This is still bothering me, obviously, and in order to sate my tin-foil sleazeball conspiracies, I'm publishing an email sent to me in order to corroborate my post that TMZ's coverage of the Erin Andrews peepholery was a little sketch.
When you start bathing in the gossip hog shit kiddie pool, as this site has tended to do on occasion, stories like this usually come from anonymous sources because that's how hog shit is made into sausage.(Congratulate me for breaking the world record for pork metaphors in one sentence.)
For disclosure's sake, let's just say he's probably the closest thing you'd get to an "expert" on all things TMZ-related and a trusted confidant of this site. (Not Nick Denton. Don't trust that guy whatsoever.) And this email came unsolicited, late on Saturday night, which is usually the best time for such ranting.
For those interested, take it as is.
You are so on target about TMZ's role in this Erin Andrews thing. Here's a few things to keep in mind:
They had these videos in their possession a full six months before the story broke (their item today notes, Someone tried to sell the clips to TMZ, but we refused to buy or air them because they were an obvious invasion of Erin's privacy).
Okay, if this was such an outrageous and invasive (and likely criminal) act on the part of the person trying to sell the videos, why the fuck didn't TMZ do a story back in January about the attempted sale of the videos? Or try and determine the identity of the person behind the Yahoo address from which they were sent?
Wouldn't that be the first thing a reputable outfit (with clean hands) would do? How fucking hard would it have been to figure out who the source was? He contacted them looking for cash...and was wide open to being stung if TMZ wanted to out him. That would have been a huge story—and one with legs, since Barrett would have invariably been arrested, tried, convicted, etc. The site would have looked like heroic crimebusters.
But they do nothing. Harvey Levin & Co. sat on their fucking hands for half-a-year knowing that this crime had occurred and said nothing. Only after it blows up do they roll over for Andrews's attorney.
Perhaps what really happened back in January was they were trying to negotiate a deal and could not come to terms with the guy. There's a reason why Levin lied to you about not knowing anything about the tape (and why TMZ published that phony smokescreen about the tapes possibly being done by an ESPN employee).
As a very close reader of TMZ, I can tell you that they have never ever passed up the chance to do a story about a celebrity sex/naked tape or photos. Never. They constantly do stories about purported offers for stars to pose nude or appear in pornos (Octomom, etc.). These are usually bullshit stories created (and fed to TMZ) by porn outfits like Vivid, but Harvey jumps on them and attaches that red TMZ "Exclusive" banner to each one.
The one sex video story TMZ never reported out was the one about which they exclusively knew all the details.
Also, this "we refused to buy or air them because they were an obvious invasion of Erin's privacy" crap might come as a surprise to Rihanna, whose battered face they splashed all over their site (after purchasing the police evidence photo from, it appears, an LAPD cop).
Couple of other things. The federal complaint says that Barrett sent TMZ clips on January 28 and January 29. Did he send more videos on the 29th because TMZ asked to see extra stuff?
According to the complaint, Barrett sent the videos to the e-mail address of Dennis Broad, a key Levin deputy. How did Barrett get that address (which is nowhere on the site)? Seems obvious that Barrett's contacts with TMZ were not limited to those two e-mails he sent. Might he have first contacted them via their tip phone line (or tip e-mail account) and been directed to send the stuff to Broad?
Also, I think your assertion that Levin has access to the FBI is likely not accurate. He laundered the info through Andrews's lawyer for a reason. He'd prefer that TMZ stays an arm's length away from the bureau. I'm sure he does not want to set a precedent whereby he directly provides a law enforcement agency with information leading to the arrest of one of the site's prospective paid "sources." Because if he's open to doing that, how could he defend against a police/prosecutor request/subpoena to give up the Rihanna cop?
Of course, by using Andrews's lawyer as a pass-through, he may have effectively waived that privilege anyway.
Finally, it is worth looking at the case of Roderick Davis, an L.A. guy who was arrested in 2007 for stealing a variety of production photos, documents, etc. related to the last Indiana Jones movie. TMZ had clearly gotten hold of some of this material (which Davis had been offering for sale to gossip sites) and used it in a story on their TV show. So they know something about hot/illegally obtained goods
Mr. Levin has yet to respond to our second email query about all this fun stuff. I'll keep trying and update if/when he does.
As you were.