If you had yesterday on your Hollywood Scandal Bingo card for the “will their careers survive the storm?” hot take, please collect your winnings at USA Today’s offices. Not 24 hours after the DoJ unveiled Operation Varsity Blues, two USA Today reporters wondered whether Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman would recover from being accused of bribery and corruption. That may not be an unfair question to ask at some point, but … too soon, people, too soon.
Also, USA Today calls the notoriety of headlining a RICO indictment “the downside of fame,” or at least reports that’s what the “experts” now say:
But it’s two TV stars who have become the face of the bombshell story, after it was revealed Tuesday that Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman allegedly paid thousands of dollars to fake test scores and disguise their children as athletes in order to gain access to prestigious schools.
And that’s the downside of fame, experts say. “Although there were (more than 30) parents involved, they’re the two that are going be the face of it again and again and again. And that’s the price you pay for being in Hollywood,” says crisis management expert Howard Bragman, CEO of La Brea Media.
But will their careers survive the storm?
This isn’t the downside of fame as much as it is the downside of getting caught being corrupt. The degree to which Huffman and Loughlin are serving as the poster girls of the scandal certainly has something to do with their previous celebrity wattage, but it’s not the catalyst for it. And they’re not victims of “being in Hollywood”; they’re the alleged perps. It’s the students who didn’t get into these schools because of the cheating who are the victims in this case.
If your bingo card had today on it, stroll on over to the Mercury News. They’re also wondering just when Huffman and Loughlin will get past all this unpleasantness, as does Variety:
In addition to dealing with the public humiliation, the inevitable strife in their families and the possibility of serving jail time, both women also must be worried about how the scandal will impact their successful and lucrative Hollywood careers.
Crisis experts say that, yes, there will be an impact and that the negative headlines will persist for as long as their criminal cases slowly unfold. But experts also say it’s possible that their careers will survive, though in what state is unknown.
“This is an amazingly visible scandal,” crisis management expert Howard Bragman wrote in a column for Variety. “It’s making worldwide headlines, and although many others were involved, Lori and Felicity have become the poster ladies for this one.”
Bragman added in an interview for USA Today that it doesn’t help the actresses’ reputations as likable celebrities that they have been accused of using their wealth to break the rules and buy their children’s way into college. Such alleged crimes reinforce “every bad thing that the average Joe thinks about Hollywood.”
No kidding, and not just Hollywood but also Corporate America. Anyway, career survival isn’t the main existential question facing Huffman, Loughlin, and the 31 other parents indicted by the DoJ this week. The main existential question, assuming prosecutors meet their burden in court, is “Will we be able to stay out of prison?” The mail fraud allegations carry a potential 20-year prison term, especially with the added conspiracy charges and potential tax implications.
What’s the likelihood of prison time for this, though? Not very high, according to a legal expert interviewed by People Magazine:
James J. Leonard Jr., a legal expert based out of Atlantic City, says prison time could be a possibility, though not a likely one.
“This is a federal prosecution brought forth by the Department of Justice that carries with it potential life-altering consequences for those involved. The stakes could not be higher,” he tells PEOPLE. “A custodial term is always a possibility when you are charged with felonies. The question to ask is if it’s a probability, and in this case I don’t see it as a probability with respect to the parents involved.” …
“At the end of the day, we are talking about parents who tried to help their children,” says Leonard. “And crossed the line in doing so.”
First off, of course, prosecutors have to prove their case and a jury has to find the parents guilty as charged. We’ve already begun to hear some pushback from representatives of other parents indicted that Singer was a con man who roped these parents into his scheme. That argument deserves its day in court, and a jury might find it compelling.
However, that strategy has a couple of flaws, too. For one thing, the feds claim to have evidence that most or all of the parents paying bribes in exchange for blatantly corrupt purposes. Even if Singer was a master con man, that doesn’t alleviate legal responsibility from the parents for conducting clearly illegal acts. Second, it appears that prosecutors have flipped Singer and a couple of coaches on the parents rather than the other way around. Prosecutors may intend to paint a picture of a conspiracy driven by self-absorbed wealthy parents whose desire for using their kids as status symbols simply got channeled by Singer and found targets with certain coaches. If that’s the case the DoJ plans to make, then some of the parents may well end up in prison, even if it’s a Club Fed minimum security work farm or two.
Even then, though, Huffman and Loughlin will still have a career at some point. This is far, far away from Harvey Weinstein-Kevin Spacey territory, after all. They and the other titans of industry indicted in Operation Varsity Blues will likely set the context as Leonard says — helping out their kids and just getting way too enthusiastic about it. They’re just like you and me, their flacks will argue, only guilty of loving their kids too much. The whole point of this conspiracy, however, was that they weren’t just like the rest of us, and they wanted everyone to know it. At some point, enough of the public will love them for that, and they’ll keep getting green-lighted, which will prove conclusively that they’re not like us, and never will be.