How does TMZ get the videos and photos that celebrities want to hide? Because like any good intelligence operation, their spies aren't above paying for intelligence. TMZ pays its sources good money for tips on the dirty-doings of the rich and famous, and operates in Hollywood with the reach and stealth of an effective surveillance outfit.
A don't miss profile of the news organization run by former attorney turned television producer turned gossip spy master in The New Yorker by Nicholas Schmidle asks, "How does TMZ get this stuff?"
"Everybody rats everybody else out," Simon Cardoza, a former cameraman for TMZ, told The New Yorker. "That's the beauty of TMZ."
"It's so funny to me that people ask that question," Levin replied. "We're a news operation. I mean, that's what you're supposed to do." Indeed, the site has built a deep network of sources, including entertainment lawyers, reality-television stars, adult-film brokers, and court officials, allowing Levin to knock down the walls that guard celebrity life. (He declined repeated requests for an interview.) TMZ has paid at least one mole inside B.L.S., a limousine service, to provide lists of celebrity customers, their planned routes, and the license-plate numbers of their vehicles. (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.L.S. source—"a Hispanic gentleman"—at a gas station in Van Nuys, handing over an envelope filled with cash, and receiving in return a client list. 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. In an e-mail dated January 29, 2014, a TMZ manager informed her colleagues that the star of an ABC drama had been spotted sitting in first class, in seat 2A, on Delta Flight 1061, from Orlando to Los Angeles, when his plane was rerouted to Dallas—the result of a bomb threat issued on Twitter. Such information helps TMZ's crew of a dozen or so paparazzi know when and where to "drop in on" a celebrity who is transiting through an airport. One day's list, from June, 2010, included the flight details for Robert Redford and Jack Kevorkian; another one, two months later, had the itineraries of Julius Erving, Kathy Ireland, and Malcolm-Jamal Warner. "It's not an accident the guy with a camera is waiting at the Delta check-in counter at 8 A.M.," 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. 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. "That's the beauty of TMZ."
The Digital Dirt [Nicholas Schmidle, The New Yorker]