Howard Bragman, a publicist who owns the firm Fifteen Minutes, which represents Ricki Lake, Leeza Gibbons and Isaiah Washington, has also found some benefits to dealing with TMZ.
“Compared to many of the other outlets, they’re 1,000 percent better. If you have a good relationship with them, they’ll change an occasional word or swap an occasional picture, but that’s just for friends of the family,” he said. “And since it goes around the world in seconds, you can leak something to them without fingerprints and it looks like somebody else did it. I’ve certainly done that.”
One publicist who declined to speak on the record because of fear of retaliation against his clients likened Mr. Levin’s power to that of the 1940s and 1950s gossip columnists like Walter Winchell.
“If you have something you know they will like, you tip them to it,” the publicist said. “It’s kind of the old way you dealt with the old-time gossip columnists. You have to occasionally feed them an item. You have to be in the game with them. If you’re a publicist and the only time you call up is to complain about an item, they’ll laugh at you.”