Correction to This Article
The Media Notes column incorrectly said that TMZ is part of AOL. TMZ was founded by AOL and Telepictures, part of the Warner Bros. Television Group, but is owned solely by Tele8pictures now that AOL is separate from Time Warner.

Dish upon a star: Mel Gibson plays a pivotal role as Radar, TMZ wage heated gossip war

(Jason Merritt/getty Images)
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 26, 2010

At 6:32 Friday morning, Radar Online reported that Mel Gibson's ex-girlfriend had told authorities that the actor had made a death threat involving a high-profile Jewish figure in Hollywood.

"I want Jew blood on my hands," Gibson is supposed to have said, according to an unnamed source, and wanted the person "taken to the desert, stripped naked, kneecapped and left in the heat."

More than three hours later, TMZ reported the same allegation as coming from the former girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, with one key detail that Radar had withheld: that Gibson's alleged target was TMZ founder Harvey Levin. TMZ made light of the purported plot, dismissively describing the Radar piece as having been "spoon-fed by Oksana's people."

That swipe brought a chortle from David Perel, the former National Enquirer editor who runs Radar Online. If TMZ was now confirming that Levin was the subject of Gibson's rage, Perel says, "how did they get destroyed on their own story?"

The Gibson saga forms the lurid backdrop of a blogosphere battle for gossip supremacy in Los Angeles. TMZ, the Web site that made its name by disclosing Gibson's drunken, anti-Semitic rant to police in 2006, is suddenly being challenged by Radar, a twice-failed print magazine that was reincarnated as a Web site just over a year ago.

Since Radar began posting audio of Gibson's ugly diatribes against the mother of his 8-month-old daughter, captured in a series of phone calls, the rival operations have seemed to choose up sides, with Perel's site having an apparent pipeline to Grigorieva's team and Levin's site attempting to knock down some of the stories. On the alleged death threat, for instance, Perel says he withheld the target's name because he didn't want to be responsible for inflaming the situation. TMZ, however, said the L.A. Sheriff's Department took the claim so lightly that it never bothered to notify Levin.

Competing news organizations sometimes work with opposing groups of sources to one-up each other on a breaking story -- especially in Hollywood, where high-powered publicists often dole out tidbits to favored outlets.

Radar posted a photo on July 16 showing the injured face of Grigorieva, who says Gibson punched her in the mouth and broke two teeth.

Soon afterward, TMZ put up a story that said "law enforcement is investigating the scenario that the damage to the veneers could have been self-inflicted." In another report that day, TMZ said: "The dentist who treated Oksana Grigorieva does not believe she was struck in the mouth as she claims . . . and his evaluation raises serious questions about her injuries."

Says Perel: "What is particularly disturbing from a journalistic viewpoint is this 'opposition journalism' where, when you get beat on a story, you manufacture a story to get your outlet attention, and make it appear that your competitor is wrong."

Levin, who is usually quite accessible, sent word through a spokeswoman that he would have no comment.

TMZ soon backed away from its initial story on Grigorieva's dentist, Ross Shelden, saying: "The dentist who examined Oksana Grigorieva the day after the January 6 showdown with Mel Gibson now says she was indeed struck in the mouth." And: "Sources connected with Oksana say the dentist's testimony will ultimately provide powerful support, in part because she told him that Mel hit her and that she wanted to protect him at all costs."

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