Tabloid Baby Vs. TMZ

I email Burt Kearns, author of the book Tabloid Baby and the blog by the same name: "Why are you always beating up on TMZ? Isn’t it similar to the tabloid TV you pioneered?"

Burt responds:

I’d start by saying that we’re not "beating up on" TMZ. Tabloid Baby keeps tabs on, offers advice to, and holds TMZ accountable because it’s a well-funded arm of the powerful AOL-Time Warner monolith and a launching pad for a syndicated tabloid TV series disguised as a scrappy website.

We like good tabloid. TMZ is giving tabloid a bad name.

Good tabloid has a sense of humour. It has a sense of fairness and a sense of morality. Tabloid sticks up for the little guy. It doesn’t make heroes out of villains. It’s a form of journalism that speaks to the Average Joe. Tabloid is a TV show that you can watch with the whole family; it’s a newspaper you can read in a subway car with people peeking over your shoulder. Tabloid is the ability to tell any story- no matter how sordid or shocking- to any audience, to the Queen of England, as we used to say, as long as you tell the story the right way.

1 TMZ is embarrassing to read.

Its stories and headlines have been lewdly-written, lacking the style and grace that tabloid requires. It’s pervy and porny and crass and dirty and nasty and ugly. And though they have taken our advice and cleaned up their act (insiders tell us so, and recent headlines reflect it), TMZ still offers tasteless banners like yesterday’s "A Little Animated Bush for the Kiddies" and the embarrassing Billy Ray Cyrus "Achy Breaky Fart" report.

2 TMZ markets pornography.

I’m not even considering the plug they gave to Mantra Films and its "Guys Gone Wild" gay porn videos ("pole sliding not allowed," they wrote) on Thursday, but the major marketing campaigns they conducted for porn DVDs including the kinky, coprophiliac "Screech" sex tape (which TMZ in a nauseatingly disgusting turn, named "Saved By The Smell") and one featuring non-celeb Kim Kardashian (hyped with the promise of a urination scene) . In both cases, the site that’s owned by AOL and Time Warner began by posting a series of titillating, teasing clips, leading up over days to the announcement that the DVDs were available, with links to the purchase points. It seems obvious that TMZ or someone in editorial control, is getting a cut of the proceeds.

3 TMZ takes cheap shots.

4 TMZ is nasty.

In a town full of legendary, hardworking professional paparazzi, TMZ takes the cheap way out by giving inexpensive PD-150 cameras to kids, and ordering them to hang out in front of nightspots at two in the morning to harass celebrities in hope of a confrontation. We took a stand against this back in the mid-90s, when the people who took over Hard Copy from us used "stalkerazzi" cameramen to provoke celebs (oddly, the same people now run the tabloid TV series Extra, which spawned TMZ). And when the celebrity is provoked to respond, TMZ lambastes him, as they did with Woody Harrelson and Matt Dillon. In the case of Gary Dourdain from CSI, they actually called him a "c**ksucker"! In print!

5 TMZ celebrates celebutards.

There are great Hollywood, entertainment, political, and high society stories to cover. Who cares about these young do-nothing girls? TMZ has done more to destroy celebrity journalism-and these young women-than any other Internet outlet.

6 TMZ is out of touch with America.

Again, it gets back to morality. TMZ is, at the least, amoral. It’s worldview is that of the Hollywood types who live and play within the exclusive "thirty mile zone." While it purports to want to be a Confidential magazine or Walter Winchell, exposing the secrets, it actually basks and promulgates that twisted Hollywood morality and celebrates, rather than criticize it. Like the most powerful in Hollywood, TMZ wants to be feared.

7 TMZ is bad tabloid.

"Tabloid" is a great journalistic, communication and art form, concise and plain, funny and democratic. Page Six does great tabloid. Nikki Finke does great tabloid investigative reporting. Perez Hilton does great tabloid satire. X-17 does great tabloid photo spreads. Luke Ford does great tabloid morality. Pop on The Pop does great tabloid citizen reporting. TVgasm’s Newsgasm does great tabloid television reporting. Defamer does great tabloid Hollywood. Anorak does great international tabloid. Gallery of the Absurd does great tabloid editorial cartooning. There’s a lot of great stuff out there.

TMZ is supported by corporate millions and wants to be feared. It spreads a kinky worldview. It has no sense of fair play. It’s poorly written. All of my complaints about TMZ have been stated in the past about other misguided tabloid ventures. My book Tabloid Baby, from 1999, shows how these mistakes killed the genre in the 90s. And now that TMZ is headed to TV, they’re making many of the same mistakes.

It’s our job as a media website to call them on it.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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