Harvey Levin has a TMZ-style plan to get the masses interested in Washington politics, one Beltway personality at a time.
“It’s gonna happen some day,” the founder of the celebrity gossip site told a gathering of reporters Monday at the National Press Club.
Levin’s vision – which has been in the works for years – is to create “a personality-based site, not because it’s going to be the most important material, but it’s going to introduce people to politics on a level that they can relate to, on a personality level,” he said.
Levin loves politics – “it’s my passion” – and believes others would also catch the bug if the media made it more accessible.
“The reason I want to do it is because I really believe that so much of the media that covers politics is really covering it for inside the Beltway, and that there are millions of people out there who want to like politics, want to be interested, and they feel badly that they’re not,” he said. “But it’s not accessible to them, it’s boring to them, it’s too complicated for them, and they can’t find an entry level.”
Rumors first circulated in 2007 that Levin, who was once a crime reporter and producer of TV’s “Celebrity Justice,” had plans to expand his TMZ empire to the Beltway. The idea was met with skepticism at the time.
“TMZ is going to be bored out of its mind,” Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Lakewood), told the Times in 2007. “The only thing keeping TMZ in D.C. for more than a week would be its lease.”
Levin says TMZ D.C. is still on his to-do list, but he joked that he “could die” before it actually happens. The original TMZ will “do politics” next year, he said, but likely won’t launch a whole new site.
At the press club luncheon, Levin used an example to illustrate his vision: After TMZ began stalking Rep. Aaron Schock in 2009, the Illinois congressman found that the experience gave him greater exposure to his constituents. (Video below.)
The experience gave Levin a taste of how the TMZ camera crews might be received if they ever do storm the nation's capital.
“His press secretary called me up and said, ‘How dare you, you can’t do this. This isn’t the way – it’s not Hollywood,’” Levin said. “And I said, ‘You’re going to call me up in a few days and apologize.”
Levin was right.
“While skeptical at first, Congressman Schock has found the TMZ folks to be professional and polite,” said Steve Dutton, Schock’s communications director. “Many people come up to him in his 20-county district in Illinois and mention they saw him on TMZ each time he has appeared, and a large percentage of these people don’t watch conventional news programs. Congressman Schock’s appearances on TMZ have allowed him to reach a whole new segment of people he represents.”
Richard Simon in the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.