TMZ’s real engine — what defines its mission, what legitimizes it and sets it apart — is a unique and controversial mix of scandal mongering and investigative journalism. But it’s also that mode that some have claimed is responsible for acquiring a video of Justin Bieber telling a racist joke and, over the course of four years, not publishing it.
BuzzFeed spoke to nearly two dozen former TMZ employees, and it’s clear that Bieber’s tape was not the only near-priceless piece of dirt in the proverbial TMZ vault. (TMZ did not respond to multiple requests for comment.) According to these ex-employees, the sealed testimonies from the Michael Jackson molestation trial hide there as does footage of various celebrities — Bieber, Lohan, Travolta — behaving badly. The vault isn’t a secret at TMZ — even the lowest on the staff ladder have heard whispers of its existence. As to what goes up on the site and what stays vaulted, that’s a finer, more esoteric calculus — and one in which celebrities and their publicists have come to live in fear. As one source explained, “There’s no doubt: [Harvey] Levin [TMZ founder] absolutely changed the way celebrities function today.””