Sidebar: Andrew McGregor and Paris

Jane Pojawa

“After Paris Hilton got thrown in jail a couple years ago,” Andrew McGregor begins, “her publicists thought it would be good press to show her caring side. send her to Rwanda to tour a refugee camp or hold a baby.” The green gaze intensifies. “A lot of journalists were leaving the country so that they wouldn’t have to deal with their agency calling them up to hold a photo op for Paris. Then I got called. I told this photo editor for the wire services ‘If I see that bourgeois junky here I’m going to break her arm.’ Without missing a beat, the guy said ‘ok, do you know anyone else who might be interested?”

McGregor’s anecdote is reminiscent of another journalist caught up in the same fiasco. Nick Ut is an Associated Press photographer. As a young man working as an AP stringer in Vietnam, he snapped a photo, perhaps the defining photo of the war, and one that went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. It was of Phan Tho Kim Phuc, a naked 9-year-old girl running toward the camera to flee a South Vietnamese napalm attack on Trang Bang village. Her skin was burning off. As she ran towards him, Ut abandoned his camera work to get her medical treatment. She lived.

Flash forward exactly 35 years. Ut snapped another notable photo, one that also captured a defining moment. It was of Paris Hilton weeping in the back of a police car. The incident that sparked the need for a public relations blitz. Ut took a certain amount of flack for “selling out” or becoming a “paparazzo.” He was, in fact, on assignment for AP, following orders. Hilton never did go to Rwanda. She was quoted by the Daily Mail, a report that she later denied, that she wanted to help raise awareness of and implement social controls on the alcohol-related problems of Indian elephants.

The irony of bringing celebrity chic to a war zone or refashioning a tragedy as a public relations vehicle is not lost on McGregor. He describes the “professional bankruptcy of news agencies enthusiastically combining their celebrity reporting with foreign coverage,” and states that “the media elite behind this trend ought to feel a sense of shame and realize that misinforming the public is not superior to telling them nothing at all.”

See related article, “Andrew McGregor… has a plan”