TMZ founder Harvey Levin is defending his website's decision to break the news of the death of Kobe Bryant. During an interview with LA radio station KNX, Levin said "Kobe's people" gave them the OK to run with the story.
"We dealt with Kobe's people for an hour before we published the story and we were told very clearly that [Vanessa] had been notified," Levin told KNX's In-Depth on Wednesday.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva shamed the website during a press conference Sunday for its handling of the news. Bryant's helicopter crashed around 9:45 a.m. PT and TMZ published its story at 11:24 a.m. PT.
"I got the tip initially from law enforcement," Levin explained. "Then we talked to Kobe's people and we were dealing with them for an hour before we published the story and they said, 'Go for it.' At a point we were all trying to confirm it and we confirmed it, but they all knew and they said, 'Go for it' and they said she knew."
Levin continued, "I talked to one of Kobe's people today and they felt that there was a leak that ABC published a story that all of Kobe's kids perished in the crash, which was erroneous. Somebody from Kobe's camp told me they felt that may have been a leak from the sheriff's department and they had their own issues when they walked out there. So, I'm not sure what [Villanueva's] talking about."
Eight other people, including Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna, died in the crash. When asked if it was fair to the other families involved to go with the story, Levin conceded, "And that is a fair point. That's a fair point."
During Villanueva's first press conference addressing the crash, he did not identify any victims and called out TMZ.
"There is wide speculation who the identities are," he said on Sunday. "It is entirely inappropriate right now to identify anyone by name until the coroner has made the identifications through their deliberate process and made notifications to next of kin."
Villanueva continued, "It would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one has perished and you learn about it from TMZ." He said it's "just wholly inappropriate" that TMZ reveals the identity of victims.
Vanessa has since changed her Instagram profile image to a photo of her husband and Gianna and issued a statement via the photo-sharing platform.
She thanked the "millions" who had shown support in the wake of the tragedy before remarking how "completely devastated" the family were by the loss of Gianna and Kobe.
TMZ’s handling of Bryant’s death has launched a debate about how news organisations should cover sensitive topics. Grey's Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo made her stance clear, calling out TMZ and Levin in dozens of tweets Tuesday.
I wonder why police departments give @HarveyLevinTMZ all this sensitive info ? I wonder why @HarveyLevinTMZ puts out photos of women who have been attacked or assaulted. ...Who were victims ? Exploiting women who have been abused... why is this guy still in business at all?— Ellen Pompeo (@EllenPompeo) January 28, 2020
So many questions I have ...if we are not tolerating abuse anymore... shouldn’t we be calling this out? Exploiting women who have been abused... exploiting the brutal sudden death of peoples loved ones is certainly emotional abuse... I call times up on his behavior— Ellen Pompeo (@EllenPompeo) January 28, 2020
So many peoples lives will never be the same after this tragedy... but you got your scoop. Hope you sleep well at night @HarveyLevinTMZ I’m sure you do...— Ellen Pompeo (@EllenPompeo) January 28, 2020
This is exactly the question... how did they report it before law enforcement got to the families? It’s not really that hard to figure out https://t.co/p2G4Cd6Skn— Ellen Pompeo (@EllenPompeo) January 28, 2020
It is!!! and what I’m saying is that there is a history with this outlet specific specifically having pictures and having stories that only the police have https://t.co/wEQp7Idwtr— Ellen Pompeo (@EllenPompeo) January 28, 2020
A Change.org petition demands Fox — which airs TMZ on TV — cancel the show.