DOCUMENT: Celebrity, Crime

TMZ Sat On Naked Erin Andrews Videos

Site could have kept clips from 17 million viewers

Erin Andrews

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Erin Andrews Stalking

FEBRUARY 26--A computer scientist testifying yesterday at the Erin Andrews civil trial estimated that nearly 17 million individuals worldwide have viewed the peephole images recorded by the convicted stalker who videotaped the sportscaster naked inside hotel rooms in Tennessee and Ohio.

And all of those online intrusions--which continue today and have reportedly left Andrews a “shell” of her former self--could have been prevented by TMZ, where payoffs, bribery, and the purchase of stolen material are part of the gossip site’s foundational elements.

In September 2008, stalker Michael David Barrett filmed Andrews naked while she was inside Room 1051 at the Marriott hotel in Nashville. Barrett, who was staying in the room next door, videotaped Andrews through a peephole he had modified (apparently with a hacksaw).

Like most skells looking to cash in on illegally obtained material involving celebrities, Barrett eventually contacted TMZ in search of a payday, according to federal court records.

After sending in a tip via a form on TMZ’s homepage, Barrett exchanged e-mails with reporter Dennis Broad in late-January 2009. Broad’s Twitter page now describes him as the site’s “Director of Investigations.”

In e-mails sent to Broad on successive days, Barrett (seen at left) provided TMZ with three video files showing Andrews naked inside hotel rooms. Barrett, who wanted cash for the clips, wrote to Broad from a Yahoo e-mail address carrying the alias “Mark Bennett.”

The videos were obviously recorded without Andrews’s knowledge. The site would subsequently report that the clips apparently were shot at a “high-end hotel” via “some sort of spy cam. It looks as if someone drilled a small hole in her hotel room from an adjoining room.” TMZ did not purchase the footage, though it is unknown whether the site negotiated with Barrett.

With the illicit Andrews videos in their possession, TMZ’s staff--which likes to portray themselves as “truth-tellers”--proceeded to do nothing.

The site, which has never hesitated to trumpet news of the latest sex tape being peddled, did not bother to report that someone was trying to sell them footage of Andrews naked. Nor did they contact the sportscaster or any of her representatives to clue them in that she had been subjected to a criminal invasion of privacy.

While TMZ did not know the actual identity of “Mark Bennett,” two minutes of online research would have shown that one of the e-mails sent to Broad came from the main IP address for the Illinois-based Combined Insurance Company of America.

Remarkably, Barrett--who worked for Combined--corresponded with Broad while at work and did nothing to mask that fact. So much for operational security.

As it turned out, however, Broad (pictured below) and his TMZ cohorts never sought to out “Mark Bennett” or publicize his felonious activities targeting Andrews, who then worked for ESPN.

Instead, TMZ kept quiet about the Andrews videos until late-July 2009, a full six months after the site was first contacted by the TV personality’s stalker.

TMZ’s hand was finally forced when news stories began appearing about the existence of the peephole videos, links to which were beginning to widely appear online. Andrews told FBI agents that she panicked upon first learning of the videos on July 16, adding that she thought that her “career was over.”

On July 20, TMZ first reported that Andrews and her legal team were “on the hunt to sue a Peeping Tom” who videotaped her naked. But the story, headlined “Erin Andrews -- Clueless Over Nude Video”--noted that the search was proving difficult since Andrews “had no idea where or when the video was shot.”

A second story that day--carrying the site’s ubiquitous “EXCLUSIVE” banner--reported that, “Someone is trying to sell the secret videotape of ESPN’s Erin Andrews and it’s clear--there’s a pervert on the loose.” The story added that, “We will not publish the video nor did we purchase it,” since the footage was “a clear invasion of privacy.”

TMZ, of course, did not reveal that the Andrews videos were actually offered for sale six months earlier (and had been in the site’s possession since January). TMZ was lying to its readers about some rampaging “pervert” currently “trying to sell” the Andrews videos. The intentional use of the present tense--instead of admitting that someone “tried to sell” them the videos--was obviously intended to cloak the fact that TMZ had long known about the footage and only reported on it after millions of Internet users began watching Andrews curl her hair and iron her clothes in the nude.

The gossip site also never reported that its editor, Harvey Levin, provided Andrews’s lawyer with information that directly resulted in Barrett’s arrest less than three months after the naked videos began widely circulating.

As detailed in Barrett’s criminal complaint, attorney Marshall Grossman told FBI agents that Levin--who is only identified by the initials “H.L.”--provided him in late-July with the “full header information of the two e-mails” that were sent to Broad in January. The 65-year-old Levin, a former TV journalist, is pictured below.

Grossman then turned over the e-mail headers to the FBI. Agents, who quickly tracked one of the e-mails to the Combined Insurance IP address, subsequently used subpoenas to conclusively connect Barrett to the Yahoo e-mail account from which the e-mails to TMZ’s Broad were sent. Other records obtained by the FBI linked Barrett to uploads of the Andrews footage to a video-sharing web site. 

Levin’s disclosure to Grossman about TMZ’s contact with Andrews’s stalker--six months earlier--was likely prompted by the canny editor’s realization that the embarrassing information would surface when federal agents caught up with “Mark Bennett.”

Barrett pleaded guilty to interstate stalking and was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison on the felony charge. At Barrett’s sentencing, Andrews told her stalker that, “You violated me and you violated all women. You are a sexual predator, a sexual deviant, and they should lock you up.” Prosecutors estimated that Barrett secretly filmed more than a dozen other women via hotel room peepholes.

As Andrews prepares to testify next week in her $75 million negligence/invasion of privacy lawsuit against Marriott and Barrett, TMZ has published a single story on the trial.

On Wednesday, the gossip site posted a “Breaking News” report about Andrews crying as her father testified before a Nashville jury. Steve Andrews said that Erin vomited just thinking about the videos, noted TMZ, which quoted Andrews saying of his daughter, “She’s afraid. She’s afraid of crowds, afraid of people. She doesn’t trust anymore.” (4 pages)