Mischa Barton’s Cruel Tabloid Persecution

The ‘O.C.’ actress has been a target for years, with gossip rags criticizing everything from her weight to her partying habits—and now, alleged ‘revenge porn.’ This needs to stop.

Paul Archuleta

Having your limp, bloody body carried out of Tijuana by Ryan Atwood as Mexico goes up in flames might sound like rock bottom. But for Mischa Barton, 31, the actress who will forever be known as The O.C.’s Marissa Cooper, fictional tragedy pales in comparison to real-life trauma. Ever since Barton was killed off the Josh Schwartz teen drama, things have gotten bleaker than Chino.

For a generation of mid-Aughts teens and tweens, Marissa Cooper was something of a role model. Sure, she was a high-school alcoholic with a rare double whammy of daddy and mommy issues, but she had a hot choker-wearing boyfriend and defined clavicles you could take a shot out of (if you weren’t in rehab). So when Cooper died in the Season 3 finale, fans expected Barton to quickly bounce back, as befitting her “It Girl” status. But much like Kevin Volchok behind the wheel, instead of zigging, Barton zagged. Historians will likely trace Mischa’s professional flameout all the way back to 2004, when the actress began dating rich kid and Paris Hilton BFF Brandon Davis.

According to a very informative TMZ bio, Davis, who’s the grandson of oil tycoon Marvin Davis, is “best known for coining the term ‘firecrotch’ during a drunken rant against Lindsay Lohan back in 2006.” And if that anecdote didn’t make you nostalgic for the mid-2000s, check out this one: In February 2006, Barton went in on Paris Hilton, saying “[Hilton] seems to hate everyone around her age who is more successful... She does steal people’s boyfriends!” Naturally Paris had words for The O.C. star, telling People, “I don’t even know the girl. I could care less. It seems like she is the one who is trying to stir up a rivalry. I have never said a word about her in my life. But she seems to be spending a lot of time thinking about me.” Say what you will about Paris Hilton (Kim Kardashian prototype, Trump supporter, etc.), but she knew her way around a tabloid statement.

From that point on, Barton started getting more press for her erratic behavior than for her awards and accomplishments. In 2007, life came at the young star fast: She broke up with her then-boyfriend Cisco Adler, got into a car accident while driving Nicole Richie’s SUV, and was papp’d smoking pot. She was also hospitalized one fateful Memorial Day for allegedly drinking while on antibiotics at Nicole Richie’s barbecue party. Last but not least, Mischa was arrested in December 2007 for a DUI, possession of marijuana, and driving without a license. In April 2008, the 22-year-old actress was able to finally put her charges to rest, agreeing to a plea deal of three years of unsupervised probation along with a fine and an alcohol-education class.

But while Barton’s tumultuous story is certainly an engrossing one, filled with salacious details and a whole bunch of references to Nicole Richie, the party girl was also a tabloid victim. For all of her poor decisions, which Barton can and has been held accountable for, the actress didn’t deserve the sort of scrutiny her tailspin inspired. The round-the-clock coverage of Mischa’s under-the-influence antics quickly gave way to clickbait body-shaming. In May 2008, The Daily Mail pioneered this unique brand of Barton bullying when it published pictures of the actress on vacation, quipping, “[Mischa] appears to be fighting a losing battle with the dreaded cellulite.” Dimple denunciations soon gave way to pseudo-concerned pieces about Barton’s rapid weight loss, which was doubtlessly triggered by press scrutiny in the first place. Speculation about Mischa Barton’s scale was so fervent that the actress felt the need to issue a statement on her website, sharing that, “Things are really well in Mischa world and I’ve just been watching what I eat.”

Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that things were not well in Mischa world. In July 2009, Access Hollywood reported that the star had been placed under an involuntary psychiatric hold by the LAPD. As a side note, Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code has become a minor celebrity in its own right, having been invoked to retain such luminaries as Britney Spears and Kanye West. In a subsequent People article on Barton’s two-week-long hospitalization, a “pal” conjectured that the actress had been “spiraling for two years.” Barton later spoke out about her involuntary R&R, confiding in Time Out New York, “Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom about things and have to get the most stressed out just to feel better again.”

But things did not get better for Mischa Barton. Rumors continued to swirl about her hard-partying ways, her erratic behavior and her financial instability. Lawsuits, family infighting, and an unpleasant Dancing With the Stars stint followed. At a certain point, it became clear that the press simply refused to let Mischa Barton out of the limelight—for better or for worse. So while Barton’s career has gone straight to DVD, she’s still covered as assiduously as an A-lister. Recently, this coverage has felt particularly exploitative and, for lack of a better word, icky.

In January, a video leaked of the 31-year-old clearly unhinged and/or under the influence. According to follow-up reports, Barton had voluntarily gone to the hospital after someone allegedly spiked her drink with GHB. “While having drinks, I realized that something was not right as my behavior was becoming erratic and continued to intensify over the next several hours,” Barton later told People. “I voluntarily went to get professional help, and I was informed by their staff that I had been given GHB. After an overnight stay, I am home and doing well.” Sounds like a terrifying incident—one that was doubtlessly made even more unpleasant by gross articles like “Scary Video Shows Mischa Barton Incoherently Screaming Before Hospitalization.”

Horribly enough, Barton’s alleged drugging wasn’t her last cautionary tale of 2017. Just weeks later, articles like this Daily Mail “exclusive” broke the news of a Mischa Barton sex tape being “shopped around Hollywood.” The piece, which is titled “Sex tape featuring OC actress Mischa Barton is offered to the highest bidder among Hollywood porn companies—with the price for the X-rated video starting at $500,000,” goes on to detail the content of the video down to the outfit that the actress is wearing. But according to a TMZ report, the footage has a sinister story: On Wednesday, the website reported that Barton was accusing the ex-boyfriend in the tape of using a hidden camera to record her without her consent. Barton and her lawyer, Lisa Bloom, have allegedly contacted the cops and obtained restraining orders against two exes who Barton believes may be peddling the explicit materials.

While Barton has been celebrated for taking a stand against the disgusting practice of revenge porn, the wealth of articles springing up about her “sex tape” aren’t doing the actress any favors. Look no further than a follow-up Daily Mail article on the case which, while reframing the tape as “revenge porn,” rehashes details and tropes from the earlier piece, including descriptions of the footage and invocations of Mischa’s past bad behavior. Naturally, these articles are accompanied by photographs of the actress posing in bikinis, as well as shots of her looking disturbed and unwell. Because when it comes to Barton, titillation and tragedy porn are just two sides of the same skeevy coin.