By Maria Puente, USA TODAY
At age 6, Suri Cruise is just as photographed as her mega-famous, now-divorcing parents, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.
At the zoo. At the ice cream parlor. At Disney World with Dad. Going to gymnastics class. And in the blizzard of paparazzi snaps, she often has a pained look on her face, when she's not hiding behind her hair, her hands or her toys. Or she's racing from the car door to her front door, fleeing the clicking cameras, shouting at the pack.
"Take a picture of my baby instead," she yelled during one encounter in New York last summer as she held a doll over her face. The bodyguard who accompanied her ordered the photographers back; they kept shooting.
What can Suri or her parents - or any celebrity parent - do about that? Very little. Except maybe move to, say, France, where it's illegal to photograph a child without a parent's consent.
But not in America. As long as they're in a public place, as long as there's a First Amendment, and as long as consumers are willing to spend a few bucks for a magazine or click on a website to see Suri or other celeb kids, this will be a fact of their lives for the time being.
Celebrity parents have always been ticked off about their kids being targeted, and some of them are being vocal about it. Nicole Richie has lashed out at photographers for stalking her children. So have Pink, Alyssa Milano, Sarah Jessica Parker, Salma Hayek, Liv Tyler and scores of others.
"They're always going to be pursued because there's a market for those photographs, and not much can be done to shield them," says Robert Mintz, a partner with law firm McCarter & English. "Celebrities have gotten a restraining order against individual photographers, but even then, they're only required to maintain a certain distance - they're not precluded from photographing altogether."
But how might stalking cameras affect the targeted children, psychologically and socially?
Lee Kamlet, dean of the School of Communications at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and a former producer for ABC News, says that as a parent, he would worry. But he also says that sometimes celebrity parents put their kids in the spotlight deliberately.
"Celebrity parents usually have a reason for having their children in public that may not be obvious, and they also have ways to shield them," he says. "But once you put them on public view, then they're absolutely fair game."
Privacy vs. newsworthiness
Some celebrity kids have had to learn this the hard way. Lourdes Leon, 15-year-old daughter of Madonna, was snapped in May smoking a cigarette - which is illegal for children - when she was with her friends on a sidewalk in New York. The picture appeared in TheNew York Post and flashed around the world. No hiding it from Mom.
Sometimes the celebrity parent has good reason for inviting the spotlight to include the kids. CNN's Soledad O'Brien, host of the morning show Starting Point, recently began talking in public about her young son's newly discovered hearing loss, in part to help other parents deal with such a family crisis. But she's otherwise careful to shield her kids, not routinely allowing them to accompany her on red carpets, for instance, and preparing them for at least occasional media attention.
"There are times when (the attention) is too much, it's overwhelming, and I would not condone nor do I know (photographers) who hide in bushes," O'Brien says. "But you have two options: You can scold the paparazzi, or you can say to your children: 'Here is how you handle this. Let me explain what this is about it.' "
The media's age-old dilemma - choosing between the right to privacy and the need to give consumers the news they want - is made even sharper in today's ever-more-competitive environment, Kamlet says. "No question, (the paparazzi) have the First Amendment on their side," he says. "But you have to wonder whether just because it's protected, is that the best reason to do it?"
This is not a question that bothers most of the army of photographers who follow celebs around.
"If the demand weren't there, no one would be supplying paparazzi shots," says Frank Griffin, co-owner of the photo agency Bauer-Griffin. Even if he agreed that the demand is "morally reprehensible," and he doesn't, "we have to cater to it because business is business - it's the bottom line."
Ken Sunshine, veteran PR rep and longtime critic of the paparazzi, says the behavior of some photographers has been contemptible. "I always say, 'Have thee no shame?' " he says. "It's another level of depravity when the children of celebrities who don't want them photographed get harassed. They embarrass or scare the kids to get them to cry - because it's a better photo."
Even if the parents are protective, they can be victims of the people who work for them or the people they encounter. In April, a Virgin Atlantic employee resigned after allegations that she routinely fed information about the company's celebrity clientele - including Madonna, Rihanna, Charlize Theron, Kate Winslet, Daniel Radcliffe, Sienna Miller, Russell Brand, even the young royals - to a paparazzi agency.
Halle Berry went ballistic when she discovered a photographer waiting outside her 4-year-old daughter's preschool in Los Angeles in May; her enraged and profane meltdown was captured on video and went viral.
Later, she vowed to appeal to President Obama for help in passing a law to protect against paparazzi. But California already has such a law; it's largely impotent and rarely invoked.
"I ask for the right to protect the privacy of (my) child," Penelope Cruz, born in Spain, said recently. "I don't care if they take pictures of myself. Children's privacy should be respected. It should be illegal to publish pictures of children, unless it's the decision of parents."
'Things have to change'
Jennifer Garner says she tries to keep calm for her children when the photographers start to swarm, but their presence sometimes forces her to avoid quotidian trips to the grocery store or the park with her kids.
"So inside I rage, and outside I go through it," she said last week, eyes welling up. "I would give anything for my kids not to be exposed, not to have to deal with this."
Still, she's not whining.
"But it's OK," she says. "I hate to give it any energy even to talk about it because I do understand that I'm so lucky in life. And really, my kids are healthy and they are so chill about it because we are so chill about it."
In September, actor Will Arnett recalled an incident when he was getting Archie, his son with wife Amy Poehler, out of the car, and a stranger asked to photograph their own baby with Archie. "I said, 'What? What are you talking about? Why do you know my kid's name?' It made me sad for this environment that we live in. He's not an actor. He's a baby."
Some celebrities have gone public about their anger in $ellebrity, a documentary by Kevin Mazur, a celebrity photographer (not a paparazzi, he says), that examines the impact the paparazzi have on celebrities. In one scene, Mazur's film camera follows Parker as she merely walks her kids to school - surrounded by jostling photographers.
"It's hard to fight the First Amendment," Mazur says. But "they wrote it 200 years ago - things have to change. It protects journalists and artists, but why not kids? I just don't get it."
Still, no celebrity parent he knows has urged consumers to boycott celebrity publications. "They're not taking that stand because they might need that magazine later in their career," he says.
And moving away is not always feasible. Julia Roberts, who has aggressively confronted paparazzi or even chased them in her car after they took pictures of her and her three children, can move her family to Santa Fe and not have to worry about continuing to get work.
Garner says leaving Los Angeles would mean her family would be separated more.
"The answer is to not give it energy," she says. "And to focus on what's important. And they're not, and life is good."
Copyright 2012 USA TODAY