The Couch Surfer: 'Together, TMZ and Perez Hilton are a microcosm of the modern media'

Tim Walker: Perez made his name by being vile about celebrities, but he seems finally to have gone too far
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The Independent Online

Perez Hilton – hypocrite, egotist and all-round "douchebag" – can now lay claim to at least one semi-journalistic coup.

The celebrity gossip blogger, real name Mario Lavandeira, was the first person to tell a posthumous Michael Jackson joke. As Jackson lay dying on 25 June, Perez suggested the medical emergency was a stunt, concocted by the star so he could pull out of his planned London concerts. "Heart attack or cold feet?" read a title scrawled across an image of Jackson in Perez's post, followed, further down the page, by: "We are dubious!!...Either he's lying or making himself sick... Get your money back ticket holders!!!!"

When Perez removed the photo and edited his post later that day – excising all allegations of fakery – it wasn't because he was embarrassed by his punctuation, or by his mistaken (but persistent) use of the royal 'we'. It was because the considerably more reliable Hollywood gossip site TMZ had confirmed that Jackson was dead.

Perez made his name by being vile about celebrities, but he seems finally to have gone too far. The Jackson post was the latest in a string of incidents that have left the notoriously unrepentant blogger's brand badly damaged. In April, he dubbed Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean a "dumb bitch" after she objected to same-sex marriage on religious grounds. In June, he called Black Eyed Peas rapper will.i.am a "faggot" during an altercation after an awards ceremony, and was then, he alleges, hit repeatedly in the face by the band's manager, Polo Molina.

The same homophobic slur was supposedly used by actor Isaiah Washington on the set of Grey's Anatomy in 2006; Washington was later fired from the show after Perez led a popular campaign calling for his head. Perez is a gay rights activist, but his tactics don't always endear him to fellow campaigners. He offered to donate all damages from the pending Molina lawsuit to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, but the organisation turned down the offer when it learned the details of the incident. After the Michael Jackson post, celebrities turned on Perez via Twitter, inciting a campaign to persuade other tweeters to "unfollow" him.

Unlike some other pseudonymous bloggers, Perez has never gone to any great lengths to disguise his identity, but otherwise he's little better than the faceless thousands who leave needlessly catty comments online. I'd give him credit for some sort of integrity if he at least treated every celebrity equally, but he's become friendly with more than a few of the famous, and showers his showbiz pals with favourable posts. TMZ, which has led the field on the Michael Jackson story, is backed by Time Warner, though supposedly without any editorial interference from the entertainment conglomerate.

Whether you think such gossip sites invasive and offensive, or a necessary check on celebrities' rampant egos, the gap between TMZ and Perez is a microcosm of the modern media. TMZ gathers news in (almost) the traditional fashion: by obtaining and analysing documentary evidence, cultivating sources, even some first-hand reporting.

That's how it beat its rivals to scoops such as Mel Gibson's arrest, images of a battered Rihanna, or Natasha Richardson's death. Perez, meanwhile, boasts that his blog is "celebrity juice – not from concentrate" but his method is merely to take news that's already been reported elsewhere – often on TMZ – and dilute it with his characteristically tedious bitchiness and inexpert photoshopping. (Photo agencies have tried to sue Perez for pinching and publishing their original images, as they then can't sell them to magazines, which will pay top dollar only if they have the shots exclusively.)

As for Jackson's death, the biggest celebrity event in the five years he's been blogging, Perez hasn't produced a single piece of original information to move the story on. The only news items he's broken in the past week are the PR-fed announcement that a Jonas Brother is engaged; and that Jessica Simpson has put on weight.

All Perez "hard" news exclusives should, moreover, be approached with caution. In 2007 he blogged that Fidel Castro was dead, and bragged of being the first media outlet to report the Cuban leader's demise. Hardly surprising, what with it being total cobblers. Maybe Lavandeira is less of an "ass-hat" than his alter ego, in which case he should have a long chat with the man in the mirror – and ask him, politely, to change his ways.

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