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INTERVIEW: Michael Lewittes on Becoming a Gossip Cop

Long before e-mail bulletins, tweets and Drudge Report siren headlines, there were alpha-numeric pagers and pay phones. As veteran east coast journalist Michael Lewittes recalls, these now antiquated devices played a key role in one of his earliest moments of reporter triumph.

“One night I was out to dinner and drinks with New York’s police commissioner and deputy commissioner,” Lewittes (pictured) tells FishbowlLA. “Across the pagers came the message that Tupac Shakur has been shot (not when he was murdered, but a previous shooting).”

“I got the scoop,” he continues. “I had to drop a quarter in a pay phone to call the desk at the New York Daily News. Just a few hours later, I was on the subway — en route to work — and the riders were reading the Daily News and our rivals, the New York Post. But only the Daily News had the Tupac exclusive that he had been shot outside of a recording studio on the West Side in New York. And it remained a Daily News exclusive all day long on the radio and news broadcasts.”

“Naturally, today that story would have been picked up in a split second, spread across the globe, and no one would have known it was broken by the Daily News.”

The era of “hat tip” entertainment journalism is replete with theft, cacophonous forward-momentum and miraculously scrubbed errant reports. Which for Lewittes, who moved on from the Daily News to Cosmopolitan, the Post, US Weekly and Access Hollywood, frames his latest gig. Since 2009, he has been calling out bad entertainment reporting on his well-respected website gossipcop.com. And he has, in part, Perez Hilton to thank for this.

“I think Hilton’s declaration that Fidel Castro was dead was what really made me think about how false reports are picked up and disseminated,” Lewittes explains. “Even when the venerable Wall Street Journal shot down Perez’s story, he stubbornly stood by his ‘reporting,’ and even said in subsequent posts that the paper (and the rest of the media) would be proven wrong. Next was a TMZ story that Jay-Z was aboard a plane that had crashed. Those were among the larger stories that made me think, there needs to be a place where people can go for accurate reporting.”

Lewittes says there are many regular offenders, with Hilton, Star magazine and In Touch most directly responsible for his Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Together with deputy editor Daniel Jacobson and a pair of New York reporters, he keeps watch on the Internet. There are plans to add, eventually, an LA based staffer.

And in spite of the above TMZ mention, Lewittes agrees with FishbowlLA that for the most part, Harvey Levin and co. do a bang-up job. “They’re fairly accurate with their reporting,” he concurs. “Of course, part of that is them having cameras everywhere to document every celebrity’s private moments. Still, their moles inside the LAPD and at LA Superior Court, as well as their friendships with some of LA’s top attorneys, have given them a distinct advantage and made TMZ the powerhouse that it is.”

[Photo of Hilton: Helga Esteb/Shutterstock.com]

Previously on FishbowlLA:
Gossip Cop Shoots Down Kris Jenner Response to Daniel Craig
Gossip Cop Patrols Breaking Dawn Beat

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