In what may prove a bad omen for US President Donald Trump, the boss of the world’s biggest gossip empire has finally cut him loose.
Over the weekend, Harvey Levin and his celebrity website TMZ blasted Mr Trump for criticising NBA star LeBron James.
“He’s got to go!!” the gossip boss wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
In case that wasn’t clear enough, Mr Levin included a link to a new TMZ article that excoriated Mr Trump as “the most vile President ever”.
And the insults kept coming.
Mr Trump is “the man who callously separated children from their parents and forever traumatised them”, TMZ opined. He “bumbles through speeches” and leads a “campaign of hatred and prejudice”. And he is “grossly insecure”.
Donald Trump Calls LeBron James, Don Lemon Dumb https://t.co/UWRUgrzE1T
— TMZ (@TMZ) August 4, 2018
But wait, there’s more.
Mr Trump is “manic over and obsessed with cable news”. He “simply cannot handle criticism and responds with wild and baseless personal attacks”.
To really rub it in, the anonymous author of the TMZ article (who may or may not have been Mr Levin) concluded by saying it was “an honor to be included” on Mr Trump’s “Enemies List”.
This was highly significant because both Mr Levin and TMZ had, until that moment, been unfailingly supportive of the US President.
The trigger for this caustic attack was, ostensibly, Mr Trump’s attack on LeBron James.
Over the weekend, the US President slammed the basketball star as dumb for appearing on CNN, his avowed nemesis.
“LeBron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made LeBron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!”
Don Lemon is a black CNN interviewer, while the reference to “Mike” is probably to NBA legend Michael Jordan.
Jordan rushed to LeBron’s defence after the Twitter post, issuing a statement praising James for “doing an amazing job for his community”.
Mr Trump was upset by the CNN interview after the legendary hoopster slammed the president as divisive.
“What I’ve noticed over the past few months, [Trump’s] kinda used sports to kinda divide us, and that’s something that I can’t relate to,” James said.
That comment was taken as a reference to White House denunciations of the recent campaign by American football teams to “take the knee” – the protest that saw entire teams kneel during the playing of the national anthem.
The president’s criticism appeared especially tone deaf because, as TMZ pointed out, LeBron James has recently opened an entire school for at-risk children in his hometown of Akron.
Even First Lady Melania Trump sensed it was a misjudged attack and quickly distanced herself.
James was “working to do good things on behalf of our next generation”, Mrs Trump’s spokesperson said.
This may also be why TMZ rushed to the basketballer’s defence.
But it was an unusual switch of allegiance for Levin.
The lawyer-turned-gossip merchant used his online tabloid site throughout the 2016 presidential election to staunchly defend Mr Trump.
Levin and Trump spoke “frequently” during the race, according to reports.
“There was a point Harvey would make jokes in the newsroom that he would be press secretary or in the Cabinet, but we got the impression he was only half joking,” a former TMZ staffer told The Daily Beast in June.
The Daily Beast reported that Levin even attempted to personally discredit sexual misconduct allegations against the president by calling airlines to ask how their armrests worked in the 1970s, after US woman Jessica Leeds accused Mr Trump of groping her during a flight.
“Harvey was convinced that, when this incident occurred, armrests didn’t lift up,” a TMZ source said. “He wanted to find a way to say she’s a liar.”
Mid-campaign, Levin even personally conducted a soft interview of the US President, full of anecdotes about his childhood, TV career and marriage, inside Mr Trump’s lavish apartment. It aired as an hour-long special on Fox News. At the time Levin said he “loved” the “super interesting” interview.
So why the sudden change? Some have speculated there was a personal falling out, others that Levin believes the president is doomed and wants to cut ties.
For whatever reason, Harvey Levin, once one of the president’s most powerful media backers, has had enough.