TMZ Pulls Down 'Sexy' Child Star Video to Settle Lawsuit (Exclusive)
The Warner Bros.-owned website joins Huffington Post and Daily Mail in ending a $30 million lawsuit over whether a 5-year-old "Toddlers & Tiaras" star was sexualized online.
A TMZ article showing Toddlers & Tiaras star Isabella Barrett bouncing to LMFAO's song “I’m Sexy and I Know It" has been taken down as part of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the reality star's mother. Although TMZ isn't trumpeting the news, the Warner Bros.-owned gossip website has quietly deleted posts and videos after a sealed settlement was filed with a New York court last month.
The removal of the child's "Sexy" performance comes 10 months after Susanna Barrett filed a $30 million lawsuit against Warner Bros., AOL and Associated Newspapers over a "brazenly attempt to sexualize" the 5-year-old pageant princess.
Each of the companies was charged with having subsidiaries that published false claims about Isabella. For Warners, it was two TMZ posts. For AOL, it was two stories that ran on Huffington Post. For Associated, it was an article that ran in the U.K. tabloid Daily Mail. Together, the articles were said to have suggested that the younger Barrett was "gyrating" in a nightclub and singing about her sex appeal as the older Barrett pushed her on, fed her lyrics and was "enjoying the raucous event far more than the bemused-looking child."
The lawsuit made headlines and prompted some discussion about who was responsible for the sexualization of Isabella.
Some have suggested that the mother, by allowing her child to appear on TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras, either deserves some blame or failed to mitigate her daughter's alleged injuries. But in the lawsuit, she pointed her finger at the media.
Barrett said the articles published by the three defendants had a "snowball effect," resulting in copycat articles across the Internet. Further, the lawsuit stated, "The articles highlight an abusive and altogether irresponsible exercise of considerable media power possessed by defendants -- one that clearly sought to titillate its readership without regard for the truth of the actual event and to the foreseeable detriment of plaintiff."
The articles in question allegedly got some minor facts wrong, including that Isabella was at a nightclub (she was in a restaurant) and that she was gyrating (she was sitting). But perhaps more intriguing from a legal standpoint, the lawsuit suggested that the presentation of a child's sex appeal was libelous insofar as it was malicious or reckless to post articles about a child who couldn't understand the concept of sex. The $30 million damage claim -- $10 million for each defendant -- was premised on the defendants allegedly placing Isabella in "serious physical danger" of sexual deviants and predators.
Almost as soon as the case was filed, it was handled rather privately in the New York Supreme Court judicial system. By summer's end, the parties were finalizing a settlement. On Oct. 26, a judge signed off on a sealed affidavit by Susanna Barrett, indicating a satisfactory resolution.
According to court papers, she agreed to drop the case in return for the defendants agreeing to disable public access to the controversial articles. The TMZ articles are now down. One of the Huffington Post articles in question is still online but without the accompanying video.
A Warner Bros. spokesperson confirms the settlement, saying, "We have resolved our dispute with Ms. Barrett, and she has elected to dismiss her lawsuit against TMZ.”
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @eriqgardner
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