Dec 28, 2009

TMZ slips on own scoop*,**,***

This morning TMZ went live with what it claimed to be a damning photograph of John F. Kennedy, pre-presidency, relaxing on a yacht as four naked women frolicked nearby. From TMZ:
TMZ has obtained a never-before published photograph which appears to show John F. Kennedy on a boat filled with naked women -- it's a photo that could have altered world events.
It was, as the headline blared, "the photo that could have changed history."

Except that isn't JFK in the photo. After gaining assurances from this expert that photo was probably taken in the 1950s and showed no signs of being Photoshopped, and talking to JFK biographers who said the man in the photo looked a lot like JFK, TMZ later learned the picture was published in Playboy in 1967 - four years after JFK was assassinated.

Aside from the "too good to be true" nature of the photo, which should have caused TMZ to be more skeptical than usual, perhaps this line, from the original post, could have provided a hint that something about the photo's alleged provenance was fishy:
The photo was eventually given to a man who owned a car dealership on the East coast. The man kept it in a drawer for years, and would brag to friends he had an image of JFK on a boat with naked women. The man died 10 years ago and one of his sons inherited the photo.
So, after the Warren Commission investigation, decades of hardcore conspiracy nuts scouring every record for new evidence about a plot to kill JFK, and a raft of auctions that drove up the price on anything Kennedy ever sneeze on, a car dealer "on the East coast" somehow got hold of what is clearly a posed photo of a young JFK and his naked nymphs, and tucked it away in his desk, only to will it to his son? No names, no dates, no locales? No when, why or how?

*Update: And what's next for the purveyor of "unvarnished celebrity coverage"? Sports, according to the New York Times (via LA Observed). The story has TMZ founder Harvey Levin making noise about expanding further into Washington, DC.

**Update II: The Smoking Gun has more on the photo, which originally ran in color under the title "Charter Yacht Party." The man in the photo is "Andy," a paid model.

***Update III: A basic tenet of journalism is that you don't run story if you can't properly explain its origins. It's no coincidence then that TMZ got duped over a photo it could only vaguely tie to a nameless auto dealer from a nameless East coast town. And yet, Harvey Levin had this to say about getting hoodwinked: “We’re not happy about it, but this is part of journalism.”

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