tech2 News StaffMay 28, 2016 14:54:31 IST
Gawker Media managed to get itself into a quite a pickle when it published a sex tape involving Terry Gene Bollea, better known as Hulk Hogan. You might remember him from his wrestling days. Bollea sued Gawker Media for invasion of privacy, among other things and won. Gawker was directed to pay out a grand total of $140 million as compensation, $60 million of which is for “emotional distress.”
The figure, says Gawker, will bankrupt them. They also added that at least three judges had ruled that their coverage of the “story” was “newsworthy” under the first amendment and that they will continue to fight the charges against them. To appeal the case however, Gawker must still place the entire amount in a bond (limited to $50 million).
On the surface, this looks like just another news story involving a celebrity and a media company that went that little bit too far. Look under the covers however, and you’ll find a whole new world involving a secret benefactor on a quest for revenge, for justice and the vindication of many ruined lives. But who’s really in the right here?
Bankrolled by a billionaire
Enter Peter Thiel. A billionaire and Silicon Valley entrepreneur of some note who’s made billions from investments in the like of Facebook, PayPal and other Silicon Valley greats.
In 2007, Gawker Media’s Valleywag blog published a piece outing Peter Thiel as gay. If you read the piece today, it doesn’t seem to be that harmful, in fact, some might even go so far as to call it praiseworthy. However, this is 2016, a time when the world is far more tolerant and accepting of other genders and races.
Gawker didn’t stop with Peter Thiel though and articles were also published targeting Thiel’s friends and acquaintances. Thiel took exception to this and started his own war against Gawker. Talking to The New York Times about his actions, which one can certainly interpret as a decade long quest for revenge, Thiel said, “I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”
Calling Gawker a “singularly terrible bully,” Peter Thiel says that he respects journalism, journalists and the right to freedom of speech, but refuses “to believe that journalism means mass privacy violations.”
He’s spent years cultivating a case against Gawker, looking into Gawker’s stories, finding people who were mistreated or “maligned” by Gawker’s stories and irresponsible reporting. He even set up a legal team to help financially support cases that were in dire need of that support. While he refuses to say if these cases specifically targeted Gawker, he did invest an estimated $10 million in assisting Bollea with his case against Gawker Media.
Peter Thiel genuinely believes that Gawker is “unique” in its handling of content and its approach to “journalism,” which is why he claims to have targeted them. “It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” he says.
What does Gawker have to say about this?
Gawker is in a very tight spot. Not only is their back up against the wall, but the weight of public opinion is largely against them and the verdict might utterly ruin the company. Peter Thiel’s involvement and his tale of revenge have done their part in shifting public opinion. Gawker certainly feel like they’ve done nothing wrong.
Following the verdict in Bollea’s case, Gawker published an open letter to Thiel in which they laid out their side of the story. They try to brush Thiel’s story under the carpet, saying that “there are gay people everywhere” and that 9 years on, they expected everyone to have moved on.
They also claim that Hulk Hogan’s (Bollea) case against themselves was in the interest of shutting down “reporting of a racist rant against a black man dating his daughter. They list out other examples of Thiel bankrolling other lawsuits against Gawker, dissing each and every one of them as either fraudulent or laced with ulterior motives.
Writing that the campaign was disproportional to the alleged damage done and pointing out that the journalists targeted are out of work, depressed or variously affected, Gawker calls Thiel’s campaign “twisted.” They ask him to think on what bankrupting Gawker would mean.
Switching tracks, Gawker goes on to indirectly claim that Theil’s case is, also, one involving more than just vindication for his mistreatment at the hands of Gawker. They point out that Facebook, where Thiel is a board member, is under investigation because of one of Gawker’s own pieces and try to paint him as a comic-book villain with a “diabolical, decade-long scheme for revenge.”
Calling for an open debate and decrying Thiel’s handling of the situation, they ask him to come out and fight in the open. All this in the interest of journalism, protecting the right to free speech and “improve public understanding between media and power.”
Whatever happens next, the Gawker vs Thiel story is far from over. Whether you want to just break out the popcorn and entertain yourself with the spectacle or have already picked a side, this fight is going to be one for the ages.
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