TMZ boss defends breaking news of Kobe Bryant's death

TMZ founder Harvey Levin is defending his website's decision to break the news of the death of Kobe Bryant. During an interview with LA radio station KNX, Levin said "Kobe's people" gave them the OK to run with the story.

"We dealt with Kobe's people for an hour before we published the story and we were told very clearly that [Vanessa] had been notified," Levin told KNX's In-Depth on Wednesday.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva shamed the webloid during a press conference Sunday for its handling of the news. Bryant's helicopter crashed around 9:45 a.m. PT and TMZ published its story at 11:24 a.m. PT.

"I got the tip initially from law enforcement," Levin explained. "Then we talked to Kobe's people and we were dealing with them for an hour before we published the story and they said, 'Go for it.' At a point we were all trying to confirm it and we confirmed it, but they all knew and they said, 'Go for it' and they said she knew."

Levin continued, "I talked to one of Kobe's people today and they felt that there was a leak that ABC published a story that all of Kobe's kids perished in the crash, which was erroneous. Somebody from Kobe's camp told me they felt that may have been a leak from the sheriff's department and they had their own issues when they walked out there. So, I'm not sure what [Villanueva's] talking about."

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NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna
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NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Western Conference kisses daughter Gianna Bryant during the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna watch during the U.S. national championships swimming meet Thursday, July 26, 2018, in Irvine, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna watch the first half of an NCAA college basketball game between Connecticut and Houston, Saturday, March 2, 2019, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 29: Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant attend a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on December 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 29: Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant attend a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on December 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 29: Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant attend a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on December 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 17: Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant attend a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center on November 17, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 17: Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant attend a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center on November 17, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 27: Gianna Bryant and her father, former NBA player Kobe Bryant, attend the WNBA All-Star Game 2019 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 27, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
IRVINE, CA - JULY 26: Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant watch during day 2 of the Phillips 66 National Swimming Championships at the Woollett Aquatics Center on July 26, 2018 in Irvine, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Gianna Bryant, daughter of Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Western Conference, handles the ball during warm ups before the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Western Conference warms up with daughter Gianna Bryant during the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Eight other people, including Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna, died in the crash. When asked if it was fair to the other families involved to go with the story, Levin conceded, "And that is a fair point. That's a fair point."

During Villanueva's first press conference addressing the crash, he did not identify any victims and called out TMZ.

"There is wide speculation who the identities are," he said on Sunday. "It is entirely inappropriate right now to identify anyone by name until the coroner has made the identifications through their deliberate process and made notifications to next of kin."

Villanueva continued, "It would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one has perished and you learn about it from TMZ." He said it's "just wholly inappropriate" that TMZ reveals the identity of victims.

Vanessa has yet to issue a public statement, but she made a subtle one on Instagram. She changed her profile image to a photo of her husband and Gianna.

(Photo: Vanessa Bryant/ Instagram)

TMZ’s handling of Bryant’s death has launched a debate about how news organizations should cover sensitive topics. Grey's Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo made her stance clear, calling out TMZ and Levin in dozens of tweets Tuesday.

A Change.org petition demands Fox — which airs TMZ on TV — cancel the show.

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