There's an old saying, "As long as you spell my name right," the idea being that any ink is good ink and that just getting your name out there and breaking through is a benefit that outweighs any negative content in a story.
It is an enduring myth. It's also a losing strategy.
That being said, it is possible to make a living by being infamous. There are people—reality stars, politicians, actors, athletes, and rock stars—who constantly get in the news for bad reasons.
Lindsey Lohan. The cast of Jersey Shore. Paris Hilton. Charlie Sheen.
Failed political candidates have also continued to be in the public eye after committing incredible acts of ignorance or bizarre behavior.
You can be deeply, deeply unpopular with a majority of the population yet still be infamous enough that people know who you are, you have a small core of devotees and scads of press coverage, because the press will cover train wrecks, especially celebrity train wrecks.
But that's the keyword: celebrity.
Misbehavior is Unoriginal
Misbehavior is incredibly common. Open up the newspaper, and you'll find police blotter stories of monumental stupidity. Drunk drivers pulled over behind the wheel of riding lawnmowers, rumbling down the highway at 10 miles an hour. Bank robbers who leave their wallet and ID behind at the scene of the crime. Drunken idiots inventing new ways to win a Darwin Award.
If you're already a celebrity, however minor, misbehavior and scandals will get you attention. Bad attention.
Lindsey Lohan and Charlie Sheen were already famous and successful actors before they became punch lines. Lohan was a remarkable child actress. Sheen was considered a serious actor when he did Platoon.
The cast of Jersey Shore, on the other hand, is average. They were never famous, never stars, but they were already cast in a reality show on national television before their antics became infamous.
You could go to any city in the nation and find similar young people getting drunk and hooking up and getting into fistfights in bars. It's not a recipe for fame and fortune. Your average 20-something single person acting like a jerk has a far greater chance of winding up on probation than getting on a reality show and making millions like The Situation or Snooki.
An average business owner, public official or musician can't bank on getting good press for bad things. With rock stars, good behavior would break the stereotype and might seem like a story in itself. They didn't stay up all night after the concert with groupies and trash the hotel room—they read Chaucer instead, and had a glass of wine? No way.
Infamy also tends to burn out quickly. The press moves on to the next hot mess.
The best strategy is trying to get exceptional press for doing exceptional things, for having a unique story to tell, for having a great product, new and different ideas, a fresh perspective.
It may not sound as fun, it's certainly hard to do, but it's worth it.