When the Famous Fight, Public Can't Get Enough

From the minute-by-minute coverage, the headlines, the updates, the score cards, you would think it was some election, some invasion, at least something important. But no, this was Rosie O'Donnell versus Donald Trump, a classic example of a celebrity feud.

We will spare you the details or the latest he said/she said update. If you don't know already, you have been living under a rock. But for its entertainment value, Harvey Levin, the managing editor of TMZ.com says, "Donald Trump, Rosie O'Donnell, you love them, you hate them, then they mix it up. This is just A-plus stuff."

These celebrity feuds have become such a common phenomenon, they are their own whole genre in American culture.

'Real Life Soap Operas'

"I think the best feuds are when you hate somebody one day and suddenly you think, 'huh, I hate the other person even more,'" saysTMZ's Levin. "That is what is so fun about it. When there are these public feuds and nobody is really gonna get hurt, it just becomes like a real-life soap opera."

Celebrity feuds have a long, not-so-illustrious history. Joan Crawford called Bette Davis a phony, and Davis rejoiced in Crawford's death. Ex-Disney honcho Michael Eisner once said of studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg, "I hate the little midget." (Disney is the parent company of ABC News.)

Tom Cruise battled Brooke Shields over antidepressants. You have the infantile -- like Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan -- and you have the obscure.

"Elvis Presley and Robert Goulet. Elvis hated Robert Goulet. Couldn't stand watching him on TV, and I just think that is hilarious," says Levin. "Honestly, with all due respect to Robert Goulet, he is no Elvis Presley, but he just bugged Presley."

Legal Repercussions

In just the last few months, there has been a bloodbath between Fox chief Rupert Murdoch and publishing empress Judith Regan. Murdoch fired Regan after the cancellation of the O.J. Simpson book and TV special, "If I Did It," in which he promised to explain how he would have killed his wife had he actually done it.

In that case, Regan has threatened to sue Murdoch's News Corp. for libel over its claim that she made anti-Semitic comments.

Which begs the question in these knock-down, drag-out brawls: How much can you say before you get yourself in legal trouble?

Floyd Abrams is one of the pre-eminent First Amendment lawyers in the country. He says that as far as the law is concerned, you can pretty much say what you want -- especially about public figures -- as long as you don't know that it is false.

"That sort of name calling, where no one would really understand it to mean any more than 'he's a bad guy' or 'he's a pain' or something like that, we don't usually allow libel suits for that," explains Abrams. "Libel suits are supposed to protect somebody against false statements of fact. Fact … not opinion. Fact … not hyperbole. And so where it's a sort of name calling, a lot of libel suits get thrown out on that ground alone."

'Silly People Who Think They Run the World'

What does Abrams think when he sees these fights?

Abrams says, "Oh, sometimes I think we're just talking about silly people who basically think they run the world and therefore don't accept the notion that there's really something called freedom of speech, even if it hurts them."

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