As any upstanding parent will say, you can mess with me, but not with my kid. That's likely why Tom Cruise is suing Bauer Publishing for claiming that he "abandoned" his 6-year-old daughter, Suri, but hasn't taken action against the truckload of other gossip that came out in the wake of his divorce from Katie Holmes.
Cruise filed a $50 million lawsuit against Life & Style and In Touch Weekly in Los Angeles federal court Wednesday claiming that a story that he "abandoned" his daughter had no merit.
"To say he has 'abandoned' her is a vicious lie," Cruise's lawyer, Bert Fields, said in a statement. "To say it in lurid headlines with a tearful picture of Suri is reprehensible."
Bauer Publishing, the company that owns the magazines, declined to comment. Fields declined to comment further on the lawsuit.
But the timing of the story may have had something to do with Cruise's decision to sue.
Holmes filed for divorce on June 29. On July 9, the couple released a statement saying they had "amicably settled" their divorce and were "working together" in the "best interests" of their young daughter (no specific details were released).
On July 18, Life & Style released an image of its cover for its July 30 issue, showing a photo of Suri with the headline "Suri in Tears, Abandoned by Her Dad." According to the lawsuit obtained by ABCNews.com, Cruise's lawyers reviewed the cover and complete story and told the publisher that the actor had spoken to Suri regularly during the previous month, while he was shooting a film.
Still, a story headlined "Suri's Emotional Struggle" was printed in Life & Style's July 30 issue.
Holmes' divorce from Cruise wasn't finalized until Aug. 20, which means the stories could have impacted the proceedings and child custody agreement, according to David Fish, a defamation attorney based in New York who is not involved in this case.
"Someone making a false statement about his actions could damage his ability to make an argument in his child custody and visitation," Fish said.
In addition to the July reports, the lawsuit references an Oct. 1 issue of In Touch, the cover of which showed a photograph of Suri with the headline "Abandoned By Daddy." Even with a custody agreement in place, accusations like that could "prompt someone to make applications to modify orders," Fish said.
Divorce attorney Raoul Felder agreed "it's a possibility" Cruise sued over the impact the stories could have had on his custody agreement. But he called the lawsuit an "ego-driven decision" that he thinks will end up getting settled out of court because Cruise "won't want to have his settlement and personal matters scrutinzed under the microscope of a trial."
It wouldn't make sense for Cruise to sue over the countless headlines about him and Holmes in the weeks following their divorce, among them, that his belief in Scientology purportedly spurred their breakup, that Cruise supposedly had a "marriage contract," and that Holmes' age (33, the same age of Cruise's previous wives when they split) reportedly had something to do with it.
"Describing the nature of someone's marriage is not really a true or false proposition," Fish said.
The lawsuit doesn't matter from a PR perspective, according to Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman, vice chairman of Reputation.com.
"This got lost in the avalanche of other negative stories, in my mind," Bragman said. "That's not to say it wasn't meaningful to him, that it didn't hit him in a heinous way."
Cruise has successfully sued tabloids before, though not about stories involving his children. "He could be trying to make a point to deter other tabloids from doing the same thing," Fish said.
Or his motivation could be even more basic.
"You can say a lot of things about Tom Cruise, but not his kids," he said. "I think everyone knows that."