“You come at the King, you best not miss.”

Omar’s signature line from The Wire was my first thought after reading Vanity Fair’s published retort to Angelina Jolie. If you challenge Vanity Fair, you better be sure you’re right… and, it would seem, she wasn’t.

The outcry after the original article seemed overblown to me (as we discussed on this week’s episode of Show Your Work). From handwringers who don’t understand how auditions work. If you need a kid to cry on camera, you better make sure they’re capable of getting to that place, which the excerpt illustrates.

But Jolie answered in a statement anyway:

“I am upset that a pretend exercise in an improvisation, from an actual scene in the film, has been written about as if it was a real scenario. The suggestion that real money was taken from a child during an audition is false and upsetting. I would be outraged myself if this had happened.”

This is… excusable-ish. “I’m upset that a pretend exercise…has been written about…” could have been referring to all the responses to the VF article, which only skim the story, and reduce it to “Angelina Jolie takes money from orphans to make them cry!” If she’d left it at that, it would have blown over.

But apparently, Angelina was concerned about the way the V.F. article represented her project. So much so that, according to a statement Vanity Fair published yesterday:

“Jolie’s lawyer contacted V.F., saying (the writer) Peretz had “mistakenly” reported the incident, and asked us to run a statement…[and] to publish the above statement prominently, with the title “Angelina Jolie Correction”… In response to these requests, V.F. reviewed the transcript and audiotape of Peretz’s interview with Jolie ... Peretz had recorded it on two devices.”

Of course she had recorded it on two devices. She’s a goddamn professional! Moreover, the deep, searching piece on an A++ list star like Angelina Jolie is what Vanity Fair does. It’s their whole modus operandi, and Evgenia Peretz is not a newbie. Obviously in a story this sensitive, in Angelina’s first interview since The Big Split, they’re going to take extra pains to get every detail right. No publication wants to be sued or even accused of getting something wrong ever – but especially not when the accuser is so prominent and powerful.

So they check the provided receipts, and of course what was there was exactly what was printed.  This is why I’m so confounded by this rookie mistake. Of course that was what was going to be there. What else was Jolie expecting?

It calls into question her respect for journalists. For venerated publications. (Lainey: not unlike, ahem, a certain bloviating world leader.) If she’s going to choose so carefully who gets the first interview (it’s not like The Daily Mail was ever in contention) shouldn’t she assume they can back up what they write? It’s especially embarrassing since what was written is essentially word for word from the interview… no interpretation necessary.

Not only is this a really huge misstep on her part – it also doesn’t fit with the Jolie brand. She’s been positioning herself for years as above the Hollywood fray. The woman lectures at the London School of Economics and works with the UN. She makes only ‘important’ projects and has positioned herself as a brave protector of her six children after the divorce from her golden-child husband. She’s supposed to be above all this nonsense, and moreover, supposed to choose publications which are (largely) also above it. Vanity Fair isn’t The New York Times (Lainey: which is where she’s published her op-eds about her health concerns – and we’ll explore this more soon) but it’s got decades of history and quality behind it.

Now, not only does she look… silly is the best word I can think of… she’s created a situation where she can’t be trusted. Where she’s going to cry wolf every time she doesn’t like something. This is the exact opposite of the steady, calm, trust-me-with-sensitive-projects image she’s spent years crafting.

Whether it’s an isolated misstep or a pattern emerging because she’s not surrounded by the Hollywood machine, it’s not a good look – and puts a lot more pressure on her next move.