Other young stars have made similar moves. Child actress Brooke Shields played a young teen who consummated an affair on a desert island in the 1980 movie, "Blue Lagoon." Britney Spears, once a Disney Mouseketeer, turned on her fan base and sexed-up her image before her career and personal life disintegrated.
Disney Television did not return phone calls for comment, but fired off a statement to Vanity Fair: "Unfortunately, as the article suggests, a situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines," said the statement from Disney spokeswoman Patti McTeague.
Public relations mogul Howard Rubenstein told ABCNews.com the photos would hardly damage a "strong" company like Disney.
"It slightly dents their image, but it will soon be dissipated," he said. "Oddly enough, our young society has seen and heard far more salacious things and this will be over very quickly."
Rubenstein faults Cyrus — or her parents — for not speaking out before she admitted, "Whoops, what did I do?"
"The picture is suggestive, but it's not so terrible," said Rubenstein. "It is contrary to the image she portrays, but she did a smart thing getting out ahead of the story. She did apologize."
Still, Rubenstein faults the parents, who he said should have made better choices.
"The parents had a very serious responsibility they didn't fulfill," Rubenstein said. "I blame it on them as much as the kid."
Joey Bartolomeo, celebrity writer for Us Weekly magazine, agrees that Cyrus's exposure beyond the Disney-age audience "certainly won't hurt her."
But she speculates the young actress may have been cajoled by the charming Leibovitz. "The only person who ever said no to her (Leibovitz) was Queen Elizabeth," said Bartolomeo.
"Miley has such young fans, and the last thing she wants to do is get their parents upset," she said. "She has a lot of people to please, her fans and Disney, number one. She came out sad and embarrassed, and people believed her. She has such a solid reputation and such a good girl image."
But the Vanity Fair dust-up comes just a week after less-than-wholesome photos of a girl, bearing a close resemblance to the 15-year-old superstar, made the rounds on the Internet. One showed a girl pulling down her tank top to reveal a lime-green bra. In another, she is draped over a young male, who rests his hand on her bare hip.
Leslie Goldman, author of "Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth About Women, Body Image and Re-imagining the 'Perfect' Body," said the media, and not Cyrus, is to blame. And regardless of Cyrus' career consequences, her young, fawning fans are the most likely to be negatively affected by the risque image, she said.
"The purpose of these magazine shoots is to promote confidence and make girls happy with their bodies, but they are all airbrushed," said Goldman, who writes the blog "The Weighting Game."
"I wouldn't call it a nude photo, but it is suggestive," she said. "She has that 'come hither' look on her face and the sexy little pout. Part of me says, 'who wants to blame her in our society where young women are becoming sexual objects at such a young age?' But another part of me says, 'her parents were on the set and could have said something.'"
Women of all ages need to be more media savvy and realize the photos they are looking at give false messages.