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Notoriety becomes windfall

Cheaters never prosper, the old adage goes. But Winona Ryder, Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair might beg to differ. All three can tell you that sometimes crime pays.

After appearing in court dressed in fashion label Marc Jacobs' clothes to face charges of shoplifting a Marc Jacobs top, among other items, Ryder has now modeled for the designer.

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Stephen Glass, a former writer for The New Republic, Rolling Stone, Harper's and George magazines, was discovered in 1998 to be fabricating his articles. But he's published a novelized story about his life just months before Lions Gate Films releases Shattered Glass, a movie about his life starring Hayden Christensen.

And last week, it was reported that Esquire magazine has commissioned former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, fired this spring for plagiarizing, to review the Glass movie in its November issue. (Film producers are insisting that Blair donate his fee to charity.) The New York Post also reported that Jane magazine has hired Blair to write a piece on workplace pressures. Fairchild Publications, which owns Jane, is neither confirming nor denying the assignment.

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"We thought it was a clever way to do a movie review, to have the most infamous fabricator review another infamous fabricator," said David Granger, editor-in-chief of Esquire, in an official statement.

The notion of celebrities, even minor ones, profiting from their notoriety is nothing new; remember Gary Hart paramour Donna Rice and her ads for No Excuses jeans or $20 Monica Lewinsky cookies at Dean and Deluca? Is it always a good move, for the offenders or their new promoters?

"I guess I'm not surprised that someone would capitalize on their notoriety because that's how these things have gone," said Kelly McBride, a member of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute, which promotes integrity in journalism. The idea of using Blair to review a film about Glass struck McBride not as an exercise in journalism, but as having entertainment value. "That's pretty clever, you know."

"I think it's sort of the last-gasp effort of people to get attention," said Andy Dumaine, partner and creative director of the Campbell Group Inc., a Baltimore advertising agency.

And it can work, if the product is closely associated with the notorious person, says Eric Hartsock, founder, president and creative director of Eisner Underground, another Baltimore advertising agency. "I think the biggest danger is that [using a notorious person or situation] can often overshadow the product."

Hartsock added that whether it's smart to use a notorious person to promote a product depends on what that person has done wrong. As for Marc Jacobs using Ryder, "Fashion has always been so much more edgy," Hartsock says.

But Dumaine draws a harder line.

"I think every advertiser has a choice to make whether to raise the level of public discourse or to stoop to the lowest common denominator," Dumaine said. "Why are we celebrating the people who got caught?"


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