LONDON—The founder and spokesperson of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, announced the release of confidential documents today that present evidence of a causal link between People magazine and the 2005 divorce of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt.
The documents were obtained from an unidentified source inside the magazine. The evidence, in the form of meeting transcripts and wire transfer records, provides support for claims the divorce was engineered by People in order to boost flagging sales and circulation. Among those implicated by the leak are the CEO, CFO, and editors-in-chief of People.
The outcry of the public after the release of this information has been of a scale rarely seen. Protesters descended on the offices of People magazine, carrying signs and chanting. Aaron Reynolds, a celebrity journalism major at Northwestern and one of the protesters, said, “This is a perversion of celebrity journalism. The moral implications of causing two people to divorce aside, objectivity is a celebrity journalist’s greatest tool, and they went so far beyond violating that when they manipulated events to create their own news stories.”
The ill will generated by this release may have a significant financial impact on People magazine. Former readers have begun organizing public boycotts of the magazine. Some groups have begun distributing copies of the Wikileaks document to newsstand owners and retail outlets in an effort to dissuade them from carrying the magazine. As a symbolic gesture, Internet donation drives have encouraged former subscribers to donate $116, the cost of a year’s subscription to People, to Wikileaks. As of filing, Wikileaks had reported receiving over $1 million.
Although legal ramifications should become clearer over the next few days, members of the House and Senate have already begun debate on the creation of a regulatory body to prevent something like this from happening again. Senator Scott Withers (R, WI) had strong words about this, “Creating any kind of regulatory body for the gossip press is absolutely unconstitutional. I understand the desire to do something when presented with a situation like this, but we are flirting with an idea that clearly violates the first amendment of the constitution.”
Representative Arnold Hindemith (D, VT) arguing in favor of the regulatory body, said, “We do not, in any way, shape or form, want to limit the freedom of the gossip press. They will be just as free as they are now to print whatever they like. What needs to be regulated is the clear conflict of interest created when publications decide to make the news, rather than just report it.”
Some celebrity journalism theorists worry this leak is representative of similar policies at People’s competitors. Professor Nicholas Crane, of Stanford’s Department of Communication, said, “It’s possible that creating news has become the next logical evolutionary step of celebrity journalism. Reading these documents, it’s clear that the leadership of People felt it was in their best financial interest to cause [Aniston] and [Pitt] to divorce. Looking back at the increase of their sales and circulation over these last six years, it’s also clear that they were right. Given the immense financial pressures that we, as readers, exert by whether we buy a magazine, we are presented with the situation where we, as a whole, are complicit in People’s actions. In essence, being ruled by our base desires and reading every voyeuristic account of celebrities’ love lives gone wrong has led us to the point where we may not be getting the celebrity journalism we want, but rather the celebrity journalism we deserve.”
At a press conference discussing the leaked documents, Julian Assange said, “We have also released some diplomatic cables, if anyone is interested.”