“TMZ is a difficult case, because it is often right about its celebrity scoops, but it has also made some high-profile mistakes,” Eric Deggans, TV critic for NPR News, wrote in an email. “Last year, it reported rapper Lil Wayne was receiving the last rites after a series of seizures, which people close to him denied.”

For all the scoops TMZ has enjoyed in recent years, Deggans pointed out that it was also the site that published a picture in 2009 purporting to be President John F. Kennedy surrounded by naked women on a yacht. Turned out it was a doctored picture that had been taken in 1967, four years after Kennedy's assassination.

“It's tough to know if TMZ makes any more mistakes than any other media outlet,” Deggans said. “But they have helped normalize the consumption of news developed under questionable circumstances, with little transparency about their reporting methods. We don't know when or how they pay for scoops when they do, and it is hard to track their accuracy rate because they don't seem to have a roster of corrections available anywhere.”

Once upon a time, Deggans said, “Such methods were controversial and kept certain outlets from acceptance by mainstream news consumers. Now, the public has seemingly accepted that the price for big scoops like Michael Jackson's death is that outlets such as TMZ will pay people and use other unclear methods in reporting.”

His bottom line: TMZ has “gained credibility,” but it also has come to “embody a lot of what is troubling about modern entertainment journalism, including an insensitivity about the people they are skewering and a tendency to make their mistakes vanish without much acknowledgment.”

For the record, TMZ did correct the faked Kennedy picture after The Smoking Gun revealed that the website had been duped.

As for the seizures, according to the Los Angeles Times, Lil Wayne later told an LA radio station that he is an epileptic who had multiple seizures and was gravely ill.

When asked specifically about the TMZ reports of the extent of his illness, the rapper said, “I can't get upset at TMZ for doing what they do.”

Howard Kurtz, host of “Media Buzz” on Fox News, has been treating TMZ like a serious player for years in his previous jobs as Washington Post media correspondent, Daily Beast Washington bureau chief and host of “Reliable Sources” on CNN.

“TMZ may have a tabloid sensibility, but it consistently beats the mainstream media on important stories,” he wrote in an email. “The Ray Rice video is just the latest example of TMZ's knack of obtaining damaging footage or documents about celebrities from different walks of life. And while the website sometimes pays for these scoops, they are exclusives that force the rest of the press to play catch-up.”

My bottom line: Despite its journalistic sins, TMZ has become an invaluable site on the media landscape.

The hype and image-building machines that athletes, performers and politicians have at their disposal once they demonstrate their bankability have become all-powerful in American life. They pump out images and narratives that often have little or nothing to do with the truth — and play us as fools, as we do everything from buying their jerseys to voting for them.

I believe TMZ has grown in direct proportion to its ability to puncture some of those media lies and spin. We could use a few more online and social media sites doing the same.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik