As strange as it may sound given most of TMZ’s typical fare — on Tuesday, it posted photos of the socialite Paris Hilton buying a sandwich from a Manhattan Subway — the site’s aggressive coverage of these cases is part of a long journalistic history. Tabloids have always trafficked in gossip and scandal-mongering. The idea was never just to titillate, though; it was, at least in part, to hold the rich and powerful accountable.
“The tabloid was a rebellion against the established social order,” said Neal Gabler, the author of “Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity,” placing TMZ squarely in this tradition. “TMZ is an agent provocateur. It’s there to penetrate the veil so that the people on the inside cannot erect these barriers and protect themselves. And that’s what the tabloid is all about.”