With the rise of Hollywood, actors became gossip’s prime quarry; the magazine courted lawsuits by printing stories with titles like “Mae West’s Open Door Policy.” On the Fox News program, Kurtz asked Levin whether his willingness to buy material “tarnished” TMZ’s integrity. ” Kurtz noted that, amid all the gossip, TMZ had aired some consequential stories.
Last year, Page Six reported that TMZ paid two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for surveillance footage of Beyoncé’s sister, Solange, attacking Jay Z in an elevator at the Standard, in New York. In 2012, the site published a video showing four marines in Afghanistan urinating on dead insurgents, which prompted a criminal investigation and disciplinary action against the marines.
(In a message to a TMZ staff member, the source asked to be paid five thousand dollars.) Russ Weakland, a former TMZ producer, told me that he sometimes negotiated payments with tipsters who were anxious about releasing sensitive information.
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(According to a former TMZ employee knowledgeable about the deal, the price was closer to five thousand dollars.) The Society of Professional Journalists condemns the practice of paying sources, saying that it “threatens to corrupt journalism.” Levin was unapologetic. Did such posts, Kurtz asked, signal an intent to change TMZ’s reputation as “a raunchy tabloid operation”?
(On the day the Fox interview aired, TMZ’s home page featured an “exclusive” about Iggy Azalea, the Australian rapper, who was threatening to sue an adult-film company over the release of a sex tape.) Levin’s face lit up.
In an e-mail dated January 29, 2014, a TMZ manager informed her colleagues that the star of an ABC drama had been spotted sitting in first class, in seat 2A, on Delta Flight 1061, from Orlando to Los Angeles, when his plane was rerouted to Dallas—the result of a bomb threat issued on Twitter.
Such information helps TMZ’s crew of a dozen or so paparazzi know when and where to “drop in on” a celebrity who is transiting through an airport.
In 2009, TMZ broke the news of Michael Jackson’s sudden death, and two years ago it revealed a recorded phone call between Donald Sterling, then the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, and his mistress, in which Sterling urged her not to bring her African-American friends, including Magic Johnson, to Clippers games. (He declined repeated requests for an interview.) TMZ has paid at least one mole inside B. S., a limousine service, to provide lists of celebrity customers, their planned routes, and the license-plate numbers of their vehicles. source—“a Hispanic gentleman”—at a gas station in Van Nuys, handing over an envelope filled with cash, and receiving in return a client list.
(In a 2015 e-mail, a TMZ employee asked colleagues if anyone had yet established a source at Uber.) Justin Kaplan, a former production associate at TMZ, recalls meeting a B. The process had been so well honed, Kaplan told me, that “we barely said a word to each other.” At least one employee of Delta Airlines supplies TMZ with the names and itineraries of celebrity passengers travelling through Los Angeles and New York.When the elevator arrived in the lobby, Palmer was lying unconscious, face down, on the floor.According to a former security supervisor at the Revel, nearly eighteen hundred cameras streamed video to a pair of monitoring rooms on the mezzanine floor.Levin assumes the role of semi-hip uncle—cool for his age but amusingly out of step with his younger colleagues’ fads and jokes. Levin seemed affronted to see Ross so stripped of glamour. Levin’s exposure on television has turned him into a celebrity himself.On the October 19th episode of “TMZ on TV,” one staffer mentioned that the rapper The Game had recently given Diddy a Ferrari. The Los Angeles has followed his attempts to sell his house in Hollywood Hills West, for which he is asking almost four million dollars.One day’s list, from June, 2010, included the flight details for Robert Redford and Jack Kevorkian; another one, two months later, had the itineraries of Julius Erving, Kathy Ireland, and Malcolm-Jamal Warner.