There is a lesson in Hugh Hefner's public apology to Jessica Alba: Don't imply you have naked pictures when you don't. Surely, a good lesson for all of us.
In case you missed this story - you probably were too busy living your life or, heaven forbid, reading about important stuff, like war, famine and pestilence - Hefner's Playboy magazine ran a photo of a bikini-clad Alba on the cover of its March issue with the screaming headline "25 Sexiest Celebrities."
I certainly assumed she appeared naked inside the magazine. And I was supposed to assume that.
But she was not naked inside the magazine. She did not even pose for the cover shot. It was a publicity still from Alba's movie "Into the Blue."
By the way, she was not naked in that movie, either. Although she seems to show off her near-naked body as often as she can, she does not believe in appearing nude in movies, magazines or newspaper columns (we asked).
Wet suits? No problem. Cowgirl stripper outfits? No problem. Bikinis? No problem.
"I'm not coming out of the water in a wet T-shirt with nothing on underneath," Alba said in her own defense when we spoke in September before the release of "Into the Blue."
"The movie takes place in the Bahamas, and this is what the locals wear in the summer. Girls in their 20s wear bikinis. It's not that crazy or weird. It's reality. It's not exploitative. I'm not here to be the next big sex symbol. That's not who I am. To call me that demeans all the hard work I've done to get here."
OK, now you understand why she was so upset about the Playboy cover. She says that the magazine did not have her permission to run that photo, and it embarrassed her because it led me to believe that she had posed naked.
It was a publicity bonanza for Alba, although I am sure that wasn't her motivation.
Hefner not only wrote a letter of apology to Alba (no attempt at publicity there), but agreed to send checks to two of Alba's favorite charities (again, no attempt at publicity).
The 24-year-old actress released a response through her publicist, in which she said that she appreciated Hefner's apology, and that she was "happy to put this unfortunate event behind me. This was never about money; it was about setting the record straight."
Oh, I thought this additional quote from my September interview with Alba might amuse you: "What gets me are the people in this business who complain about the media attention they're getting.
"I'm OK with the attention because I don't take it seriously. How can you take a magazine cover seriously when you know that they're going to find someone else for next month's cover? How great are you if you can be replaced in the very next issue?"
I don't know who is on the cover of the April issue of Playboy - I only read the magazine when I think there might be naked pictures of Jessica Alba - but this whole incident brings me to the point of this week's sermon:
Since when are there rules about exploiting celebrities?
I thought there were no rules, as long as you spelled their names correctly. Otherwise, everything I read in gossip columns and celebrity magazines, or watch on "Entertainment Tonight," "Access Hollywood," "Extra," "The Insider" and the E! Channel makes no sense at all.
If there are rules, then all the celebrity "news" we are inundated with on a daily basis must have been approved by the celebrities involved.
Celebrities must approve of photographers chasing them through the streets of Los Angeles in black SUVs. Celebrities must approve of endless media speculation on their love lives. Celebrities must approve of having their children stalked by inquiring minds.
If they don't approve of these practices, they should sue, but most insist that a legal battle is more trouble than it's worth. I wonder what kind of a message that sends to the celebrity stalkers.
So, they don't fight it, and that leads me to one of two conclusions. Either they like the attention, and I'm sure there are a few (Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, to name a few) who fall into that category, or they simply have surrendered to the long-held public belief that "it comes with the territory."
If it does come with the territory, then there are no rules, and I was right all along. We in the media are free to say anything we like about celebrities. We can drag their names through the mud, chase them down the street and run unflattering photos of them without consequence.
But we must never imply that we've got naked pictures of Jessica Alba.