If Justin Bieber and his team don't know it yet, TMZ never put their gloves on in the first place.
Last week the gossip site posted high resolution pictures of the singer spitting from a hotel balcony in Toronto where he was performing, while a group of his friends laughed.
TMZ also claimed, while throwing in disclaimers, that Bieber had been spitting at a crowd of fans who had gathered on the sidewalk outside the Hazelton hotel.
That impression became established after TMZ, then multiple media outlets, published exactly the same picture of mostly female fans apparently gazing adoringly up at the heartthrob who in turn gave them --- saliva.
However, it now appears it didn't quite happen like that.
Bieber's rep, speaking exclusively to Us magazine, was very clear about four things.
"Justin didn't spit on anyone," the spokesperson explained. "No fans were below the balcony. TMZ superimposed photos of the fans next to Justin on a completely different balcony to make it appear like he was spitting on fans when he wasn't."
"In fact," added the possibly irate rep,"earlier in the day, Justin bought his fans hot chocolate and played them some of his new music. Justin loves his fans."
[Note: The music listening session has been corroborated here and here.]
So, since everyone has an opinion on this hot topic and logic work is good for the brain, lets look at the facts.
The original pictures of Bieber spitting were captured by a freelance photographer, Sean O'Neill, at around 4 pm on Thursday, July 25 according to local reports.
Earlier that same day, the singer posted an Instagram video of the fans crowding outside his hotel, captioned: "I wake up this morning to this …best fans in the world. #beliebers #sexyfans.")
In just about every media report since, that same image of fans taken from Bieber's own Instagram video was positioned alongside O'Neill's original spitting images, yet the Canadian posted his video hours before in the morning.
Bieber also uploaded snaps of himself on a balcony with a wide, secondary ledge beneath it, that appears to be in a separate location to a balcony in other pictures he posted.
This suggests the pop star's hotel suite had numerous balconies.
TMZ has hit back at the rep's claims in a series of not entirely compelling posts that attack Bieber personally. In one, reference is made to the (possible) lack of follicular density on the 19-year-old's posterior.
The website then writes:
"First, Justin... there WERE fans below the balcony. In fact, Justin had posted a video of the crowds below his hotel room on his own Instagram page... showing him on the same balcony depicted in the photos."
"Second, the photos were shot by a reputable photo agency and posted on our site per usual. Also, we're not that good at photoshop...[sic]. "
It appears the gossip site, who were not eye-witnesses, hasn't quite grasped the idea that Bieber's Instagram video was almost certainly filmed before O'Neill took his spitting shots.
Or that a photo agency, whether reputable or not, still cannot change realities such as time.
The exception to that is Bieber's "morning's" may begin in the afternoon. While that's a speculation, it's stated here to be fair to TMZ and to whatever the truth is.
Like most outlets, IQ also reported the other spitting accusations made against Bieber. Namely, a Calabasas, CA neighbor and Columbus, Ohio deejay, who both claim the pop star spat at them in separate instances.
However, the third accusation was largely misreported and omitted the accuser's clarification.
On January 22, 2013, Sweet Carolina Radio host Colette Harrington Schwoeri took to Facebook to describe her allegedly unpleasant encounter with Bieber and his friends at North Carolina's Ritz Carlton Hotel gym. She then said she drank the singer's drink by mistake and seemed to imply he spat in it.
Schwoeri subsequently backtracked the "spit" part of her claim insisting she "never said" Bieber spat in her drink.
"I never said Justin or his posse spit in my drink, in fact, anyone can read the post on my wall about the incident (hours after it happened)," the host wrote. "I drank JB's Gatorade thinking it was mine." [Note: Caps removed from Schwoeri's post.]
Tellingly, she adds: "The only thing TMZ asked me is, 'did I think he left it on purpose.' And I said, 'I don't know, I hope not.'"
Bieber's camp deny any spitting by the singer took place in all three claims.
Clearly, public spitting by anyone who hasn't just hyperventilated through a 10,000 km marathon is pretty repellent.
But, there is a difference between a teen doing what many teens have done before --- pointlessly spitting off a high thing --- and aiming saliva at others. Whatever opinions people may have of Bieber, incorrectly blaming someone for something is poor form.
Assumptions that Bieber actually spat on his fans are at the very least undermined by close-ups of the hotel balconies, contradicted by his constantly affirmed relationship with his fans, and according to his rep, based on superimposed images.
The present war of words between Bieber and TMZ --- who also know Schwoeri clarified her claim but still include it in their "spithead reports" and have been gunning for the singer for some time --- won't be resolved by weighing up each side's credibility, which is probably just as well for both.
It's just about time. Clock time.
"At what point are we going to start demanding that journalists actually fact check?" the rep asked. "And at what point does the media have to have some kind of standard or some kind of integrity?"
[Image via Toronto Star]