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TMZ Gets There First

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 29, 2009; 9:00 AM

Across the airwaves yesterday, anchors and correspondents were reporting on an important break in the Michael Jackson investigation.

It began with this AP story on Monday: "Michael Jackson's personal doctor administered a powerful anesthetic to help him sleep, and authorities believe the drug killed the pop singer, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Monday." By yesterday morning, the L.A. Times was quoting its own sources to the same effect. By last night it was the lead story on the "CBS Evening News."

But it was old news.

TMZ.com reported on July 11 that Jackson's cardiologist, Conrad Murray, was "the central target" in the police probe. On July 14, sources told TMZ that the powerful anesthesia Propofol "appears to have killed the singer." On July 15, the Web site quoted multiple law enforcement sources as saying "the LAPD is treating Jackson's death as a homicide."

By contrast, the L.A. Times was reporting on July 19 that that the probe was "unlikely to result in murder charges" against any of Jackson's doctors, who "are not suspects," according to a "senior law enforcement official." The Times has pursued the story aggressively, but that piece took a swipe at the "sometimes-breathless coverage."

By July 22, Murray's lawyer confirmed that the cops had raided the doc's office searching for evidence of "manslaughter." Three days later, TMZ cited sources as saying that Murray kept Propofol and other drugs "hidden in a closet at Michael Jackson's home." Other news outlets "are trying to make it look like, 'Oh my God, this is a new story,' " Harvey Levin, TMZ's founder, told me yesterday.

TMZ has certainly been widely credited with breaking the news of Jackson's death, as well as for previous scoops, such as Mel Gibson's drunken, anti-Semitic rant and Michael Richards's racist routine. But this is the first time the gossipy site has bested the MSM on a breaking story that has lasted weeks. Few mainstream outlets picked up and credited the Jackson stories until the AP confirmed the details.

"It's really threatening to them," says Levin, who has never been accused of modesty. "This is much more of a defining event for the media. And we dominated the story."

TMZ also pays for tips, which I have always found troubling. Levin calls that "a minor, minor part of what we do. We have very, very good sources who really trust us. This is not about money at all."

Law enforcement officials searched Murray's Las Vegas home yesterday. I think there was too much media blather after Jackson died, but I sure want to find out if someone killed him.

Lindsey's Lonely Vote

The Senate panel's 13-6 vote for Sonia Sotomayor yesterday included exactly one Republican, Linsdey Graham. Five others found the veteran judge unqualified.

"The contentious public hearings earlier this month and Tuesday's largely partisan committee vote demonstrated that judicial confirmations remain a hotly-contested political and ideological battleground with implications for Mr. Obama's future choices for the courts," says the NYT.


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