Hilton, 32, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira Jr., posted the offending photo on Monday. He has since removed it. But since it exposed Cyrus, 17 – a minor – he could potentially face child-pornography charges.
Reaction to his posting of the image – which PEOPLE will not reproduce, even in a censored form – has been swift and damning, with Tuesday's morning talk shows full of anger and recrimination at Hilton.
Cyrus, herself, blasted the release of the photo: "That's some idiot being an idiot," she told Ryan Seacrest on his KIIS-FM radio show. "Isn't it funny that things like that, that are so negative have to come out right before my record?"
Cyrus, whose new record is called Can't Be Tamed, added: "It's like no one can let positive things happen. All I do is focus on the positive and I hope this record does well."
Jeffrey Douglas, a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney specializing in child pornography cases, told Salon.com that it was "suicidal" for Hilton to distribute the image. "We're not talking about a misdemeanor," he said. "You don't have to know what the definition of the law is; all you have to do is knowingly distribute the photograph."
Even if, as some have suggested, the image has been Photoshopped, that would not absolve Hilton. "That is still a crime, and it is punishable just the same," says Douglas, adding that even clearly manipulated images – a child's head Photoshopped onto an adult's body, for example – is punishable under the law.
In a video posted on his Web site Tuesday afternoon, Perez Hilton addresses what he calls the "fake" controversy. "Sure I like to be controversial," he says, "but I don't want to go to jail." He then adds that Cyrus was "clearly" not showing anything inappropriate.