The FishbowlDC Interview with TMZ’s Harvey Levin

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.”

Let’s begin.

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.