A two-year investigation into TMZ by The New Yorker magazine details how the controversial Hollywood news and gossip organization allegedly obtains information and videos about celebrities, which includes using blackmail and taking advantage of a nationwide network of paid sources.
In a piece titled “The Digital Dirt: How TMZ Gets the Videos and Photos that Celebrities Want to Hide,” for the Feb. 22 issue of The New Yorker, the publication accuses TMZ and its founder Harvey Levin of paying off limo drivers, airline employees, security guards, and others with celebrity connections. The site also reportedly has deep sources in law enforcement.
According to investigative journalist Nicholas Schmidle, “TMZ resembles an intelligence agency as much as a news organization, and it has turned its domain, Los Angeles, into a city of stool pigeons.”
Over the past decade, TMZ has broken stories on stars like Mel Gibson, Chris Brown and Rihanna, and Lamar Odom. The site also broke the news of Michael Jackson’s 2009 death, and last year obtained videos of former Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice punching his fiancé in an elevator, and of Beyonce’s sister Solange, attacking rapper Jay Z in another elevator.
According to the lengthy and wide-ranging investigation, TMZ unapologetically pays big bucks for scoops and has operatives working across the country who share information about stars.
A Delta Airlines employee who offers TMZ information about celebrities is paid in cash, as is an informant working for a private car service.
TMZ once allegedly paid $80 thousand for a video that showed Justin Bieber—who was 15 at the time—using a racial slur on video.
The video showed the teen pop star singing his hit “One Less Lonely Girl,” however, he substituted the word “girl” for the word “n—-er.”
Levin ultimately made the decision not to publish the video, and instead used its to leverage Bieber and his representation for exclusives about the star and his then-girlfriend, Selena Gomez.
Levin reportedly spoke to Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun, before posting the video. The New Yorker alleges Braun broke down in tears and Bieber expressed remorse, claiming he had made the video as a joke and that he thought he had deleted it from his laptop.
TMZ decided not to move forward with publishing and was instead granted exclusive pictures and information of Bieber.
The video was later released anyway, as the person who sold it to Levin also sold it to another outlet.
A former TMZ photographer also told The New Yorker security guards at the Revel Hotel leaked and sold two videos of Ray Rice hitting his fiancé for a total of $105,000.
Actor Alec Baldwin, who has been the target of numerous TMZ stories over the years, described having a fantasy about wanting to violently kill Levin.
“There was a time when my greatest wish was to stab Harvey Levin with a rusty implement and watch his entrails go running down my forearm, in some Macbethian stance,” Baldwin said for the story. “I wanted him to die in my arms, while looking into my eyes, and I wanted to say to him, ‘Oh, Harvey, you thoughtless little pig.’”
Baldwin also referred to Levin as “a festering boil on the anus of American media.”
In 2007, TMZ obtained and shared an audio recording of Baldwin referring to his then-11-year-old daughter, Ireland, as a “thoughtless little pig” after she failed to answer one of his phone calls.
“I don’t give a damn that you’re 12-years-old or 11-years-old, or a child, or that your mother is a thoughtless pain in the ass who doesn’t care about what you do,” Baldwin continued. “You’ve made me feel like s—t.”
Levin has not commented on the extensive exposé.
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