It’s hard for TMZ’s founder Harvey Levin to chill and stop working. At the National Press Club today to keynote a luncheon, he sat in a tan leather chair upstairs to prepare his speech and do this interview. He’s intense, but polite, friendly and not a big shot Hollywood figure who can’t be bothered. He wants to be bothered — within reason. He also wants to get his thoughts together and use the men’s room before his speech because “it would be bad form to pee in my pants,” he says, laughing. Something else that immediately jumps out: He’s smaller than he appears on TV. Throughout the day it will be the first observation people make. He’s svelte and proportional and has expensive-looking black sneakers with no laces and fashionable holes. “Are those Crocs?” asks American Urban Radio’s White House Correspondent April Ryan out of earshot at a VIP reception before the luncheon. Random but noteworthy: He’s newly vegetarian and no longer wears leather. He skips the juicy steak swimming in gravy and potatoes lunch and doesn’t opt for the vegetarian alternative — a mushroom with a thick, bubbling layer of cheese. Instead, he sips ice water. On the show, Levin stands and hangs over a newsroom wall, making it harder to tell how tall or short he is. He’s 5’7,” at least according to the driver’s license he pulled out to show me when I asked.
Before the FishbowlDC interview gets underway, first, a phone call to the office to check in. “Hey it’s me,” he says into his BlackBerry. “Are they still in the meeting? Anything I need to know? We have to talk about Scarlett Johansson. It’s the weirdest thing…” (A producer was in Paris recently and had an inappropriate interaction with Johansson, something that will not run on air. Levin’s producer tells me Harvey’s just having fun and giving the producer as hard a time as possible.)
On starting TMZ in Washington: “Yes, it’s just an issue of time. It will happen. I just need time to do it right. This is going to require me to be here for awhile.” Favorite politicians? “Not really. Therein lies the problem.” Does he support President Obama’s reelection? “Not going to say.”
Which GOP presidential contender is the most TMZ-worthy? Too soon to tell. (His producer chimes in, “Rick Perry. He’s bound to do the dumbest thing.” Levin’s not necessarily convinced.)
If you were a carbonated beverage which would you be? Orange crush.
What is the one question you get asked most frequently? What’s in your cup?
How often do you Google yourself? Almost never.
Who is your favorite working journalist and why? Anderson Cooper, because he’s honest.
What word or phrase do you overuse? “Here’s the thing.”
What’s the worst thing a stranger/heckler ever said to him? Find out…
You are ordered to go on a road trip to an undisclosed location. You can go with White House Spokesman Jay Carney or Bo, the President’s Portuguese Water Dog. No ones feelings will be hurt. Who do you take? Bo, because he’d be more fun and I love dogs.
Do you pay sources for stories. If so, how much? Almost never. We will on rare occasions pay a tip fee. I’m not going to disclose how much it varies.
Other than TMZ, what websites must you read everyday? I go to a lot of them, but I don’t feel beholden to any of them. (He told me he reads Politico – “absolutely” and HuffPost occasionally.)
When you were young (a teenager) what did you think you’d be when you grew up? A politician.
Which story in your entire TMZ career are you most proud of and why? The Mel Gibson DUI story because we uncovered the bigger story of how the sheriff’s department lied about what happened.
What’s the worst thing a stranger/heckler has said to you in public? Fag.
What’s the name of your cell phone ring? Ring.
It’s 3 a.m. and you get up to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. Do you check your BlackBerry or iPhone? I’m already up. I get up at 2:30 a.m. I go to sleep at 9:15 p.m.
What word do you routinely misspell? All of them.
What swear word do you use most often? Fuck and motherfucker.
If you weren’t a TV journo/lawyer what would you be? A politician. I’m interested in national politics.
You’ve just been told the big news: You get to have your own Sunday morning talk show. Who will be on your roundtable? (Pick four journalists, pundits types or stars.) I have no interest in hosting a Sunday morning talk show. It’s not where my head is. (When I press him, he won’t even venture to name names and acknowledges he’d turn the offer down.)
When you pig out what do you eat? Pasta
When did you last cry and why? When my dog, Floyd, died last year. [Floyd was a Boxer.]
What is your absolute favorite item of clothing in your closet? We want the fabric, the brand, the store and the price if possible. A Hugo Boss bathing suit. I love the water. A medium blue with a little bit of a design.
Tell us a secret not many people know about you. I am deeply into animal rescue.
What’s your most embarrassing career moment? When I was a reporter at CBS I was doing an [interview] with someone at N.I.H. I was told he couldn’t hear me and [referred to him as] a hack. I asked him a question and he replied, ‘I’m not sure you would accept my answer since you think I’m a hack.’ I was mortified.”
Have you ever been fired? No.
When and why did you last laugh so hard you had tears in your eyes? I laugh almost everyday in that way during our morning meeting.
When and why did you last lose your temper? Friday when an editor was beating me at Nerf football.
Which movie title best describes your career? “Blazing Saddles.”
Who would you want to play you in a movie? The most handsome and tall actor at the time the movie is made.
Name jobs you’ve had outside of journalism. (Can start as young as teenage years): Worked in Dad’s liquor store, sold sandwiches office to office, camp counselor at Camp Shasta in Northern California, lobbyist for American Bar Association, lawyer.
Do you have a me-wall? If so, who’s on it? No.
Who should just call it a day? Me, maybe.
Finally, please come up for a question for our next FishbowlDC interviewee. Make it good. What would be the contents of your last meal?
(Above, TMZ cookies from the NPC luncheon and Harvey’s sneakers).