TMZ started back in 2005, but it wasn't until Mel Gibson decided to drive drunk and disparage Jews in 2006 that the site kicked into gear. A year later what had once been just a website became a nationally syndicated TV show--and the #1 gossip engine (so far) of the 21st century began its true ascent. Now the TMZ formula of gossip about celebrities and almost celebrities is a $55 million a year biz.
TMZ practices a new form of celeb journalism--it's transparency without the old rules and it's fast and mostly unfiltered. Years ago a big media organization might have killed the racist tape and had a quiet talk with LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling--keeping things "civilized." Not TMZ founder Harry Levin. He may seem to traffic in the tasteless, but a recent Buzzfeed profile claims he's really a populist--a fighter against hypocrisy and the abuse of power by the people who run things. TMZ brings everybody down. Except when it doesn't--which is the strange thing. Sometimes it sits on gossip it has--keeps it in "the vault." Why? Because if you have video of a 15-year-old Justin Bieber telling racist jokes--video that could damage his career--then you can make him do things by not showing it. Buzzfeed points out that TMZ leads the league in Bieber exclusives: was the young singer held hostage by the racist joke tape? Is the vault filled with celebrity misdeeds--misdeeds TMZ leverages to get what it wants? Is Harry Levin the new J. Edgar Hoover?
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