TMZ founder Harvey Levin, a friend and avid supporter of President Donald Trump, steered his tabloid and television program to eschew their regular fare of celebrity gossip in favor of pro-Trump narratives during the 2016 campaign, even going so far as to possibly attempt to obtain and kill an incriminating tape of Trump, according to a Monday Daily Beast report.
The two men, longtime friends, reportedly got closer when Trump locked down the Republican nomination, triggering a total reversal of the TMZ newsroom into a pro-Trump propaganda machine.
Per the Daily Beast, Levin got personally involved in Jessica Leeds’ accusation of Trump groping her on an airplane in the 1980s, calling the airline to check if the armrests indeed moved up and down to match Leeds’ story. TMZ’s head of legal affairs, Jason Beckerman, reportedly classified Levin’s involvement as everyday reporting.
Levin was also reportedly at the helm of the effort to discredit adult actress Jessica Drake’s Trump accusations, painting her as an opportunist who made the allegations the day after she established an online store.
According to the Daily Beast, Levin developed relationships with Trump team players including former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks and Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
As the TMZ newsroom quickly transformed into a pro-Trump establishment, unnamed former staffers told the Daily Beast that people became dispirited and left. “TMZ was the Kardashians, Britney Spears, and Justin Bieber—and almost overnight it became about the election and supporting Trump,” a former staffer said. “There were so many stories the site did that were so crazy that it was so out of the scope of things TMZ would normally do.
“Every lead story we did was about politics and pro-Trump. It took on a completely different energy. It is not a conservative workplace. Some people left after the election. The place just became very dark.”
Soon after the bombshell Access Hollywood tape went public, TMZ reportedly received a tip from a lawyer claiming to have a similarly explosive tape of Trump in a Trump Tower elevator. Per the Daily Beast, Levin was immediately interested and wanted to be personally involved in obtaining the tape, even asking TMZ’s corporate parent to approve the transaction.
According to different sources, the Daily Beast reported that the source either withdrew the offer or Levin demanded that TMZ staffers drop it. Levin also reportedly called Trump to tip him off about the tape’s existence.
The tape never materialized.
Levin continued to milk his relationship with Trump after he secured the presidency as well, publishing a series of exclusives featuring Trump and his family.
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