TMZ Ahead of the Curve, but Do Tactics Go Too Far?

Celebrity site TMZ broke the news of Michael Jackson's death.

June 27, 2009 — -- The news of Michael Jackson's death traveled at lightning speed over the internet after one source -- the celebrity news site TMZ -- beat all others with the scoop, even announcing it before the coroner's office.

The headline "Michael Jackson Dies" flashed on TMZ at 5:20 p.m. ET Thursday afternoon, beating even mainstream rivals.

TMZ's founder Harvey Levin told ABC News his staff broke the story using old-fashioned journalism techniques.

"They are the same skills you would use to cover President Obama," he said. "You get a tip, chase down the tip, find out if it's true, you confirm it, you source it, and you publish it."

The Jackson story is the most recent on a list of TMZ scoops to be featured on the Web site and TV program.

Levin said his reporters' hard-earned relationships with sources and commitment to making phone call after phone call lead to their success in scooping Hollywood headlines.

Web sites like TMZ have long been criticized for their aggressive tactics, antagonizing stars with video cameras. These encounters, capturing at times violent celebrity confrontations with photographers, receive hundreds of hits online, and critics ask if entertainment reporters are crossing the line.

TMZ's cameras were among the last to capture Jackson before his death.

In a video now posted on the Web site, Jackson rolls down the window of his black SUV and tells the camera he still can do his famous Moonwalk. But the King of Pop had railed against photographers intruding into his private life in the past. In a 1997 interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, Jackson said the paparazzi's constant presence affected his daily activities.

"I can't take a walk in the park. I can't go to the store, I can't, I have to hide in a room. And you feel like you're in prison," the late icon told Walters.

Levin said he counts himself among those complaining, and he encourages the debate about how far is too far in his newsroom.

"I think the business has gotten so big that there's an element that created a real danger," he said. "This is something we struggle with all the time."