Ever since he was hospitalized earlier this month after he was discovered unconscious in a Nevada brothel, Lamar Odom has been the subject of near round-the-clock tabloid speculation. There have been breathless reports of his estranged wife Khloe Kardashian's bedside vigil, and endless questions about the extent of the damage done and what the "long road ahead of him" looks like. And so, inevitably, there has apparently been demand for images of the former NBA star in his weakened state. TMZ reports "several" staffers at Sunrise Hospital in Vegas have been fired recently for "trying to sneak a photo of Lamar as he fought for his life inside the hospital" when he was recovering there. It adds that "Our sources say some of them tried to access his medical records, in violation of HIPAA rules." A spokesperson for the facility tells TMZ that "We take all patient privacy very seriously and follow all HIPAA policies in compliance with federal regulations." Odom is now reportedly Cedar-Sinai Medical Center and with full time security.
In its report, TMZ adds that "Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears had their privacy rights violated during hospital stays." And it's so courageous that TMZ cares about patients whose privacy has been "violated." But I can't help noticing that on the very same day it's reporting about the alleged firings at Sunrise, TMZ's also posted a story saying that "Law enforcement sources tell us the Nye County Sheriff's Department received the results of the blood that was drawn at the hospital in Las Vegas... and we're told it showed cocaine was indeed in Odom's system when he was admitted." Or that earlier this month it said that "Sources at the hospital tell us doctors are now saying Lamar has a 50/50 chance of surviving after enduring multiple medical problems... the apparent result of complications from drug use. Our sources say doctors are saying 4 of Lamar's organs, including his kidneys, are failing. As we reported, he's had a series of strokes in the hospital and has heart problems as well." Or noticing the paparazzi photos that "show [Odom] hooked up to various machines as he was wheeled into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in L.A."
So publishing info from your "sources" in the hospital and images of the man on a stretcher as he's being taken into a hospital — totally cool. Talking about "violating" privacy as if you yourself don't participate in it — also just fine, I guess.
TMZ's the last place on earth to have even a whiff of self-righteousness about respecting anybody's privacy. In 2013, it posted a video of the murder of 19 year-old Andre Lowe, boasting, "A man was shot dead outside a Hollywood nightclub early Sunday morning in the throes of a massive brawl ... and our photog captured it all." His uncle Jason Andrews told Salon at the time, "Knowing that the last two minutes of a family member’s life was being viewed … for entertainment was too much to handle." (After outcry and a Change.org petition, the site edited the footage.) In 2014, the mother of Vikings RB Adrian Peterson's son spoke out about sites like TMZ — and multiple others — publishing photographs of the bruises and lash marks Peterson allegedly inflicted on their 4 year-old child. Through her attorney, she said she was "hurt and outraged that the press would publish throughout the world pictures of their minor son and publish statements allegedly made as part of the private and confidential criminal investigative file."
Last year, TMZ also published images from the site of the car crash that killed comic James McNair and seriously injured Tracy Morgan and three others. Krizya Fuqua, the daughter of comic Ardie Fuqua — who was also hurt in the crash — begged TMZ to remove it, asking on Twitter, "I would honestly like to petition TMZ to remove this video. They don’t understand how hurtful it is to see my father be dragged out of the wreckage.… All I ask to kindly be left alone so that way my father and everyone else can recover in peace…. Please TMZ remove this video." The video is still on the site. As is a video of "Paul Walker's Fiery Wreck -- Seconds After the Crash." As are photos of Bobbi Kristina Brown's coffin being wheeled from the funeral home.
I'm sure that TMZ, which was started by an attorney, for God's sake, is well aware of its legal — if not its moral — boundaries. A flaming car wreck or a moving stretcher that's outside in public is fair game. A tip from an anonymous "source" is not a purloined image. But for any tabloid to act as if it's not feeding off human suffering is pathetic, grotesque and plain dishonest.