For those who care about such things, the arrest of Mel Gibson for driving drunk and the anti-Semitic remarks he unleashed on his arresting officer have been rich fodder for entertainment Web sites that love to chase down Hollywood dirt.
The story was broken not by some mainstream paper like the L.A. Times but by the Web site TMZ.com, run by Harvey Levin, who was previously a television producer on Celebrity Justice and The People's Court.
TMZ has posted lots of scoops about celebrities since it started up last November. One of its cameramen was allegedly assaulted by a very unhappy Woody Harrelson, and a tearful Paris Hilton gave the site an exclusive interview about how its stories had hurt her feelings.
In today's Baltimore Sun, my colleagues Abby Tucker and Dan Thanh Dang wrote that Hollywood is going to have to get used to TMZ, TheSmokingGun and other Web sites that are transforming celebrity gossip:
"These online outlets, some of them with major corporate funding, maintain deep contacts in the entertainment industry, stake out nightclubs and post news at breakneck speed. The reaction in the gossip trades to the Gibson story recalls the disbelief of political reporters in the late 1990's when Matt Drudge's Web site broke ground on the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The online revolution is reconfiguring all brands of journalism."In recent months, Web sites such as TheSmokingGun.com and PerezHilton.com have scooped glossy magazines like Us Weekly and In Style on stories ranging from 'N Sync singer Lance Bass' secret gay life to Brad and Angelina's romantic escape to Africa.
Police said Gibson was pulled over early Friday in Malibu after being spotted going 87 miles an hour in a 45 zone. He registered a blood alcohol level well above the legal limit. That night, someone tipped off TMZ. Later, Gibson's glassy-eyed mugshot made the rounds of the Internet.
The occasion was similar to Nick Nolte's arrest for drunk driving, also in Malibu, in 2002. His wild-haired mugshot was posted by TheSmokingGun, which also had the photos of a plainly plastered Robert Downey Jr. after his arrest in a Culver City alley in April 2001, and, that same month, the mugshots of Vince Vaughn, busted for public brawling outside a bar in North Carolina.
Last week, TheSmokingGun published a scathing letter to Lindsay Lohan from James Robinson, CEO of Morgan Creek Productions, which is making Lohan's current movie, Georgia Rule. In the letter, Robinson calls Lohan's tardiness and absences from the set "discourteous, irresponsible and unprofessional," and says she has "acted like a spoiled child."
Fortunately, TheSmokingGun does not restrict itself to exposing Hollywood's foibles. Today, while the world wonders what is to become of Cuba now that Fidel Castro has ceded power, if only temporarily, the site published documents showing American military plans over the years to topple Cuba's leader. The most inspired plot, the site says, would have tried to disillusion Castro's constituents with fake photographs. The doctored images would have shown "an obese Castro with two beauties" in a lavish house complete with "a table brimming over with the most delectable Cuban food." The sight of the well-fed revolutionary, Army officials wrote at the time, "should put even a Commie Dictator in the proper perspective with the underprivileged masses."
The message here is that in the age of the Internet, sooner or later, anything you do or say could end up in cyberspace, available to anyone armed with a computer and a certain low-level curiosity.
To be fair, I should note that Gibson issued a statement today apologizing to the Jewish community for what he called the "vitriolic and harmful words" he "blurted out in a moment of insanity" the other night.
"This is about real life and recognising the consequences hurtful words can have," Gibson said. "It's about existing in harmony in a world that seems to have gone mad."
This is Nick Madigan of the Baltimore Sun, 'Minding the Media' on KCRW.