In pleading guilty in the college bribery scandal, Felicity Huffman acted like a regular person.
Huffman did a terrible thing. She paid $15,000 to boost her daughter’s SAT scores so that the young woman could get into an elite university.
On Monday, Huffman went into a federal courtroom in Boston and admitted what she’d done. A judge will decide in September whether to sentence her to four months in prison and a $20,000 fine, as prosecutors have recommended, or punish her on his own terms.
After that, the public should allow her to pay her debt to society and get on with her life.
The interesting thing about Huffman, an Oscar-nominated actress who starred in the film “Transamerica” and is best-known for appearances on the TV shows “Desperate Housewives” and “American Crime,” is that she didn’t look like a celebrity when she entered the courthouse. Nor did she try to act like one.
She seemed like a regular person, not as confident as we were used to seeing her on “Housewives” and even a little scared, as she sometimes appeared to be on the crime drama series. She looked like an ordinary person. She looked like us.
It is easy to forget that celebrities are just human beings. They spend most of their lives projecting an image that makes them appear larger than life. Much of their star power is dependent on their ability to make the public view them as more than average.
They need to convince the public that they are indeed the glamorous characters they portray on the screen. And the public enjoys believing that they are. The smart celebrities, though, realize that it’s all fake.
Huffman, in her tearful admission, acknowledged that she is indeed like the rest of us, flawed human beings. She chose not to pretend that she did not break the law. Her explanation for doing so — that her daughter had neurological issues that required extra time for her to do her best work on the test — seemed plausible.
Still, she acknowledged that she had made a mistake. And she has apologized for it.
What I appreciate about Huffman’s guilty plea is that she didn’t act as though her celebrity status should afford her special consideration. She did not whine about being mistreated or misunderstood. She owned up to her misdeeds and prepared to accept the punishment.
Huffman deserves our respect for that, and maybe even our forgiveness. The same cannot be said for Lori Loughlin.
Loughlin, the “Full House” actress who was charged along with her clothing designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, in the same college admissions scandal, has acted as though privilege gave them the right to break the rules.
The two of them have chosen to fight charges of money laundering and paying a $500,000 bribe to slip their two non-athletic daughters into the University of Southern California by passing them off as members of the rowing team. That is Loughlin’s and Giannulli’s right under the law, and they should be considered innocent until a court proves otherwise. But there are also consequences.
A friend revealed to the media that Loughlin is tired of the criticism and constant jokes about her on late-night television. In her eyes, she is a victim, and she deserves to be treated like one.
“This is putting unspeakable stress on her and her family,” the source told People magazine recently. “They’re having to play this all out publicly, and they’re fair game for jokes and memes, but also outraged [by] people who are saying that they are cheaters.
“They’re being destroyed.”
It appears that Loughlin has bought into the ridiculous notion that people of means have the right to cheat and not be considered cheaters, that her family, along with the other high-profile celebrities, business executives and others who were caught up in the scandal are owed respect and privacy.
She wants the judicial system to treat her special, while the public treats her like an ordinary person. It cannot work both ways.
The difference between her and the rest of us is that regular people would never have been invited into that exclusive club of cheaters. We would not have qualified to provide our children with an opportunity they had not earned.
First of all, most of us don’t have that kind of money. And even if we did, some of us wouldn’t do it because it’s just plain wrong. Or we’d be too afraid of getting caught. Whatever the reason, we don’t have those options.
Recently, a source told CNN that Loughlin believes she and her husband did nothing wrong. They believe they did what anyone in their financial situation would do to get their kids into schools. They don’t see why they have become the poster children for bad behavior. They think the whole mess is just a circus.
Loughlin doesn’t seem to understand that the scandal was a serious misuse of privilege, and regular people need the privileged people to pay.
It would be nice if the public weren’t so thirsty for news — bad or good — about celebrities. But that’s where we are in 2019. And there are more than enough celebrity gossip sites to click on, too many television rating wars to win, too many Twitter followers to gain. And the social media beast is always growling to be fed.
Huffman was smart enough to realize that privileged people can’t drift in and out of Hollywood’s make-believe world and the real world whenever it fits them. But Loughlin doesn’t get it.
As a result, she’s paying the price for failing to understand what it means to be privileged.