TMZ Gets There First

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.

The political talk is all about whether this hurts the GOP with Latinos, wise or otherwise. Says Slate's Emily Bazelon: "Why don't the Republicans seem to care? Three reasons: They are playing to their base. Or, ideological doubts about a future justice increasingly are viewed as a legitimate reason to vote no on both sides of the aisle. And a third, wild-card possibility: The Sotomayor nomination hasn't captured the nation's imagination the way the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. did last week. And so Republicans decided, rightly or wrongly, that they could oppose her without self-destructing."

Here's someone who self-destructed, by the way: "An aide to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has resigned under pressure after she labeled Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. a 'racist' and dubbed President Obama 'O-dumb-a' in a Facebook rant defending racial profiling." How clever.

The R-Word

Glenn Beck says plenty of inflammatory things -- that's part of his stock in trade -- but have we reached the point where a national talk show host can casually make this charge?

"On 'Fox and Friends,'" TV Newser reports, "Glenn Beck said he thinks President Barack Obama has 'a deep-seeded hatred for white people.' Brian Kilmeade questioned him on it, but Beck persisted: 'I'm not saying he doesn't like white people, I'm saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist.'

"Bill Shine, SVP of Programming told TVNewser, 'During Fox & Friends [on Tuesday] morning, Glenn Beck expressed a personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel. And as with all commentators in the cable news arena, he is given the freedom to express his opinions.' "

Hey, I'm all for freedom of speech. But is Fox not embarrassed by this?

Huffington Hire

David Axelrod's son is following his father's career path -- that is, the one he had before becoming a political strategist.

Ethan Axelrod is joining the Huffington Post, the liberal Web site that has been largely supportive of President Obama. His dad, the White House senior adviser, was a Chicago Tribune reporter until he quit in 1984 to help run a Senate campaign (and still has a soft spot for newspapers, though his old one is in bankruptcy).

"I've been interested in journalism for awhile," the 22-year-old Axelrod said yesterday. "I heard through my father that they were expanding, so I applied for it."

The younger Axelrod started yesterday as editor of the Huffington Post's new local edition in Denver, the third of a dozen planned sites that have already launched in New York and Chicago and will target Los Angeles next. He applied for the job, was interviewed by Arianna Huffington along with other candidates, and was tapped after submitting a mockup of the Denver home page. The site goes live in September.

Axelrod began writing and editing for the school paper while at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, and hadn't necessarily planned to join the online world until learning of the Huffington opening. His father's journalistic roots "piqued my interest a bit," he said. "I've always been a follower and admirer of news reporting." Wonder if his father's colleagues will say the same thing after four years.

Separated at Birth

The folks who have been pushing the ludicrous claim that Barack Obama wasn't born in the US of A -- a fringe of a fringe -- have gotten way too much media attention. But it's been fascinating to watch how people on the right have handled this embarrassment.

GOP strategist Mark McKinnon steps up to the plate:

"Now we have the 'birthers': people convinced that President Obama wasn't born in the United States and, therefore, should not be president.

"And not just people -- United States senators are wasting their time and ours talking about it. 'They have a point,' said Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican of Oklahoma. 'I don't discourage it.' . . .

"So what if he was born somewhere else? If he was, he was teleported to Hawaii in nanoseconds. There is no more an American story than Barack Obama. The rationale for Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution, which bars foreigners from becoming president, was to eliminate the possibility of America's leader from holding dual or treacherous alliances with other countries. The Founding Fathers wrote this clause into the Constitution in 1789 because of scandal in Europe involving Austrians moving to other countries.

"So what would be the legitimate concern about Obama? There isn't one. All the birthers really care about is clinging to a conspiracy that could deny the presidency to someone they simply don't like and disagree with politically.

"Me? I wouldn't give a damn if Obama was born in a cave in Afghanistan."

Salon's Alex Koppelman reports that some of the right's pundits have disavowed the mini-movement:

"On Monday, Bill O'Reilly joined those media conservatives -- like Ann Coulter, who dissed them on Friday -- who've bailed on the Birthers . . .

"Joe Scarborough -- While the MSNBC host has made some ponderous arguments against Obama's policies in the past, and continues to believe that Obama's Washington is stealing money from U.S. citizens, he has criticized Birthers as 'conspiracy theorists.'

"Michelle Malkin -- Hardly a fan of Obama, Malkin has shown little tolerance for the Birther's allegations."

Jim DeMint wants health care to be Obama's Waterloo, but says the prez, unlike Napoleon, is an American citizen.

And in what seems like a surrender, Talking Points Memo notes:

"The House resolution to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hawaiian statehood -- which included language recognizing the state as President Obama's birthplace, in a none-too-subtle jab at the Birthers -- passed Monday evening by a 378-0 vote.

