*The lengths TMZ goes to for obtaining undeniable scoops on celebrities has now come to light.
In Justin Bieber’s case, all it took was blackmail for TMZ to bring the pop star to his knees in 2011.
According to the New Yorker, TMZ ended up burying a devastating video of a then 15-year-old Bieber improvising his hit “One Less Lonely Girl,” while replacing the world “girl” with the N-word and giggling throughout the clip. In exchange for making the video disappear, TMZ would publish a series of flattering exclusives about the Bieber.
“Harvey Levin would have been a great dictator,” Rory Waltzer, a former TMZ cameraman, told the New Yorker about the man who launched the site 10 years ago. “He is charming enough so that you want to follow him, but terrifying enough so that you don’t want to fail.”
The apparent blackmail of Bieber unfolded over days and weeks as Justin Kaplan, a former production associate for TMZ, flew from Burbank to the outskirts of Las Vegas with an envelope containing $80,000 to purchase the video, the Daily News noted.
Recalling the exchange, Kaplan found himself on the second floor of a seedy apartment building with a woman described as middle-aged and African-American — with no ties to Bieber. “She handed me a laptop, and a disk, and I gave her the check,” he told the New Yorker. “I got on the next flight back to Burbank.”
Upon getting his hands on the video, Levin put a call in to Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun, for comment. It was then that Braun broke down in tears and Bieber fessed up while immediately confessing that he made the video as a joke and he thought he deleted it from his laptop, which was later stolen.
As a result, Levin never released the video. Soon after the interaction, a slew of exclusive pictures from TMZ appeared, featuring Bieber.
“After Braun and Levin had their phone conversation,” writes New Yorker writer Nicholas Schmidle, “numerous flattering Bieber-related exclusives appeared on the site: A photograph of Bieber backstage during a commercial shoot; pictures of him getting a haircut; a video of him and his girlfriend Selena Gomez performing karaoke; a story about how he bought ‘every single flower’ at a florist’s and sent the flowers to Gomez’s house; video from a trip that Bieber took to Liverpool; and others, including a report of him watching ‘Titanic’ one night, with Gomez, inside an otherwise vacant Staples Center.”
With Ray Rice, money proved to be the answer for TMZ as a former employee of the Atlantic City hotel where the running back’s infamous elevator incident revealed to the New Yorker that the site paid $105,000 for two surveillance videos of Rice punching out his then-fiancée Janay Palmer. A former TMZ photographer broke down the specifics for the publication, saying the site paid $15,000 for the first video and $90,000 for second video, which Rice delivering the punch to Palmer.
As the story went on, the New Yorker acknowledged that financial compensation was commonly given to some of TMZ’s tipsters by their photographers. Among those tipping off TMZ were a Delta Airlines employee who provides the site with a list of celebrity passengers traveling to and from Los Angeles as well as a mole inside a private limousine service who receives cash for providing a client list.
For more on TMZ’s shady ways of staying on top of the competition, click here.