Just after noon on Thursday, paramedics responded to a 911 call at Jackson's Holmby Hills mansion. Less than an hour later, TMZ -- the same outlet that broke Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade during a 2006 DUI arrest but that has also feasted on such fare as "upskirt" photos of stars -- landed the scoop that the multiplatinum pop singer had gone into cardiac arrest. At 2:44 p.m., it beat rivals by informing the world of his death, which occurred at 2:26 p.m.
FOR THE RECORD:
TMZ and Jackson coverage: An article in Friday's Section A about how gossip website TMZ scooped the mainstream media, including the Los Angeles Times, on the news of Michael Jackson's death said The Times bannered the news on its website at 2:51 p.m. Thursday. In fact, the home-page banner went up at approximately 3:15 p.m. —
By 4 p.m., a huge crowd had gathered outside UCLA Medical Center, and celebrities and fans alike were submitting so many messages mourning his death on Twitter that the service intermittently crashed. CNN was still relying on "reports" from other media and telling viewers it could not independently verify the death. Only when the coroner's office confirmed Jackson's death did CNN relay it as outright fact to viewers, at 4:25 p.m.
The irony is that CNN is, like TMZ, owned by Time Warner. But Fox News and MSNBC also struggled with the sourcing issue.
If the lack of widespread credit bothered Harvey Levin, the managing editor of TMZ, he wasn't admitting it.
"That's typical," Levin said during a phone interview when asked about rivals' hesitation to credit the site. "No matter what they say, people know we broke the story. That's how competitors handle it. There's no issue about our credibility.
"Today I made 100 phone calls, and everyone else made 100 calls," Levin said of his staff. "Everyone blanketed the city. . . . We were getting calls from everyone under the sun, established news operations, asking, 'Are you sure?' That's such an odd question. We would not have published it if it were not true."
Asked about its Jackson coverage, CNN said: "Given the nature of this story we exercised caution." Nigel Pritchard, a CNN spokesman, declined to elaborate.
On Twitter, the volume of Jackson-related messages -- up to 5,000 per minute at its peak -- was so high that some users reported log-in trouble.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone acknowledged the performance lag. "We saw an instant doubling of tweets per second the moment the story broke," Stone wrote in an e-mail. "This particular news about the passing of such a global icon is the biggest jump in tweets per second since the U.S. presidential election."
Times staff writers Joe Flint and David Sarno contributed to this report.