A divorce battle, a PR war

Katie Holmes has seized the initiative after her split from Tom Cruise

Los Angeles

She stands accused of "playing the media". He's been called the unapologetic face of an evil cult. She wants to separate a loving father from his six-year-old daughter. He wants an innocent child to be subjected to brainwashing.

You don't have to dig far beneath the torrent of claims, counter-claims, half-truths, and smears that have circulated in the days since Katie Holmes announced her separation from Tom Cruise to realise that this Hollywood divorce is fuelling an almighty PR battle.

At stake is neither the couple's $275m (£178m) fortune, nor custody of their daughter, Suri: both those issues will be decided by a court. Instead, the propaganda war is being fought over the reputations, and by extension future market values, of two of the film industry's highest-profile stars.

Holmes has so far made all the early running, managing to portray exactly the right amount of poise during the unofficial photo opportunities that are her almost daily appearances on the streets of New York. Cruise, by contrast, remains hidden on the set of Oblivion, the movie he is filming in Iceland.

If that looks like part of a plan, it probably is. Though news of the couple's estrangement came out of the blue, Holmes appears to have spent months orchestrating the split. Hours after the divorce became public, it emerged she had sacked her publicist, Ina Treciokas, considered close to her husband.

In her place, Holmes appointed Leslie Sloane and Nanci Ryder, of BWR, a Hollywood PR firm. And the duo appear to have been working to ensure that the divorce announcement coincided with a torrent of useful publicity.

To that end, Holmes cropped up last week on the cover of Elle, announcing, in an interview conducted when the split was still being planned, that at the age of 33, she was entering a "new phase" in her life, felt "more comfortable in my own skin" and was somehow "sexier".

Last Tuesday, she made an appearance on the TV show Project Runway. It was also announced in the magazine WWD that her clothing label, Holmes & Yang, would debut at New York Fashion Week.

It's impossible to say whether Sloane and Ryder were behind the welter of publicity. But their appointment has signalled that Holmes intends to forget the past seven years of her life: the duo represented Holmes in the early stages of her career, but were fired in 2005, after she met Cruise.

Behind the scenes, someone is also doing some effective spinning. Sources close to the actress have been largely responsible for turning Scientology into the only major talking point in coverage of the couple's divorce. Given public hostility to the religion, that can only help her cause.

To some observers, Holmes has already achieved a PR triumph akin to that of Princess Diana during her divorce. She has even managed to convince the tabloids that there was a third person in her marriage: the Church of Scientology's leader, David Miscavige.

Cruise, meanwhile, is conspicuously silent. He is represented by Amanda Lundberg, who works for another Hollywood agency, 42 West. But, beyond issuing a statement to confirm the couple's split, it remains unclear what, if any attempts she has so far made to influence coverage of her client.

It has been left to Bert Fields, the actor's lawyer, to go on the offensive. In an interview with the BBC, he attempted to take the moral high ground.

"We are letting 'the other side' [Katie and her team] play the media until they wear everyone out and then we'll have something to say," Fields revealed. "It's not Tom's style to do this publicly."

The Church of Scientology has said almost nothing in public. But, behind the scenes, it is also busy. On Friday, a memorandum from the organisation's Office of Special Affairs was leaked to Marty Rathbun, a blogger and critic of Mr Miscavige.

It urged Scientologists to scour internet comment boards in search of criticisms of their faith. They were then advised to complain to web administrators about such comments on the grounds that they "defame or degrade a group for any reason including on the basis of religion".

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