Palmer and Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, were arguing as the doors slid shut. 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. After guards responded to the incident in the lobby, several surveillance officers gathered and wondered aloud if a tape of Rice and Palmer could be sold to TMZ—the Web site that, since its inception, in , has taken a merciless approach to celebrity news.
At around a. The officer then called TMZ. It was the middle of the night in Los Angeles, where TMZ is based, so a message was left on the tip line.
More than a hundred tips arrive every day. Many tipsters ask to be paid, and the site often complies. Please call me for price. 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.
Weakland told me that his attempts to persuade sources to follow through with a leak often resembled a therapy session. We want you to trust us. According to a former TMZ photographer, the site paid fifteen thousand dollars. TMZ would not discuss payments, or other internal matters, but called this figure overblown. The former security supervisor told me that casino officials also identified which computer had been used to review the footage.
But Loretta Pickus, the former general counsel at the casino, told me that it could not be determined with certainty which employee had recorded the footage with a phone. Rice, the Ravens, and the N. The league suspended Rice for two games, but by early September he was preparing to return to play. This one, bought for almost ninety thousand dollars, revealed what occurred inside the elevator: after the doors shut, Rice punched Palmer on the left side of her head.
The clip pitched the N. Rice was cut by the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the N. Levin is sixty-five. He has a jittery manner, a wide smile, and a deep tan. For the TV appearance, he was wearing a tight black T-shirt, which showed off his physique—he works out every weekday before dawn, prior to going to the office. Later that year, the site released video footage of Michael Richards making racist comments during a comedy-club routine. He declined repeated requests for an interview.
TMZ has paid at least one mole inside B. In a e-mail, a TMZ employee asked colleagues if anyone had yet established a source at Uber. In an e-mail dated January 29, , 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 , from Orlando to Los Angeles, when his plane was rerouted to Dallas—the result of a bomb threat issued on Twitter.
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.
Though Levin has changed the rules for confirming gossip, by insisting on documentary proof, scandal has been chronicled for millennia. Thirty-five hundred years ago, Mesopotamian scribes used cuneiform to record the impeachment hearings of a mayor who had been accused of corruption, kidnapping, adultery, and the theft of manure.
In , the first modern gossip magazine, The Tatler , started publication, in London. According to a former TMZ employee knowledgeable about the deal, the price was closer to five thousand dollars. So who cares whether you pay money for it? Kurtz noted that, amid all the gossip, TMZ had aired some consequential stories. In , 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. Later in the show, the conversation turned to a photograph of Diana Ross leaving a CVS, at night, wearing sunglasses and carrying a package of toilet paper.
Levin seemed affronted to see Ross so stripped of glamour. The Los Angeles Times has followed his attempts to sell his house in Hollywood Hills West, for which he is asking almost four million dollars.
Gossip sites have published paparazzi shots of Levin drinking iced coffee with his partner, Andy Mauer, a chiropractor. The Web site is wholly owned by Warner Bros.
The attention that Levin receives is not always so adulatory. The estranged husband of a former sitcom star recently made threats against him, persuading him to take on a twenty-four-hour security detail. But for some the significance of the Sterling and Rice stories called for a reassessment.
On May 7, , Levin, then a senior at Cleveland High School, in Reseda, California, stepped up to a microphone, faced a football stadium filled with his classmates, and did his best impression of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was running for President. Levin attended. That fall, Levin enrolled at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he studied political science.
He considered pursuing a Ph. One day, Stone was sick and cancelled the class. The next week, Stone confronted his student. He subscribed to a new magazine, People , and read it in his office.
Levin returned to California, to teach at the Whittier College law school. At the time, a conservative named Howard Jarvis was campaigning to pass a ballot initiative in California limiting real-estate taxes. Levin, who opposed the measure, faced off against Jarvis in several public debates. These shows, in which legal disputes were resolved in fake courtrooms, represented a fresh form—reality TV—that blended the everyday and the outlandish. In February, , to commemorate the bicentennial of the U.
Constitution, he set out to book a Supreme Court Justice. He initially contacted Warren Burger, who had just stepped down as Chief Justice. Wade, and who had a contentious relationship with Burger. Blackmun agreed to go on the show. He shared desk space with another general-assignment reporter, Kent Shocknek, who later became the anchor of the morning newscast.
This is the guy! We have to get him before he leaves! After a few years, Levin quit and joined the CBS affiliate. On June 13, , O. But Levin had made an error. The time stamp depicted the moment that the footage had been filed—at p. In the early aughts, he successfully pitched an idea to Telepictures, a division of Warner Bros. Simpson case offered a glaring example of how differently the law was applied to celebrities and to ordinary citizens. Levin had witnessed this double standard himself. At the same time, celebrity-friendly clubs in Hollywood touted their lenient policies with respect to minors.
Levin also disapproved of the way that publicists leveraged access to celebrities in order to control the media coverage of their clients.
A Web site called the Smoking Gun was already publishing such documents online. It often aired late at night, and it struggled to find viewers. Nevertheless, Jim Paratore, the president of Telepictures, wanted to find Levin another project. Paratore discussed the idea with Jim Bankoff, an executive at America Online.
Time Warner, the corporate parent of Warner Bros. Bankoff, who is now the chairman of Vox Media, liked the concept: Telepictures would supply the content, and AOL would handle the technical and commercial side. Telepictures offered Levin the opportunity to run the site. Levin suggested an abbreviated version: TMZ.
The domain name tmz. Levin drove a Mercedes. On one of the first nights, its lone cameraman caught Paris Hilton and her boyfriend leaving a club in her Bentley, crashing into a parked truck, and fleeing the scene. It was an auspicious start, and Web traffic soon soared to more than ten million unique visitors a month. Last month, according to Quantcast, TMZ. People had choices.
At the start, Levin had only a dozen or so employees. He was selective about whom he brought on, prizing loyalty, energy, and connections over experience.
After TMZ published images of the four pages, the story made national headlines. In less than a year, TMZ had become a dominant venue for celebrity news. Our mission was to be aspirational—something that was pretty, shot in a certain kind of light, people looking good. TMZ never really did that. Kennedy sunbathing on the deck of a yacht, in the company of four topless women.
It was widely circulated. By the end of the day, the Smoking Gun revealed that the photo had been lifted from the November, , issue of Playboy , and showed a male model, not J.