The Digital Dirt
How TMZ gets the videos and photos that celebrities want to hideBy Nicholas Schmidle, The New Yorker
In the early-morning hours of February 15, 2014, Ray Rice and his fiancée, Janay Palmer, stepped into an elevator at the Revel hotel and casino, in Atlantic City. Palmer and Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, were arguing as the doors slid shut. When the elevator arrived in the lobby, Palmer was lying unconscious, face down, on the floor.
According to a former security supervisor at the Revel, nearly eighteen hundred cameras streamed video to a pair of monitoring rooms on the mezzanine floor. After guards responded to the incident in the lobby, several surveillance officers gathered and wondered aloud if a tape of Rice and Palmer could be sold to TMZ—the Web site that, since its inception, in 2005, has taken a merciless approach to celebrity news.
At around 4:30 a.m., one of the surveillance officers, sitting at a monitoring-room computer, reviewed footage from a camera that faced the elevator and, using a cell phone, surreptitiously recorded the screen. The officer then called TMZ.
It was the middle of the night in Los Angeles, where TMZ is based, so a message was left on the tip line. More than a hundred tips arrive every day. On September 29, 2015, an internal e-mail summarizing tips from the previous night referred to “info regarding George Clooney’s wedding,” “a video of a pro athlete getting attacked by a goat,” and “pictures of Meek Mill being incarcerated.” (The e-mail is one of many that were leaked to The New Yorker.) The tip line also recorded a claim that a major pop star “wears a fake booty in her music videos” and employs a “person who makes the fake butts.”