Monday, June 29, 2009

Mainstream media begins to realize TMZ's Jacko death scoop was not what it seemed

It's taken them a few days to catch up, but the established mainstream media is beginning to clear the stardust out of their eyes and realize there was something fishy about corporate, porn-pushing gossip site TMZ.com scooping the world on the death of Michael Jackson.

We laid out the evidence on Friday that under the leadership of shaved bronzed midget frontman Harvey Levin, TMZ took the same information that everyone else had and gambled that it spelled out that Jacko was dead-- that they ran the "Michael Jackson is dead" story before getting official confirmation, before knowing for sure. The upside? Well, look at how the mainstream media, from Brian Stelter in the New York Times to beaten beat writers in the Los Angeles Times, have responded with awestruck wonder at the supposed technological and journalistic brilliance of the jealous, corrupt mutts at TMZ for going with the story a good forty minutes before anyone else (see Dan Rather at Parkland Hospital). The downside? There's not much of a downside. There was enough confusion in which smarmy sleazy Harvey could have slimed his way out of it, and gotten the attention just the same (see The Hitler Diaries).

This afternoon, the Los Angeles Times website runs -- and Drudge headlines as a "whine"-- a "comment" piece entitled, "How would we have reacted if TMZ had been wrong about Michael Jackson's death?"

Alexandra Le Tellier writes:

"TMZ would become the first outlet to announce the singer’s death. What came next was a surprise. Before the RIPs and the 'he touched us all' jokes, many users began posting jabs aimed at CNN -- more specifically, its irrelevance as a news source...

"Has technology’s ability to deliver information at such a rapid pace corrupted us? ...Have our standards for accountability dissolved?

"...And who was TMZ’s source anyway? The site’s managing editor, Harvey Levin, said he and his staff made hundreds of calls, but he didn't divulge whom they spoke to, which begs the question of whether they confirmed the news with a reliable, accountable source -- as is required by the Los Angeles Times -- or if they spoke to someone who was violating patient confidentiality.

"When 19 employees at this same hospital, UCLA Medical Center, were busted in 2008 for snooping through Britney Spears’ confidential medical records, it was hard not to wonder why they’d have risked their jobs. Were they looking for a story to sell just as their colleague, Lawanda Jackson, had done? She was indicted in 2008 for selling information about Farrah Fawcett and accessing hundreds of other files. If that’s the case here, are we seriously going to trust people who’re willing to break the law for some fast cash?

“'A curious thing is at play here,' (NY Times syndicate ethics columnist Jeffrey) Seglin continues. 'Few people expect TMZ or Drudge or the National Enquirer to get things right or to report on issues of substance. When they do, at least so far, it’s a bit of an anomaly. So the consequences for getting it wrong among such sites do not seem terribly high. If CNN, Fox … got such things wrong, the consequences would likely be higher...'

"Would TMZ take the same approach to a political figure, which in turn could pose a threat to national security? Let’s hope we never find out."

Though the article is deep in the Times' little-read Blog section and its writer is under the impression that TMZ got a legitimate scoop through illegal, paid sources, it's significant for a few reasons. The writer quotes an ethicist from the national competitor in New York, whose kid TV writer led the TMZ cheerleading over the weekend-- a sign that after their initial starry-eyed reaction to being beaten on the story, the old world news media is gathering the forces to get back at the sleazy TV lawyer who broke the rules. Drudge may call it a "whine", but obviously unhappy being lumped in with TMZ, he posted the link on his influential page, which means talk radio producers and other news organizations too lazy to come up with their own ideas will pick up the TMZ story.

And even though the TMZ gamble paid off in the end, the Jackson death stunt does not bode well for TMZ's plans to encroach further into Washington, D.C. politics and matters of national importance. Its corporate overlords Time Warner and AOL may have found it cute when Harvey and his boys began comparing the pectoral muscles of congressmen or playing their curbside ambush games in Georgetown, but they wouldn't be happy at all if their bastard child jumped the gun on an assassination and caused panic and riots in the streets.


1 comment:

AOS said...

There was an instance here in Australia on the very same day of this kind of 'reporting' going the other way - with the information being reported turning out to be wrong.

Channel 9 entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins, in the midst of the Michael Jackson excitement, announced that news had come to hand of Jeff Goldblum's death in New Zealand "according to NZ police". His source? Twitter.

As it turned out, an hour or two later he announced that he'd got it wrong.

More than likely, the rationale here was that, yes, it was risky running the story without verifying the information first, but if he was right then he had a scoop and Ch 9 could claim "you heard it here first".