TMZ: The website striking fear into Hollywood's stars

As Christian Bale found last week, no celebrity is safe from the attentions of the trashy showbiz site

When Christian Bale unleashed a four-minute foul-mouthed rant at an unfortunate crew member on the set of the new Terminator movie last summer, he may have thought that what happened on set would stay on set. Someone, however, recorded it, and somehow – no one quite knows how – the audio file turned up last week on the website TMZ, launching a download frenzy that has seen the recording spread around the globe, and spawning dozens of spoofs and parodies.

So it goes, in the exuberant and voyeuristic world of TMZ, a Los Angeles website founded on the principle that no detail of a famous person's daily existence, from Britney visiting Starbucks to Paris picking her nose, is too boring or tasteless to satisfy a prurient, celebrity-obsessed public.

In the three years since it was founded, TMZ (pronounced "tee-em-zee" – the name is taken from "thirty mile zone", a film industry term referring to the area around Hollywood) has become America's most influential purveyor of showbiz tittle-tattle. It sits third in the league of most-visited celebrity websites (behind People.com and Yahoo's OMG), has spawned a prime-time TV show, and is one of Time magazine's "25 websites we can't live without".

Its modus operandi is gloriously lowbrow: every hour or so, the site posts either a breaking news story, traditional paparazzi shots, revelatory documents or footage from one of its video cameramen who patrol the streets of Los Angeles, attempting to cajole passing stars into conversation.

Sometimes, amid endless videos of feral photographers harassing C-list celebrities, the site will distinguish itself by stumbling upon a genuine exclusive. Last week brought two cases in point: first, on Tuesday, came the Christian Bale audio file; then, the following day, TMZ received a private photograph of the "tween" sensation Miley Cyrus posing with a group of friends who were pulling "slitty-eyed" faces that were seen – by furious race relations groups, at least – to be an attempt to make fun of an Asian member of their group.

Both scalps represented notable additions to the trophy room of TMZ, which was founded in November 2005 by AOL and Warner Bros to harness the internet's then-untapped potential to break stories at breakneck speed. The site's leading creative force is Harvey Levin, a boisterous, camp and slightly seedy former lawyer and TV show-business reporter.

Two factors have driven TMZ's early success. The first is the involvement of AOL, which uses its search engines to drive traffic towards the website. The second is Levin's uncanny knack of getting his hands on prurient information that can be swiftly slapped on to the site. In July 2006, TMZ gained international attention when it obtained a police report regarding Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade at officers who arrested him for drink-driving. The following month, it published a copy of the birth certificate of Katie Holmes's and Tom Cruise's new daughter, Suri.

Levin is loved and loathed in roughly equal measure. To supporters, he's a maverick. "We don't do junkets. And ultimately publicists don't control us the way they control the traditional media," he once said. Yet to opponents, he's the commander in chief of a Wild West paparazzi gang that harasses celebrities in an effort to "create" a story without a sense of responsibility.

Meanwhile Levin's TV show, filmed at the TMZ office, is a monument to the dumbing down of the airwaves, revelling in the trashiness and intellectual bankruptcy of its unashamedly idiotic editorial staff.

"Levin approaches his job with the sanctimoniousness of a former political prisoner," Alec Baldwin wrote in his recent memoir. "He leads a cadre of self-satisfied twentysomethings who jump like rats from public relations sinking ship to sinking ship, offering ever fresher takes on Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and every other unfortunate soul who has the bad luck and/or awful judgement to walk, sometimes willingly, into the cesspool of modern American media."

TMZ's greatest hits

17 May 2006 Oil heir Brandon Davis spends four minutes telling TMZ why his ex-girlfriend Lindsay Lohan has the nickname "firecrotch".

28 July 2006 Mel Gibson is arrested for drink-driving in Malibu. TMZ publishes a police report detailing Gibson's anti-Semitic and sexist comments to the arresting officers.

20 Nov 2006 'Seinfeld' star Michael Richards launches a bizarre racist rant at a heckler in a comedy club. TMZ shows mobile phone footage.

11 Feb 2007 Shortly after Anna Nicole Smith's death, TMZ publishes images of the so-called "death fridge" at the scene, stocked with methadone and SlimFast.

17 Feb 2007 Britney Spears shaves her head. TMZ publishes the first pictures. Five days later, it shows Britney re-entering rehab.

19 April 2007 An abusive answer-phone message that Alec Baldwin left his daughter, 11, during a custody battle is broadcast by TMZ.

Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Digital Project Manager / Web Project Manager

£45-50k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced ...

Account Manager

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Account Manager to join ...

Social Advertising Manager / Social Media Manager

£Excellent + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Social Advertising Manager / Social Med...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home