Getting On—and Off—the ‘Naughty List’


 The list of celebrities known for their boorish, selfish, obnoxious behavior is notoriously long. I’m not going to name names, here, but you know who I’m talking about: the stars who believe the world revolves around them, who act as if the normal rules of morality and social propriety don’t apply to them at all.

These folks end up on tabloid covers week in and week out. Their seemingly never-ending string of poor choices and narcissistic behaviors mean their pictures and shenanigans are never far from the top of the page on celeb gossip sites like TMZ or Radar Online.

To borrow from Santa Claus, we might call it the celebrity naughty list.

But there’s another list, too. It might actually be longer, but you’d never know it because the celebrities who end up here are so, well, nice that you never hear much about them unless they’re accepting an award. You know, folks like Tom Hanks or Jennifer Lawrence, among others.

Until last week, most of us probably would have agreed that actress Reese Witherspoon owned a very solid spot on the nice list. But when her husband, Jim Toth, got pulled over in Atlanta last week because a police officer thought he might be driving under the influence, Witherspoon made a pretty shocking play to join those on the dark side.

Toth was indeed arrested for drunk driving, but not before Witherspoon gave the officer a piece of her mind … and managed to get arrested for disorderly conduct herself.

“Do you know my name?” she demanded of officer James Pyland. A bit later she added, “You’re about to find out who I am,” as well as, “You are going to be on the national news.”

Turns out, no one much cared that Trooper First Class James Pyland was doing his job. But the always-salivating industrial gossip complex tasted blood in the water. Soon the “Good Girl Gone Bad” meme was all over the Internet. And so it was Reese Witherspoon making the national news—and not in a good way—as she quickly shuffled her membership from the nice list to the naughty one.

Personally, I was surprised and perhaps a little disappointed in Witherspoon’s seeming entitlement complex. “Just another self-centered celeb after all,” I quickly judged.

But then Witherspoon did something that’s a bit less common in these situations. She issued an apology three days later in which she took specific responsibility for her poor response to the situation:

I clearly had one drink too many and I am deeply embarrassed about the things I said. It was definitely a scary situation and I was frightened for my husband, but that is no excuse. I was disrespectful to the officer who was just doing his job. I have nothing but respect for the police and I’m very sorry for my behavior.

Now, a cynic—and I have to admit, I have a cynical side—could dismiss a statement like this as simply doing the necessary damage control. And that’s likely true to some extent. That said, I was still impressed by Witherspoon’s willingness to own her bad choices (“I clearly had one drink too many,” and “I was disrespectful”) and to apologize for those choices (“I’m very sorry for my behavior”).

This template is actually not far from the way my wife and I try to help our children, who are 2, 4 and 6 years old, apologize to each other: naming the bad choice and saying that they’re sorry for it. No matter how poor the choice may be, no matter how hard the consequences associated with that choice, we strive to distinguish between making a bad decision and being a bad person.

Too often, I wonder if we fail to extend the same courtesy to those in the celebrity world. We’re shocked when someone on the “nice” list does something self-centered. And we tend to think, almost unconsciously, that those on the “naughty” list are beyond redemption, doomed to keep repeating their bad choices ’til the bitter end.

I think the value of Reese Witherspoon’s run-in with the law is in reminding us that we’re actually not so different from her after all. Even if we’d say we spend most of our time on the nice side of the ledger, given the right circumstances, we too might find ourselves acting out just like she did in an embarrassing, high-pressure moment.

Our meltdowns likely won’t end up as front page news on TMZ. But when we have them, we, too, need to own our choices, accept the consequences and say sorry to those we’ve hurt. And by the grace of God, His gracious offer of forgiveness in Christ guarantees that the hope of real change and redemption from failure is always available to us—no matter how “naughty” our choices have been.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Chelsea Phillips More than 1 year ago


Christians are well-known for their holier than thou attitude.  It definitely shouldn't happen, but it does more often that it should.

I've read through a fair number of them.  I was just curious and didn't mean to offend.

syd collings More than 1 year ago


I wasn't speaking specifically to Mr. Holz, I'm speaking about christians generally.

That you haven't noticed any positive comments from me does not mean anything. If you're interested enough you can comb through the archives and read all my comments. Otherwise, my motivation is entirely my business.

Chelsea Phillips More than 1 year ago


Also I was just wondering what you're motivation is for reading Plugged in.  I've never noticed any positive comments that you've made, and I could be totally wrong so feel free to correct me.

Chelsea Phillips More than 1 year ago


Lot's of people (and articles) are calling him an attention seeker, but it wasn't really the point of the article.  i would guess that's why they didn't mention it.  The point of the article is taking responsibility for your actions, and that's something that everyone has to do at one point or another.  

If you read my post, I didn't say that Christians would not react any different.  Hopefully most of them would.  I also didn't get the impression that Adam had a holier than thou attitude.  If thinking that someone is self-centered makes you have a holier than thou attitude, then pretty much every magazine about celebrities has that attitude on a regular basis.  

syd collings More than 1 year ago


If that's the way it's being reported then PI is just jumping on the band wagon and interpreting the words, even though they have no idea how the words were communicated, and never will. So the police officer went and blabbed to the press? And no one is calling him an attention seeker? i wonder why not...

If christians would not react any different, then they shouldn't stick up their nose at "self-centered celebs". They should not pass judgment on her by acting holier than thou.

Chelsea Phillips More than 1 year ago

@ syd

Those were the policeman's words and implications.  He went to the media to report the story, and while it could be biased, it was the only report that people had to go off of until Reese put out her statement.  I'm guessing that's why it was stated that way in plugged in's story.  While it doesn't confirm that everything the policeman said was true, she didn't deny anything.  To be fair, it was stated the same way in other stories.  

On the Christians comment, just because they may have reacted that way doesn't make it right.  Christians aren't perfect and just like other people will make mistakes.  Since she apologized, don't you think it's likely that she believed she made a mistake?

syd collings More than 1 year ago

"Do you know my name?" she demanded of officer James Pyland.

How do you know she ''demanded'' this of him. I think you're implying something that isn't there. You don't know her tone of voice, she may have been asking a simple question, with no implication whatsoever. The entire incident was on paper, not on tape/video/audio, so you can't comment on her attitude, voice, gestures, etc. Reading the words plainly, I don't see that she was playing the ''celeb card''.

It's easy to judge and say ''oh, she's just another self-centered celeb'', I'm not sure many Christians would have reacted differently if they were rich and famous and found themselves in a similar situation.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

However, the article is right. It is necessary to make a distinction between calling people "bad" and criticizing their actions. You can love the sinner and hate the sin, regardless of what some believe.