President Trump’s ever-growing list of scandals and dicey connections got a little longer this week when a new report revealed that TMZ was overzealously Team Trump from the very start, and that the outlet had charged a team of women with going after the women who accused Trump of sexual misconduct last year.
The celebrity gossip site has never been subtle about taking sides or promoting particular opinions. But according to an investigation authored by the editor in chief of ThinkProgress, Judd Legum, it would seem that TMZ was adamantly pro-Trump during the lead-up to the 2016 election. The reason, Legum suggests, is the longstanding relationship between the site’s owner, Harvey Levin, and Trump. Back in March, it was revealed that many of the site’s employees were incredibly uncomfortable not only with the two men’s relationship, but also with the direction that TMZ’s editorial coverage was taking as a result. Staffers said that in exchange for unrivaled access to Donald, Melania, and Trump’s “satellites,” TMZ often portrayed Trump in a positive light, focusing on small, seemingly irrelevant details both online and on the site’s nationally syndicated TV show and eschewing critical coverage of the campaign. It should come as no surprise that TMZ also partnered with Fox News to do a Trump documentary last year, combining megaphone forces to blast good vibes towards the man who was elected president just a little over a week earlier.
Unfortunately, that was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to the amount of time and effort that the outlet was throwing into Trump PR.
In a particularly egregious move, Levin reportedly tasked TMZ’s majority-female research team with digging up dirt on the women who came forward with sexual harassment allegations against Trump last year, attempting to make clear that Trump was not at fault and the potential victims were merely trying to ride on the candidate’s coattails. But the stories that wound up centered on the myriad accusations against Trump that ultimately got the most coverage on TMZ were flimsy at best, seeking to cast his alleged victims as deviants or liars, and deflect national attention from the larger issues that the claims raised. Though Mindy McGillivrray standing in front of a Trump sign after voting or Jessica Drake opening a sex store the day before she went public were not going to change the facts as they were, they did serve as distractions in the days before ballots were cast. Ultimately, Legum argues, they served the same purpose as the “fake news” that Trump often lambasts other media outlets for putting forth.
While all this behavior raises larger ethical questions, the most disturbing aspect of TMZ’s approach by far is that Levin chose to enlist women to undermine and attack other women.
If we’ve learned anything in these first six months of the Trump presidency, it’s that Donald Trump has close connections to some incredibly powerful individuals – and that they’re willing to go to some incredible lengths to protect the president’s brand, regardless of what collateral damage it may cause. While TMZ may have been hard at work amassing a reputation recently for putting forth solid, verified journalism and earning headlines like “America, It’s Time to Trust TMZ” for their coverage of the deaths of Prince and Michael Jackson, the site may have just set itself back to square one.