Buzzfeed's story about the history of TMZ quickly gets to the foundation of TMZ's power: It's often not what the gossip site does publish, but what it doesn't. Early on in the article, writer Anne Helen Petersen makes mention of the "TMZ Vault," the affectionate name for Harvey Levin's trove of scandalous, unpublished, and presumably leveraged material. But why should its contents stay secret?
Back in June, we reported on one notorious item in the vault—an old video of Justin Bieber telling racist jokes. Only after the video finally leaked to a different outlet—the U.K. tabloid The Sun—did we learn that TMZ had been holding onto that, and other, similar footage for years. The site said it made the decision not to publish the videos because Bieber "was 15 and immediately told his friends what he did was stupid," but our sources said that the real reason TMZ kept them under wraps was because they were used as a way to "extort appearances and call-ins" from the then-teenage pop star.
According to Petersen, the "TMZ Vault" includes:
sealed testimonies from the Michael Jackson molestation trial [...] footage of various celebrities—Bieber, Lohan, Travolta—behaving badly.
We've also heard—unconfirmed, of course—whispers that Lindsay Lohan's October 2012 appearance on TMZ Live came about because Levin killed a damaging story.
There are many reasons that a gossip publication like TMZ (or Gawker, or Defamer) might choose not to publish a seemingly juicy scoop. But it's clear based on our and Peterson's reporting that one of the reasons TMZ holds information back is a desire to use those secrets to its advantage. Hollywood is crawling with two-bit greaseballs, threatening, often emptily, to blackmail this actor or that singer—but when a media empire like TMZ is holding the secrets, it would probably be best to pay attention.
We're sleazy, scummy gossip hacks. But we're not TMZ. We have no interest in keeping Hollywood's juiciest gossip hidden away so that celebrities will appear on the television show we don't have. Let's start with an inventory of TMZ's war chest. If you know what's inside, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646-470-4295—or leave a tip below.