I hesitate to add another syllable to the cluster of gossip, conjecture and rumor surrounding Ronni Chasen’s murder.
Though I worked with her on a few movies some time ago, I didn’t know her well. But it’s definitely more shocking when someone you knew even slightly becomes a victim to something as heinous as this. I keep flashing back to what she was like, her unstoppable positivity. Why her, of all people?
It’s tragic when someone dies in the prime of life, and worse when it happens violently, but worst of all is if it becomes a tabloid story. I went through this in an intensely personal way when Adrienne Shelly was murdered. She had been my best friend for many years (although we weren’t as close at the time), so not only did I and all her friends have to deal with the fact that our dear friend was gone in such a savage way, but we also had the media nosing around for details. What would have been an anguished but private affair became something tremendously more painful.
When you add some kind of show business connection to a real-life ongoing murder mystery, it’s irresistible to the media. If Ronni had been an accountant from Sherman Oaks, her case would obviously not have been subject to this kind of intense scrutiny. The media would report it and quickly move on, until the police found a suspect, and even then it would be a small, local story. But with Ronni, who wasn’t even famous and only worked with famous people, certain parts of the media have laid siege to her story.
In one sense it’s a positive thing that the media is casting an intense spotlight on the case, so the pressure is kept on the police for the murderer or murderers to be found. But for me the reportage has stepped way over the line into exploitation and her privacy is being invaded in gratuitous ways. Subtle inferences are being drawn, and questions are being floated. Could Ronni have had some kind of secret life? Unless the police find out the murder had something to do with money, it’s none of our business how much she had or, for God’s sake, how much of it was in real estate versus investments or whatever. But this is the way things work in the age of TMZ and Radar.com.
The other night I watched a very young woman reporter on CNN who was outraged that she couldn’t see Ronni’s coroner’s report—or even worse—the coroner’s report of the “person of interest.” She was indignant, and argued that the people of Beverly Hills were scared and they had a right to know the truth. Her disingenuous claim of civic-mindedness disgusted me, as obviously it was all about her perverse sense of entitlement that the police owed her a meaningless “scoop.” If there’s anything that’s not a mystery, it’s what technically caused Ronni’s death.
I’m not going to say that all of the coverage has been disrespectful; many journalists have found a very good tone for covering this. But there are a lot of cynical people who are using the brutal killing of a really nice woman as a ratings grabber. Shame on them. And double shame on them because a lot of them knew her personally.
Ronni’s murder has become a media event, and there is more than a little irony in that because her life’s work was about handling the media, understanding the way it works and trying to control it for the benefit of her clients. Damage control can be a big part of the job. But one of the saddest things that every publicist learns is that there are some stories you simply can’t control, no matter how much you want to get your client out of harm’s way. We are trained to get the entire story out as quickly as possible, but if the story can be painted as lurid and the resolution to the story is unknown, it just keeps going and going, no matter how clever or experienced you are.
I wish there was a publicist who had the magic wand to protect Ronni as well as she did so many of her clients over the years.
Reid Rosefelt is a veteran film publicist based in New York City. He has promoted hundreds of films, for such diverse moviemakers as Jim Jarmusch, Pedro Almodóvar, Errol Morris, Ang Lee and Werner Herzog. His personal clients have included The Sundance Institute, IFC and HBO Films, as well as Harvey Keitel, Ally Sheedy and the late Adrienne Shelly. His production publicity credits include Desperately Seeking Susan, The Godfather: Part III and, most recently, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. His blog can be found at http://my-life-as-a-blog.com/.