In the celebrity blogosphere, TMZ has long maintained its reputation as a cut-throat gossip shark with little to no qualms about what it, as an institution, probably sees as “the ugly truth.” TMZ, for instance, has broken the news of deaths before the family had been notified, jumped on rumors of a death that were completely inaccurate, and used secret microphones to record court hearings. On its live show extension, the condescension creator Harvey Levin feels for women, people of color, and really, anyone who isn’t Harvey Levin practically drips off him like a toxic sweat. Is it really all that shocking that working for TMZ is a colossal nightmare clusterfuck?
Over 23 former TMZ employees spoke with Buzzfeed News in the wake of Bernadette Zilio’s lawsuit against her former workplace for gender discrimination and retaliation. They claim that Levin’s TMZ is a cesspit of “unchecked abuse of power” and one that “treat[s] women in a demeaning manner,” reflecting, a former employee says, “how they represent women on the site.”
Other allegations include instances of verbal abuse from Levin and other executive producers, who allegedly screamed slurs at employees in fits of rage. A former Black employee said they felt “disposable,” while another former Black employee said Levin mixed her up with a wholly separate Black woman at the company. Yet another former employee said that they were screamed at so often they “felt like a scared dog.”
Former employee Ryan Naumann also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2014 after being allegedly outed by Levin. One current employee said:
“If you’re talking about the rights of Black people, if you’re talking about misogyny, if you’re talking about equality amongst everyone, it’s never reflected in the workplace. We’re reporting on all of that stuff, but we’re not doing it ourselves.”
Warner Bros., TMZ’s parent company, did not respond to any requests for comment from Buzzfeed News about the accusation. But their reticence to engage with the accusations pales in comparison to the sheer scope of the accusations made. Multiple other lawsuits and complaints have been filed against the company, according to Buzzfeed News—including one in 2014, from former employee Taryn Hillin, who claimed that she was “routinely yelled at and humiliated” by executive producer Evan Rosenblum. Another employee filed a complaint concerning gender discrimination at TMZ but was told by HR that the investigation was “inconclusive.” She was among six employees to speak with TMZ that filed similar complaints.
A former employee also told Buzzfeed News that “Harvey Levin is a problem,” and that TMZ has “a long-running history of having problems with women.” They also claim that it isn’t surprising that “the person who has made a career off of getting everyone’s dirt” is “not being cast out” by Warner Bros. execs.
On a macro scale, TMZ is a parasite in the celebrity gossip industry, one that has only embedded itself deeper into the ecosystem as Harvey Levin’s reign of terror has lasted. As the number of celebrity reporting blogs dwindle, more and more of Hollywood’s refuse funnels through TMZ, increasing its reach and grip over Los Angeles. Engaging with it as a reporter is a bit like dealing with the devil, knowing that on any given day, your soul might be sucked down to hell with Harvey Levin himself. Its gradual rise over the last decade has also increased its foothold in some of L.A.’s worst places, like the LAPD, who Levin and TMZ consistently defer to in instances of brutality or shootings like Tory Lanez’s recent alleged attack on Megan Thee Stallion. In its rush to report the story, using those ever-present “law enforcement sources,” TMZ ultimately got the facts wrong.
The larger question, then, is what comes next for TMZ. As what feels like the winds of some small revolution sweep across the media industry, the predictable outcome is Levin’s ousting. But from Buzzfeed News’ reporting, his particular strain of sickness might run too deep at the site. Levin is TMZ, in the literal and metaphysical sense, like a colossal sludge monster that’s also a metaphor for the celebrity reporting industry’s rampant racist, sexist, and transmisogynistic proclivities.