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Video: Analyzing YouTube video divorce rant

TODAY contributor
updated 4/17/2008 10:05:44 AM ET 2008-04-17T14:05:44

Tricia Walsh-Smith was another voice crying in the electronic wilderness, an angry spouse who took her complaints about her wealthy husband to YouTube and found an audience of millions. And now it has fallen to the psychiatrists and lawyers to debate whether she has helped or hurt her cause.

“We’re at a critical moment where people are turning to public broadcasts to express private thoughts,” Dr. Keith Ablow, a forensic psychiatrist, told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Thursday in New York. “But I don’t think it’s connecting people necessarily. I think it’s disconnecting them from their own life stories.”

Some divorce lawyers have said that Walsh-Smith, an actress, playwright and author, is hurting her pending divorce case by airing her husband Philip Smith’s intimate laundry in public. But MSNBC’s senior legal analyst Susan Filan doesn’t think Walsh-Smith’s pioneering YouTube divorce case will have any effect on a legal proceeding.

“A judge isn’t really going to care,” Filan told Vieira. “In the end, a divorce, as upsetting and emotional as it is, is just a financial transaction. You’re doing backwards math. You’re trying to make one household go into two. Somebody’s going to have to give something to somebody else.”

Philip Smith is the president of the Shubert Organization, the largest owner of theaters on Broadway. The organization is responsible for bringing such hits as “Mamma Mia!,” “Gypsy” and “A Chorus Line” to the New York stage. Both he and Walsh-Smith, who is 25 years younger than he, are in their second marriages; he has two daughters by his first marriage and she has a son.

When they were married, Walsh-Smith, a native of Great Britain, signed a prenuptial agreement giving her the couple’s home in Florida and $500,000 a year in the event of a divorce, with the bulk of his estate going to his daughters. Walsh-Smith wants to get the agreement she signed thrown out.

Walsh-Smith wants a divorce, but New York does not have a no-fault divorce law, and marriages can be ended only for cause. In her six-minute YouTube video, Walsh-Smith presents her case, complete with salacious news about the couple’s lack of a sex life — which is grounds for divorce in the Empire State.

Midway through the video, she calls her husband’s office to discuss the issue with his personal assistant. Later, she shows the camera her wedding album, making snide comments about family members.

She is furious, self-pitying, catty and weepy in the piece, which was filmed in her New York apartment.

Helping or hurting?
Ablow felt that Walsh-Smith’s video is not a healthy way to deal with what is usually a very private ordeal.

“I think there’s this potential to favor outsight instead of insight,” he said. “There’s a battle shaping up where people are turning their lives into television dramas, and that deprives us of real empathy. It deprives us of real lives ... I’ve treated people who are getting divorced. This is very difficult. She’s crying, and yet, when it’s a broadcast, I think it suggests to other people, this isn’t real. This is a show.”

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Some lawyers are also concerned. “This is absolutely a new step, and I think it's scary,” Bonnie Rabin, a divorce lawyer who has handled high-profile cases, told the Associated Press. “People used to worry about getting on Page Six [the gossip page of the New York Post]. But this? It brings the concept of humiliation to a whole new level.”

“I don't think it's the kind of thing people should be doing, and it's the kind of thing judges frown upon,” Norman Sheresky, a partner in the matrimonial law firm Sheresky Aronson Mayefsky & Sloan, told the AP.

Walsh-Smith is being represented by celebrity divorce lawyer Raoul Felder, who told the AP that the pre-nup she signed is “stupid.”

So why did his client sign? “Why do women sign these things? Love is blind, and sometimes it is deaf and dumb, too,” Felder said. The video, he added, was the act of a powerless person, and “revolutions are made by powerless people.”

Does that mean divorce-by-YouTube is a true revolution? Rabin, the matrimonial lawyer, sure hopes not.

For one thing, she said, this could come back to haunt Walsh-Smith.

“Judges make decisions partly on [a person's] judgment,” she said. “She could hurt herself with this.” Not to mention the threat of a defamation case from the other side.

Filan told Vieira that one of Smith’s daughters whom Walsh-Smith maligns in her video probably won’t want to file a defamation suit. “If you’re going to litigate defamation, you’re going to re-publicize it. So if you’re the ‘mean stepdaughter,’ do you really want to take it to court and litigate whether you’re really mean or not?” she said. “Let it go. Let it go.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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