Michael Jackson's Death Puts Us Weekly and TMZ at the Head of the Pack

"Nightline" goes inside the "viciously competitive" tabloid war over Jackson.

ByABC News
June 30, 2009, 6:10 PM

July 1, 2009— -- While Michael Jackson's untimely death -- and its increasingly sordid aftermath -- continue to dominate the headlines, two media outlets are driving the coverage of this historic event and leaving other, more traditional rivals in the dust. This week, "Nightline" followed TMZ and Us Weekly to get the story behind the story.

Even before Jackson's death, TMZ had made a name for itself dishing out raw and often uncomfortable video and photos of celebrities in a place most of us never see them -- the real world. Both the Web site and its spin-off syndicated television show rely heavily on footage of celebrities stumbling out of clubs or trying to ignore paparazzi at the airport. TMZ supplements this more mundane fodder with the occasional, jaw-dropping scoop -- like the death of Michael Jackson.

To say TMZ broke the Jackson story is an understatement. Their first online bulletin at 5:20 p.m. Eastern Thursday beat the coroner's time of death by six minutes.

Harvey Levin, a 57-year-old former lawyer and TV reporter, is the force behind TMZ.

In the midst of the tabloid war over the Michael Jackson story, the best he could offer Nightline was a few minutes to chat.

The death of one of the biggest celebrity of all time has meant non-stop work for Levin and his team. "It's been tough," he admits. "It's pretty much been waking up in the morning and working until you pass out."

So how did TMZ score the scoop of the year?

Levin is coy, but says it came down to an old-fashioned mix of determination and having the right connections. "The culture here is get on the telephone, call people you know. This is a town truly that is six degrees of separation ... you work hard enough, often times you get what you're looking for."