographers who take pictures of the kids of celebrities without permission. And when readers see such photos in the media, we should express our outrage. The ugly truth is that, if the public didn’t create demand for these pictures, the practice would stop.
It’s time to turn the public spotlight off the children of celebrities and onto the publishers, photographers and consumers who traffic in these photos. Every child should have the right to move through the world without fear of being hunted by adults. The kids of people in the public eye should be treated as the vulnerable human beings who they are – not as characters for public consumption.