I remember you once saying you have a lie detector on call. Is that true?
Yeah, we've used a lie detector. We've got this one guy, he's done a lot of work with the National Inquirer and a bunch of other places, he actually worked for the FBI and the CIA for a while, and we've sent people over to him. The best thing we call him for is if there is something particularly scandalous, we are taking you right to the lie detector.
Can you give me an example of a story that needed to be vetted through a lie detector?
There are a bunch, but probably the biggest one, we had a report that, I'd been working on for a week. It was a young man who was claiming that he was molested by a very very prominent gospel singer. And he had everything, he had all these ducks in a row, he knew the guys wife's name, knew what his house looked like, what the inside looked like, he literally had everything. At the time, the gospel singer and his wife were going through some stuff, and I actually had a decent relationship with the gospel singer. So I called his wife, and I was like “we are doing a story about your estranged husband, this is what this kid said.” And I asked her point blank like, “do you know anything about this?” and she was like “I don't know anything about that.” And then I said “You know the man, do you think he's capable of anything like this?” And she said, “He could do this.” And she said it with a straight face. And so at that point I'm like, everything that the kid said checked out, the wife is like “maybe he did do it.” We probably could've gone with it. But just to be 100 percent, we told the guy why don't you go down and take the lie detector test. He took the lie detector and he fails. He clearly was lying about the whole thing. Then it comes out that the guy had a vendetta against (the gospel singer). So, we've done it, and we do it all the time.
So what about the posts that deal with speculation? The ones that concern a celebrities dating life, for example. Are these just placed for filler?
No, I mean usually there is something to it. A lot of times it's not just that two people are in a photograph. Sometimes the paparazzi are saying these guys were together and we snapped a picture of them. The photo might not be able to tell you that, but the person who took the photo is saying it. And that's something that the reader might not get themselves. A big reason is that we've been trained to say, if they are in a photo, then it ain't happen. I see them together, but I don't see them fucking on a couch. But if a man and women are together and the person that took the photo is saying, “Yo, look! These two are together! But this is all I have, I don't have them kissing, I don't have them making out.” And we put that photo up and say, “Look! People say these two are together, that's all we can say. We can't say, Oh they are together or they're not, we can say this is what the word is and this is what the photo is. The other side of it is to understand sort of what MTO is. When you look at MTO and you read it, we are very much the US Weekly for black people. And if you pick up US Weekly and you open it up, you will see the same thing, right? You will see Sean Penn is sitting next to Scarlett Johanssen. Are they together? Well nobody knows but you can see them walking in together. So we are just doing what the readers are interested in and what this genre is interested in.
MTO is known for is being the first with a lot of leaked celebrity pictures. You guys were one of the first with the Rihanna leaks that came out. What’s the process that goes into getting these images?
It really is all over the place, how we get photos. Some of them, someone just says, “Hey, I took this with my cell phone camera, here it is.” Other times someone will say hey, I've been holding this for a while, I want to give it to you. Sometimes you can say, I took this and I want to put it out there. We tend to stay away from buying pictures. And the reason why is because once you create a financial incentive, the lies are a lot more difficult to catch. People, if they know they can make $10,000 by lying to MTO, they will come up with a really good lie and it will be really, really hard for us to tell. So as a general practice we try to stay away from that. A lot of times the snitches will be celebrities. When you talk about somebody who did something in the VIP, who’s in the VIP? So they will tell us what’s going on, and they will be like “If I tell you this, I’m coming out with my album and I’m doing this” the answer is “OK.” We will hook this up. So there are all kinds of other barters and arrangements that we can come up with to get something, to get information, photos.
Is there every a time you won’t post pictures someone sends you?
Yeah. I mean, usually the biggest line is you have to have some sort of legal basis for actually having the photograph. You can’t be like “Listen, I found Jay-Z’s laptop, I broke into his crib and I’ve got naked pictures of Beyonce.” I can’t do anything with this. You can’t take some stolen shit and run with it. Maybe it will get up on the Internet somewhere. You’d be surprised how much stolen shit—naked pictures there are that just never make it to the Internet. It always happens. I’ve seen some really crazy...
Of big celebrities?
Yeah! Like pictures of Usher and Tameka Foster. I’ve seen them. They were real, him banging someone’s wife. And it’s not on the Internet, and it’s not going to be on the internet. You know why? Because the person, who has those photographs, really thinks that they have a million dollar photograph. The problem is, anyone with a million dollars is not going to buy that photograph because they know they are not buying anything because they can’t post it. The only person that will buy it is the person with $100 who will throw it up on their blog. So the dude is thinking, I’m not selling this thing for $100, so it just keeps getting deeper forever. And this happens for all kinds of photographs that are out there. And the person that has them is thinking, “I’ve got this million dollar photograph, why isn’t anyone paying me a million dollars.” Because TMZ looks at it and says, that’s a stolen photograph, I can’t pay you for that. I can’t pay 25 cents for that. I’ll look at it and say “that’s a stolen photograph, I can’t pay 25 cents for that.” So the market value is at nothing.
