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As Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner Split, It’s Time to Spin

Author: Editors Desk Source: N.Y Times
September 15, 2023 at 18:04
After Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner announced their divorce, tabloid stories seemingly portraying Turner negatively were roundly criticized. Credit...Evan Agostini/Invision, via Associated Press
After Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner announced their divorce, tabloid stories seemingly portraying Turner negatively were roundly criticized. Credit...Evan Agostini/Invision, via Associated Press
When famous people divorce, it’s not just an unraveling relationship. It’s a public relations dance. Even when it’s “amicable.”

When Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner announced their divorce on Instagram, the joint statement they released seemed relatively tame in the world of celebrity splits.

“After four wonderful years of marriage we have mutually decided to amicably end our marriage,” the musician and the actress postedto their accounts simultaneously last week. “There are many speculative narratives as to why but, truly this is a united decision and we sincerely hope that everyone can respect our wishes for privacy for us and our children.”

But to Molly McPherson, a public relations consultant specializing in crisis communications, there was a lot living between those lines.

For example, the word “amicably.”

With her clients, “every single time I am asked to add the word ‘amicable’ or ‘amicably’ to a statement, it’s because it isn’t amicable,” Ms. McPherson said.

Then, there was the phrase “speculative narratives,” a fancy way of saying lies.

She added, “When people force positive words into a statement, that, plain and simple, is spin.”

Ms. McPherson’s TikTok followers, who know her as the PR Lady, sent her the divorce statement and the many gossip stories about the couple and asked her to break it all down, a translation of celebrity spin that is her specialty.

She reads and crafts narratives for a living, but, increasingly, she said those who don’t work in public relations have been able to see through the spin. Carefully crafted statements mean something different these days. “Even the best P.R. handler no longer has complete control over their client’s narrative,” she said.

Hollywood’s publicity teams have long been known to get ahead of juicy stories about their clients by offering bits of news to tabloids, hoping to affect the way the public interprets a divorce, a scandal or a new relationship, for example. And there’s rarely confirmation of the identity of the source in these cases, whether it’s the publicity team or an unnamed confidante.

In a summer of high-profile and sometimes contentious celebrity splits, including Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello, Ariana Grande and Dalton Gomez, and Kevin Costner and Christine Baumgartner, the break between Mr. Jonas and Ms. Turner did not seem unusual.

But it almost immediately began to play out in anonymously sourced coverage in a way the others did not.


The rapid-fire succession of seemingly negative stories about Ms. Turner in the lead-up to the divorce filing and the days after drew the suspicions of fans who suggested Mr. Jonas and his team had resorted to old Hollywood tactics.

In the days of internet sleuthing, the narrative was too good to resist for the young fans who grew up with both of them — the Jonas Brothers on the Disney Channel, and Sansa Stark on “Game of Thrones.” They are also more hyper-aware of media narratives about famous women.

In the entertainment business, image is everything.

Mr. Jonas just kicked off an international tour for the Jonas Brothers, the band he formed with his brothers that rose to prominence on Disney Channel and reunited in recent years with new music.

And Ms. Turner, who shot to fame in “Game of Thrones,” just wrapped the six-part series “Joan,” where she portrays a jewel thief.

Both their representatives declined to comment about the media coverage.

The negative tone of the stories about Ms. Turner did not sit well with admirers who routinely take to the comments to declare their fealty to the “Queen of the North.”

Amid the divorce announcement, for example, TMZ quoted a “source with direct knowledge” saying the couple’s problems included that “she likes to party, he likes to stay at home.”

Her fans and defenders responded by sharing past interviews and videos of Ms. Turner saying that she was more of a homebody, calling that anonymous claim into question.

And some bristled at a quote in another TMZ article saying Mr. Jonas had been caring for the couple’s children “pretty much all of the time,” wondering if that suggested men should be lauded for basic parental duties.

In Britain, The Daily Mail ran a story about Ms. Turner partying “without a care in the world” at a wrap party for a TV series shoot, to which many Twitter users responded: Who wouldn’t?

Her fans pointed out how young Ms. Turner was at the time of the marriage (she was in her early 20s), suggesting her desire to let loose was understandable.

Ms. McPherson noted that few of the stories seemed to be sourced to Ms. Turner’s side, suggesting that the message was “she didn’t need to defend herself.”

While the celebrity-obsessed may have once taken these stories at face value, they now ask: Who was the anonymous source? Who stands to benefit? And why is this coming out now?

“When it comes to celebrity gossip in general, people are finally asking questions, and I love that,” said Claire Parker, who co-hosts “Celebrity Memoir Book Club,” a podcast that dives deep into a range of celebrities’ memoirs, with Ashley Hamilton. In the past, such stories played on “society’s misogyny to destroy women’s careers,” she said.

While the public has become more critical of that dynamic in recent years, this is “the first time I’ve seen the woman-hating narratives backfire immediately,” Ms. Parker said.

Public consciousness around media treatment of women in the public eye has been changing, with moments of reckoning around the treatment of Britney Spears and other stars, she said.

“I think it’s made Joe Jonas look absolutely terrible, to be honest,” said Stacie Boschma, who hosts the podcast “Trashy Divorces,”with her wife, Alicia Mintz. The perception is something “he’s now trying to backpedal from.”

Mr. Jonas may be feeling the pressure. Last weekend while performing at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, he told fans, “If you don’t hear it from these lips, don’t believe it, OK?”

For any public figure going through this, Ms. McPherson said, the suggested playbook now is something different from a perfectly crafted statement. “The more raw, unfiltered and authentic the message,” she said, “the more likely they’re going to get through the crisis.”

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