Last Friday Nadya Suleman's media relations representatives called it quits. For about 10 days, after they took on the mother of eight newborns as a pro bono client, Joann Killeen and her firm's partner, Michael Furtney, were Suleman's public faces as the latter withdrew into seclusion. At first the public and media responded to news of the multiple births with euphoria, but then details about Suleman hit the blogosphere and radio talk shows — facts about her in vitro pregnancy, her unemployed single-mom status and her already large family of six children.
The public outcry has been the kind normally reserved for war criminals and serial killers. It has seen a torrent of angry and threatening messages sent to Suleman and her publicists.
“It's gone from being a miracle of eight babies,” Killeen told the L.A. Weekly today, “to a [story] about angry taxpayers who feel they're going to have to support these babies for the rest of their lives.” Killeen says there's no evidence that the public will ever have to foot Suleman's child-rearing bills.
“People are jumping to conclusions about shame, blame and judgments,” she says. She also notes that the Web site (currently offline) her company set up for the mother last Tuesday has already received 55,000 emails. Not all of them are hate messages — some are offers of bedding, books, diapers, furniture.
Still, Killeen's company quickly became a lightning rod for public anger aimed at Suleman, and last Friday Killeen went to the Los Angeles Police Department to turn over copies of threatening emails and voice messages. At that point she and Furtney decided to withdraw from representing Suleman, since some of the threats were being directed at other Killeen-Furtney clients.
“There are people who believe that [setting up] the Web site was also inappropriate,” Killeen says. “We were not charging to help those eight babies in the hospital. We were not out to make a quick buck.”
Killeen says that as she and Furtney were dropping Suleman as a client, the mother was landing an agent. Wes Yoder, who operates the Ambassador Speakers Bureau, located in Franklin, Tennessee, will now explore what book and television opportunities await Suleman. His company's Web site describes Ambassador as “the oldest and most established Christian-based talent agency in the United States.”
Killeen says Suleman is “fine” with her company's decision to part ways with the mother, and she hopes to still be included in Suleman's life.
“[Nadya] was very disappointed that we were getting death threats,” Killeen says. “I expect to be invited for the homecoming and first birthdays.”