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Tuesday, July 12, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Erik Lacitis

From O.J. To Oprah, This Doctor Knows A Sound Bite A Day Brings A Shot At Fame

It was Dr. Robert Butterworth again, psychologist on call to the media, with another electronic press release. This would have been press release number 160 in the past eight years.

The press release went out on something called the Business Wire, which charged Butterworth around $50 for the service. Of course I read it.

The good doctor knew how to get my attention. "O.J. Simpson" was in the headline of the press release. I wonder how much our gross domestic product decreased this month, because everything came to a stop when another O.J. special report was on TV.

Butterworth quoted himself:

"There is nowhere to hide from the O.J. Simpson story, from offices to stores to outdoor events . . . And in talking with people in Southern California in the last several days, I am starting to find that a sort of psychological fatigue is starting to develop in some people. . . . "

I think what Butterworth was saying was that some people were getting sick and tired of nothing but O.J. stories.

Not exactly big news. Kind of obvious, you might say. So what? A bunch of publications still called.

It's always good to have an expert's name in a story, who kind of explains stuff, you know, in a kind of big global context. So there you have Dr. Robert Butterworth, head of Contemporary Psychology Associates in Los Angeles, ready with a sound bite.

If you were a foreign visitor, and you asked me for a story uniquely American, I'd tell you about Butterworth, 48. He has figured out how to keep getting his 15 minutes of fame, over and over and over again.

As one of his press releases explained, Butterworth is "available at a moment's notice if a breaking story occurs." I can't think of another country in the world in which a psychologist would send out 160 press releases, hoping you'll quote him.

He's been on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Geraldo, Oprah, countless radio talk shows and been quoted in at least 50 newspapers that showed up in an electronic search. The good doctor doesn't charge for the interviews; although for Oprah, he does get an airplane ticket, a nice hotel room and a limo.

Mostly, well you know what it's about.

"The worst thing about being a psychologist is that you sit in your office all day, and never come out for air," Butterworth said. Now, every week, he's being interviewed by somebody.

It's nice for the ego. Here's a reporter, typing our every word into his terminal. Here's a radio talk show host, callers on hold, waiting to ask your opinion on . . .

Hmmmm. Your opinion on what?

That's why the press releases. If it's in the news, he's got an opinion.

Like the O.J. press release. He was at his attorney's office to get something notarized, and two receptionists were arguing about watching the O.J. hearing.

Butterworth listened and a press release formed in his mind:

"I am finding two distinctly different psychological reactions occurring as a result of this story, those who cannot get enough of the story . . . (and) the polar opposite of the obsessives . . . (who) get angry, nauseated or just run away to escape when they encounter a TV or radio turned to the proceedings."

See how it works?

Like when Richard Nixon died. Press release: Even Nixon's enemies are "feeling his loss." There's no Tricky Dick to kick around anymore.

Like when the Beavis and Butt-head TV characters were on the covers of every magazine. Press release: Parents, don't get too worried about the show. It's mostly stupid.

I asked Butterworth what advice he had for anybody else wanting to be quote expert.

"A Ph.D. would help. Although the funny thing is," he said, "in all the interviews I've done, no reporter except one has asked to see a copy of my state license."

I, too, didn't ask the good doctor to fax me his license. I had gotten what I wanted.

Quotes. You want 'em? "Who you gonna call? Dr. Butterworth!" the good doctor said.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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