Statements Of Fact

As publicists, we agonize over them. Every word must be precise, and each must come across with just the right tone, personality and attitude. Or maybe they shouldn’t have any personality at all. Maybe they should just be strictly factual, devoid of any emotion whatsoever. I’m talking about those all-important “statements to the press”— in particular, those statements regarding celebrities who are dealing with substance abuse.

Why is the statement to the press so important? Because the media are going to tell the story one way or another, and without a statement from the subject in question, reporters will gravitate to anyone who will talk, whether or not those sources are knowledgeable or even credible. It’s essential that a celebrity tell his or her truth, in order to frame the story the way he or she wants it to be told.

Consider the following three statements, and how the subjects presented themselves. The first is from Elizabeth Vargas just days ago: 



"As so many other recovering alcoholics know, overcoming the disease can be a long and incredibly difficult process," Vargas said in a statement released by ABC. "I feel I have let myself, my co-workers and, most importantly, my family down and for that I am ashamed and sorry. I am committed to battling and addressing this debilitating disease and want to thank everyone who has offered their unwavering support during this trying time."

What’s your take on it? For myself, I wish her the best and appreciate her openness and sincerity. There’s just one thing I would change: I would delete the sentence that starts with “I feel I have let myself down… .” Vargas has a disease; she shouldn’t need to feel “ashamed and sorry” for being sick!

What I really like is the statement that ABC released: 

"Nothing is more important than Elizabeth's health and well-being and we stand squarely behind her. Our thoughts are with Elizabeth and her family and we look forward to having her back at ABC News when she feels ready to return."

I think it’s terrific that her employer is so public about its plans to bring her back to work when she’s ready. That’s rare, I think.

Here’s another example, this time from Lindsay Lohan to People magazine in 2007: 

"I have made a proactive decision to take care of my personal health," Lohan said. "I appreciate your well wishes and ask that you please respect my privacy at this time."

Granted, the press had already gotten wind of her plans to enter rehab so she didn’t need to say much. And that’s what I like about it. She didn’t feel the need to get emotional or share too many details. 

Finally, the statement that I feel hits all the right notes comes from Robert Downey, Jr. When his son was arrested for cocaine possession in June, RDJ released a statement to TMZ explaining his son's situation: 

"Unfortunately, there's a genetic component to addiction and Indio has likely inherited it. Also, there is a lot of family support and understanding, and we're all determined to rally behind him and help him become the man he's capable of being." 

He added,"We're grateful to the Sheriff's department for their intervention, and believe Indio can be another recovery success story instead of a cautionary tale."

I like Downey’s statement because it’s personal and positive in the midst of a very difficult situation. So what insights and tips can we gain from these examples?

  • Be quick: Try to get your statement out to the press before the news leaks. You want to set the tone, not let others set it for you.
  • Be honest: Own up to any mistakes you may have made—but don’t apologize for having a disease.
  • Keep it short: You don’t owe the media an explanation or the details for everything. Just give them the basic facts.
  • Stay humble: Thank your loved ones and your fans for their support. They’re why you’re here making this statement. 
  • Stay human: Even celebrities who seem larger than life are human, and to be human is to be flawed. Everyone has some issue to deal with; this is yours. Admit that you have a problem, and that you’re working hard to deal with it. People can understand that, and they’ll admire you for doing what you need to do.
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