One thing I find interesting is the censorship that happens on MTO. When the Amber Rose photos leaked, a lot of people were saying Wow I can’t believe these leaked. The second conversation was: why is MTO blurring the photos?
That’s the number one question I get: Why are you blurring the images? [laughs]. If we get some good naked celebrity pictures, we’re putting it out. If we have license and have good belief behind it, we’re putting it out. But if you start getting three naked pictures in a week and you put them up, people start saying, “What type of site is this? You guys are turning into porn.” But it’s not like we’re doing this on purpose. When you get something like that you have to go. There have been plenty of times when we held a story and lost it. So you can’t hold a story for very long. There was a time when we got three of them in one week. People were writing letters to us like, “Yo, I’m at work, I can’t keep looking at titties and all that.” So we decided to ramp it down and blurr some of this stuff out, and you get the gist of this. And a lot of people, especially the women, aren’t interested in seeing all the nooks and crannies of what’s going on. They just want to see what she’s wearing, if her room’s clean, if she’s wearing draws. But guys want to see everything. So a lot of the dudes will say, just open it up, we want to see what you got. So a lot of the most recent ones we blurred them.
How do you feel when people compare your site with WorldStarHipHop?
Q’s a really smart business guy. Out of all the people you have out there, me and him are probably, out of all the people that you have out there are probably the true visionaries of this industry. So I get what he’s doing, he gets what I’m doing. I think he’s running a very popular site. If someone puts us in that light, I don’t see that as negative.
How do you see MTO in comparison to other celebrity news sites?
I think we’re different than every other blog in two senses. One is: When you think about what MediaTakeOut is, it really is about our audience in a way that dictates what we do. If the audience tomorrow said we are interested in President Obama and what’s going on in the 2012 election, and that was what was getting the most hits on there, that’s what MediaTakeout will run. Public interest changes—I’ve been in this business for five years now and I’ve seen dramatic changes in who’s interesting and who’s not. The people who were big when we first started are not even around anymore. So when you think about it like that, you don’t think of it like, Oh this is a gossip site, this is about women. When you start to say, No, this is about black folks. And what black folks are doing, thinking, and interested in right now. What we are, I think, is an accurate reflection of black culture as it is right now. If you want to know what urban culture is right now look at MediaTakeOut. You want to see who’s hot? Check out Media Takeout.
I remember when Rihanna first came out, the three biggest black female celebrities were Beyonce, Ashanti, and Ciara. The question was always, Who’s the best of those three? And we started saying, It’s really not about those three, it’s really about who’s the best: Beyonce or Rihanna? The average person was saying what the hell are you talking about? Who’s Rihanna. This is before she had “Umbrella”. By the time she even launched “Umbrella” we had her on our site. She was getting 200, 300,000 hits and at the time that was huge. It’s same idea with Amber Rose. Before she started seeing Kanye, her or her manager would always send us images. We looked at her and said, you know, she is sort of interesting, she has that blonde hair, but she looks like the same old magazine model. But then she started dating Kanye, and even though I said she looked like a regular video chick, I noticed the spike. It was really high. People were compelled; they were in love with this chick. Everyone wanted to know what this girl was doing. At one point we were doing six Amber Rose posts a week. She was right behind Beyonce and ahead of Rihanna. That’s the way we operate.
You may say you give the people want they want, but there are a lot of people who feel like MTO is horrible for black people. What do you say to them?
The first thing I’d say is: It’s not all negative. Sometimes we’re just talking about people’s relationships. The second thing I’d say is: There has been an incredible change in the way black celebrities are being treated and that’s directly attributed to the success of MediaTakeOut. Let me give you an example. When we started MediaTakeOut, we would talk to celebrities all the time and they would be angry. Not the A-List guys, but the B- and C- List people like the Tyler Perry actors. When they would go to a red carpet the paparazzi wouldn’t even take their pictures. You would look at US Weekly, they wouldn’t show any black people. The Best Dressed Lists wouldn’t even have a black person in it. If they did, it was Halle Berry. Now if you open up a magazine, you see black people. You don’t just see Halle Berry or Beyonce. You’ll look and you’ll be like, Oh, Is that Tichina Arnold in there? Or Nia Long. You talk to the people at US Weekly, they could not name two Nia Long movies. They’ll be like, Oh, wasn’t she Will Smith’s girlfriend in Fresh Prince? But she’s in there Why? Because people from US Weekly look at a site like the MediaTakeOut and ask why is she on there all the time? So what Media Takeout has done is become a beacon. It’s told all these other places like TMZ and US Weekly that this black celebrity stuff is real.