In 2009, for example, he took the call that led to TMZ’s breaking the news that Chris Brown had physically assaulted Rihanna.(The site subsequently published a police photograph of Rihanna’s battered face.) Weakland told me that his attempts to persuade sources to follow through with a leak often resembled a therapy session.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. Then, on September 8th, TMZ published a second surveillance video from the Revel. Several of Levin’s colleagues told me that he is determined to maintain his youth.
“It’s not an accident the guy with a camera is waiting at the Delta check-in counter at 8 ,” a former TMZ employee wrote, anonymously, on Defamer, a Hollywood site owned by Gawker.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.“I’d have to talk people off cliffs,” Weakland said.“I’d tell them, ‘We’re not going to reveal our sources, because we want you to be a source for us again.(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.
“We’ve been around for nine years, and if you look at the stories that we’ve broken they are stories that literally every newscast in America has put on the air,” he said.
In October, 2014, TMZ received an e-mail that, under the subject heading “Drake at Stadium Club in D. Please call me for price.” Fifty-nine minutes after a producer forwarded the tip to colleagues, TMZ posted a clip showing the rapper accidentally dropping thousands of dollars outside a Washington strip club.
(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.
In an e-mail from last year, a photographer reported having four airport sources for the day, including “Harold at Delta, Leon at Baggage service, Fred at hudson news, Lyle at Fruit and nut stand.” A former TMZ cameraman showed me expense reports that he had submitted in 2010, reflecting payments of forty or fifty dollars to various sources: to the counter girl at a Beverly Hills salon, for information on Goldie Hawn; to a valet, for Pete Sampras; to a shopkeeper, for Dwight Howard; and to a waiter, for Hayden Christensen.
“Everybody rats everybody else out,” Simon Cardoza, a former cameraman for the site, told me.
(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.