Who the $*#@ is TMZ?

I suspect you might have heard something like this from Representative Anthony Weiner this weekend.

The latest drops to fall in the water torture that is the Weiner story came this weekend from TMZ.COM. Specifically, they managed to get a hold of eleven new pictures allegedly taken by the representative of himself at the Congressional gym. Be warned, they’re mostly safe for work but maybe not safe for your sanity.

Unless you have a guilty (or not so guilty) pleasure in celebrity gossip like I do, you may well be asking (like I suspect Weiner was): who the $*#@ is TMZ.COM?

The short answer is they’re a celebrity gossip website. They tend to be flashy and very aggressive. So it’s not surprising that they would jump into this mess like they have.

The more interesting point in this, though, is the fact that a celebrity gossip tabloid is involved in a political story. Granted, that boundary has been tested by the National Enquirer with the John Edwards story. But in a way, that was the Enquirer acting less as a gossip tabloid and more as a traditional journalism outlet. They won that story the same way that Woodward and Bernstein did: though hard investigative journalism.

By that measure, TMZ.COM’s entry into the Weiner situation is a bit different. Weiner’s folks now have to manage not only the Washington Posts, New York Times and Politicos of the world. They now have to start watching out for the hyper-aggressive gossip/tabloid press too.

The important lesson from this is that crisis situations jump out of the traditional boxes PR professionals are used to. As you’re managing a situation, you need to be on the watch for an issue to jump like this and be ready to start playing a different game with different rules. And if your situation does break into the online celebrity gossip tabloids: be ready to fight hard and fast because that’s one of the toughest arenas out there.