The Former Trump Aide Behind Johnny Depp's Image Rehab
She was hired at the recommendation of Hope Hicks and Ivanka
Over the weekend, the Guardian ran a piece about the publicity campaign to get Johnny Depp welcomed back into Hollywood, following his high-profile defamation trial against ex-wife Amber Heard. He won, but only after airing many unsavory details about himself on live TV for several weeks. If Depp does have a “shot at a dramatic public image resurrection,” the article attributed it primarily to his New York PR manager, Matthew Hiltzik — who, unlike Depp’s TV-circuit trial attorneys, has “remained, strategically, out of sight.”
Hiltzik has a long history doing publicity for liberal politicians; he worked for Chuck Schumer, Eliot Spitzer, and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s, before taking a gig for Harvey Weinstein at Miramax, and later starting his own communications firm, Hiltzik Strategies. At the latter, he represented celebrities like Brad Pitt, Alec Baldwin, and Katie Couric, while continuing to work for high-profile Democrats, including Bill de Blasio.
The publicist’s approach to his work, however, was non-ideological (or, as old Gawker put it in 2009, Hiltzik simply loved “money more than liberalism”); he also took on clients like conservative mouthpiece Glenn Beck, to the shock of some pundits at the time. It’s perhaps no surprise then, as the Guardian noted, that some of Hiltzik’s protégés went on to work for Republicans: Hope Hicks and Josh Raffel, both Hiltzik staffers, accepted prominent positions in the Trump White House. The Hollywood Reporter covered this back in 2018, calling Hiltzik “the PR guru behind Trump’s mouthpieces.”
But the Hiltzik-to-Trump pipeline seems to have worked in both directions: Namely, one of the lead publicists on Team Depp is Carolina Hurley, a one-time staffer for the Republican National Committee and Special Assistant to the President under Trump. It was Hurley who often sent out trial updates to reporters covering the lawsuit, for example (signing off emails “Carolina + JD Team”), and who — just last week — blasted out the press release for Depp’s forthcoming covers album with English guitarist Jeff Beck.
A source familiar with the matter told Gawker that Hiltzik had hired Hurley at the recommendation of Hicks, Raffel, and Ivanka Trump. Hurley reportedly spent much of her White House tenure reporting to Ivanka, who had also worked with Hiltzik Strategies before her dad became president.
Like Hiltzik, Hurley has kept a fairly low profile throughout Depp’s legal ordeal. She does not use her last name in email correspondences (they all come from a “Carolina H”); her LinkedIn does not list any prior work (she notes only that she works as a “Public Relations Director”); and neither does her personal Twitter, where she did not tweet about the Depp-Heard trial but has voiced her preference for nighttime showers. But Hurley’s work at Hiltzik Strategies isn’t entirely scrubbed, and her GOP background is well-documented — in press releases and blog posts; on her old Trump administration Twitter account (now archived by the National Archives and Records Administration); and in this 2016 Hill article in which she vowed to fight “liberal bias” after a professor, in an argument about states’ rights and gun control, suggested that her argument could be used to defend slavery, a position which Hurley strongly denied to Gawker.
None of that, of course, precludes Hurley from helping Depp, say, optimize his TikTok debut. But it’s certainly an interesting tidbit, given the right-wing’s obvious, and occasionally literal, investment in Depp’s victory. When reached for comment, Hiltzik told Gawker: “We’re proud to have her on the team.”
This post has been updated to clarify the context of the dispute between Hurley and her professor alleged in the Hill article.