I'm not a fan of TMZ, but it's more because I simply don't care about the stories they cover - Miley Cyrus goes out for Sushi wearing the wrong brand of sneakers!!!! - than because of how they approach the topic. TMZ has actually broken some important stories - Michael Jackson's death, Mel Gibson's arrest, etc - and, besides, it's not as if there's a good way you can make standing outside of a club on the Sunset Strip at 2 a.m., while holding a low-res camera phone and screaming meaningless questions at confused 19 year old starlets, look dignified.
I took issue with Pearlman's tweet because of something he'd written in one of his books, The Rocket Who Fell To Earth, a post-Game of Shadows look into the life and scandals of Roger Clemens. Early in the book, Pearlman spends some time dealing with Roger's admiration for his older brother, Randy. Randy goes on to be a sad story, getting mixed up in drugs, and fading into obscurity, while Roger - obviously - does not. At the conclusion of the book, Pearlman (ed. note: actually, a local reporter who Pearlman paid to do it) shows up unannounced at Randy's dilapidated apartment. He knocks on the door and is greeted by a figure who, as Pearlman describes him, could easily blend into the background on Breaking Bad. Randy isn't interested in talking, of course, and that's that. The anecdote doesn't add much to the story Pearlman's telling, but it leaves the reader feeling unsettled. Pearlman is an excellent writer and the physical description of Randy's condition makes a visceral impression. It seemed cheap to me. Like gawking at someone for being in a wheelchair.
But I digress. In the spirit of Twitter, I replied to Pearlman by contrasting his own unannounced (and clearly undesired) appearance at Randy's apartment with the symbiotic relationship between hollywood and the paparazzi.
This was apparently enough for Pearlman to post a thoughtful response on his own blog, in which he took issue with my use of the word "ambush" and insisted what he did was legitimate and appropriate journalism.
I'm not a journalist. I haven't had a press pass since a college internship a decade ago. I'm not going to play Poynter here, but I thought I'd provide a (hopefully equally thoughtful) counter-response to Pearlman's blog.
First, let's talk "ambush." Ambush means to attack by surprise. There's no question that he caught Randy by surprise. He showed up, unannounced, at his run-down apartment. In his home. People do not answer the doors expecting to find reporters there, especially ones who are writing unflattering tell-all biographies about their siblings. Randy would not have answered the door had he known Pearlman (or his proxy) was standing there.
Now, that doesn't mean it was wrong, per se. Investigative journalism, like undercover police work, regularly demands that its subjects be caught off-guard. That doesn't make it any less of an ambush, however, it just means that ambush journalism can serve beneficial ends.
But did it do so in this case? Not in my opinion. I found the ending tacked on at best, salacious at worst. Roger Clemens's story is complete without it. In fact, most of the book, and the condition in which Pearlman finds Randy, suggests that Randy is no longer an important figure in his brother's life. I enjoyed The Rocket Who Fell To Earth a good deal, but one critique of it could be that it didn't break much new ground. The core of the book - the allegations about Clemens's steroid use - were well known. The sad image of Randy may simply be Pearlman's way of tying his unique experience of the Clemens story to a heavily trafficked storyline, although I'm not certain that Pearlman's personal experience is - without more - newsworthy.
There's something inherently dismissive about TMZ in Pearlman's tweet. They're obviously not "real" journalists to him, even though they employ the same techniques to break their stories as he does in his. So perhaps it's the subject matter to which he objects? If so, that's fine - as I said, I don't read TMZ - but it's not a reason to say that they have no respect for privacy and dignity.
And, it is not a subject matter Pearlman avoids. Not only does he devote a significant amount of attention to Clemens's relationship with deceased country star Mindy McCready, Pearlman delights in telling how a drunken Clemens aggressively and ineptly pursued a horrified Charlize Theron (whom Pearlman describes as a "bombshell South African actress with a 36B-24-36 body and  form-fitting red-carpet outfits") in a fancy New York City restaurant. It's reporting straight out of TMZ.
I like Jeff Pearlman. He's a great writer and a terrific follow on Twitter. But I disagree with him here. Respectfully, but strongly.