Point and Prey

How low can you go? New Yorkers wonder as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s kid are beset by paparazzi on the way to his wake. Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Last September, California governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 606 into law. Known as the “Halle Berry Paparazzi Law,” the statute, aimed at protecting the privacy of the children of public figures, states that any paparazzo convicted of harassing a minor who has been singled out due to his or her parent's profession can spend up to a year in jail. In addition, fines of up to $30,000 can be levied and the parent or guardian of the child being harassed is now allowed to seek civil liability.

After the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, many in New York City (especially his neighbors in the West Village) are wondering why New York State hasn’t adopted a similar law.

“It’s just disgusting what’s going on,” fumed one male neighbor. “They are clearly targeting the children. What do they want? More trauma to sell more papers?”

Tuesday afternoon, two days after Philip Seymour Hoffman had been found in his West Village apartment dead from a heroin overdose, the paparazzi were firmly entrenched outside of his partner Mimi O’Donnell’s home on Jane Street. In the afternoon, the photographers, cold and frustrated, finally got their money shot when O’Donnell and her children left their house.

Marie, a fashion editor for a national magazine who asked that her real name and publication not be used, lives a block away. “The paparazzi were flashing photos of Mimi and her children, who were visibly upset,” Marie said.  “After a few seconds, Mimi shouted at them, ‘Leave us alone!’ One paparazzo replied, ‘We can’t' and kept taking pictures.”

Two days later, it was even worse. On their way to Hoffman’s wake, O’Donnell and her three children, accompanied by a friend and a bodyguard, were accosted by more than twelve photographers, clicking away as the group made their way from the family home to a waiting SUV. Pictures of the distraught children and their clearly upset mother were plastered immediately on sites like TMZ, Radar, the New York Post and the New York Daily News.

Adding insult to injury, the British tabloid, the Daily Mail, even put a video of what amounts to a perp walk up on its website – in which O’Donnell and her three children walk through the strobe-lit gauntlet and into a car that is immediately set upon by photographers, some of whom appear to actually be climbing onto the vehicle. Bizarrely, the video is shown at regular speed – and also in slow motion, something that is usually reserved for pratfalls ala Jennifer Lawrence’s trip at the Oscars. Ironically, British press laws do not allow the faces of children to be printed and had the pictures on the Daily Mail’s website appeared in the pages of the tab in England, it would be actionable.

Photos of grieving children are nothing new – but they usually take place at a funeral or a wake. The perp walk pictures struck a chord. Late Wednesday, the Twitter hash tag #nokidspolicy and #pedorazzi had taken off and celebrities like Kristen Bell tweeted out things like: “dear @peoplemag -scaring & harassing kids isn't "entertainment news". pls agree to stop using #pedorazzi shots. #nokidspolicy RT IF U AGREE” and

Im stunned at how shameful it is @radar_online paid a paparazzi to take pics of Phil Seymour Hoffmanns grieving children at his wake” (This tweet was actually referring to the pictures taken on the way to the wake).

But weren’t the media just giving the public what it wanted? The story struck a nerve with the public. Philip Seymour Hoffman was the real Everyman - a genuine good guy who had been sober for over two decades before falling off the wagon into hell. Ex-addicts were terrified: the fear that no matter how long you are sober, addiction can kill you, now had a face. Other people wondered how a guy who had seemingly everything could do that to himself or his family. TV coverage of the actor’s life and tragic death was nonstop. Sales of publications writing about the actor’s death were up and the public couldn’t seem to get enough. Even the august New York Times got in on the ghoulishness, publishing a story on Tuesday (the day before the wake) detailing his last days on earth titled, “A Complicated Actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, In His Last Days” – with such life changing minutiae as “Mr. Hoffman got an espresso at Chocolate Bar coffee shop on Saturday morning.” The story was strikingly similar to ones published days earlier by the New York Post, ABC, E! and CNN.

But with the perp walk to the wake, a line seemed to have been crossed and the interest is turning to disgust. As the rumblings of a New York version of California’s paparazzi laws are getting louder, calls to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office weren’t returned.