The first outlet to break the news of music legend Prince, TMZ, is no stranger to scoops in the entertainment world.
The celebrity news and gossip website was first with the 2009 news of the death of Michael Jackson, broke the story on Mel Gibson’s arrest for drunken driving and his subsequent anti-Semitic rant, and posted the infamous video of NFL star Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee in an elevator.
The Los Angeles-based news organization owned by media giant Time Warner has built a reputation for insider information in Hollywood and the world of celebrities.
According to some media watchers, TMZ — a name coined for the “thirty mile zone” around the Hollywood studios — steps over journalistic ethical lines by paying sources for news or tips.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” Harvey Levin, the founder of TMZ, told Fox News when asked about a report that it paid $250,000 for surveillance footage of Beyonce’s sister, Solange, attacking Jay Z.
“The video is still the video. So who cares whether you pay money for it?”
Fox News media columnist Howard Kurtz has argued that while TMZ may bend the rules, it has broken a number of important stories.
“I’m not always a fan of TMZ’s methods,” Kurtz wrote in 2014 after it released a video showing Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling telling his girlfriend not to bring blacks to games.
“The site makes a practice of checkbook journalism. If it paid for this tape, as it has for other scoops, that’s unethical. But it has caused such an explosion… that few are likely to care. And I admire the news-slash-gossip machine that Harvey Levin has built.”
A February article on TMZ in the New Yorker said TMZ “has built a deep network of sources, including entertainment lawyers, reality-television stars, adult-film brokers, and court officials, allowing Levin to knock down the walls that guard celebrity life.”
The report said TMZ had at least one “mole” inside a major limousine service to get dirt on celebrities.
TMZ’s impact has been significant enough to spur a backlash. After the site published pictures of pop star Rihanna following an alleged 2009 beating, a campaign was launched for a so-called “Rihanna’s Law” to bar the release of images that exploit victims of a crime.