"Among the Yes votes: Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), the lead sponsor of the infamous 'Birther Bill' to require presidential candidates to present their birth certificates, and who had previously said he wouldn't 'swear on a stack of Bibles' that Obama is a natural-born American citizen. Several other co-sponsors of the Birther Bill also voted yes: Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Dan Burton (R-IN), John Culberson (R-TX), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), and Ted Poe (R-TX)."

Health Heats Up

The latest moves toward health-care compromise on the Hill, while aimed at producing something that Obama can sign, are also ticking off all kinds of people.

The Dems, says Politico, "are casting about for somebody to blame.

"House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn says that Republicans have 'perfected "just say no." ' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said insurance companies are chalking up 'immoral profits.'

"But even if they won't acknowledge it publicly, most Democrats in Congress know the truth: It's their own colleagues who are slowing down progress in both the House and the Senate.

"Back in 2005, Democrats made a concerted push to recruit conservative candidates to help them win in Republican-leaning districts. The strategy worked, propelling the party to power in 2006 and giving it a larger majority in 2008.

"But now Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are grappling with the downside: To get health care reform through Congress, they're going to have to get it past these new, more conservative members of their party -- specifically, the seven Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee who have delayed consideration of the bill."

Even Obama's doctor doesn't like his health plan.

Conservatives are clearly emboldened, to the point where Rich Lowry makes a historical comparison I never thought I'd see in this debate:

"Obama's health-care push has been the most dishonest White House advocacy in recent memory. What he says about reform bears no relation to the legislation he wants Congress to pass as soon as recalcitrant Democrats can be bludgeoned into line. According to Obama, no one will lose his private coverage; costs will be controlled; and the legislation will be paid for. Obama must know that these are all politically necessary things to say, and also that none of them describes Nancy Pelosi's handiwork.

"Obama can't bring himself to grapple with 'reality-based' health-care reform, because it belies too many of his most essential sound bites. In the campaign, Obama said, 'We need to tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.' On health care, Obama knows that if he doesn't keep telling people what they want to hear -- regardless of the facts -- all is lost.

"The Left branded George W. Bush a 'liar' for making assertions about Iraq's weapons that were supported by the evidence, but turned out not to be true. Obama is saying things that aren't even supported by the evidence. They are routinely debunked by the independent Congressional Budget Office, but that doesn't stop Obama from continuing to say them."

Disputed health savings projections equals bogus WMDs? Really?

Palin's Problem

The former governor has taken a hit, if this Fox News poll is any indication:

"Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's personal ratings have slipped and most people think the best job for her now that she has resigned as governor is away from the world of politics.

"About a third of Americans think the best job for Palin is homemaker (32 percent), while nearly one in five see her as a television talk show host (17 percent). Vice president of the United States comes in third (14 percent), followed closely by college professor (10 percent), with president coming last (6 percent)."

If you buy those findings, she should concentrate on becoming the next Martha Stewart.

Talk About Embedding

Daren Briscoe, a Newsweek embed with the Obama campaign last year, apparently liked what he saw. He is the new deputy associate director of public affairs for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Switching Teams

Is the Mets reporter for the Daily News trying to make a similar career switch? "In the middle of announcing the firing of Mets vice president of player development Tony Bernazard," says the New York Post, "general manager Omar Minaya went out of his way to call into question the ethics of a Daily News reporter.

"In a bizarre twist to an already strange press conference, Minaya repeatedly said Mets beat writer Adam Rubin had 'lobbied' both the GM and other members of the team's front office for a job."

Adam Rubin responds in the News, but it's only a partial denial:

"I have never, ever, asked Omar Minaya for a job. Or even career advice. Frankly, I've never been very close to him.

"What I have done, and what Mets COO Jeff Wilpon acknowledged later, is ask Wilpon for 'career advice.' My question: Is it even remotely feasible for a baseball writer to get into an administrative job with a team -- any team -- down the road and what would I need for that to be achieved?"

Naked Truth

"The new Mediaite Power Grid rankings for TV reporters are up, and ABC's Jake Tapper is out of the top spot," says Steve Krakaeur.

"But the bigger story is who replaced him -- ESPN's Erin Andrews. Despite not appearing on ESPN at all this week, Andrews skyrocketed to #1 in every category (except Twitter followers, where she doesn't have an account). Instead, Andrews took first because last week, she was the story.

"For all of last week, Andrews' name on the tips of people's tongues on the Web, in print and on TV after she was illegally filmed naked in her hotel room. The storylines continued during the week, from ESPN banning news organizations to implications Andrews may have in some way been asking for it. . . .

"But does it make sense? There was heated debate here at Mediaite HQ, so we'll present both sides. But I think it does."

And I think it underscores the silly and gimmicky nature of the Mediaite rankings. But just as I was getting riled up, I saw that Mediaite's Glynnis MacNicol was making the case:

"I think the fact that Erin Andrews is currently ranked #1 makes the system look questionable. She is without question NOT the top reporter in the country. So basically what we are saying is that you can get to the top of the Power Grid by being filmed naked, intended or not."

Yup, that's basically what they're sayin'.

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