The culture of the internet is such that it seems like everyone who writes online gets paid per snark, and we can thank Gawker for much of that. Gawker essentially parked a 50-foot middle finger outside every house in America’s gated communities. Their take rich and powerful prisoners attitude produced journalism that both revolutionized and reviled the internet. Ultimately, Gawker’s brash ethos descended into hubris, and they pushed the envelope to the point where people who would normally be on their side began to abandon them.
Gawker removed a post for the first time after they outed Conde Nast's CFO as gay. He has never taken a public stance on homosexuality and is not a public figure in any sense of the journalistic term other than a last name that he shares with a former treasury secretary. He is married with three children and it would be bad enough if it stopped there, but they also aided the man blackmailing him by releasing the story. Conde Nast's CFO had his entire life turned upside down in an article that took one business day to vet. Not all executives are scumbags, but that seemed to be the presumption behind the logic of releasing this piece. Gawker contested that the sex of the escort doesn't matter, and they couldn't be more wrong. It certainly does since one is cheating on your spouse and the other is an identity crisis. This attitude that can only be classified as blind arrogance was embodied by a staffer who told Mother Jones:
“We have never, never shied away from outing people.”
In a now deleted tweet, the editor in chief of Gawker, Max Read wrote on July 17, 2015:
given the chance gawker will always report on married c-suite executives of major media companies fucking around on their wives
But what about the person they're fucking around with? If they're not a c-suite executive, you've burned their professional reputation, as a Portland woman alleges in a suit filed against Gawker over a 2007 post that claimed she was dating her boss at Yahoo. I'm all for exposing corrupt hypocrites, but collateral damage just can't be waved away as a mere footnote in a larger battle. This is how the United States always loses popular support in whatever Muslim country we're presently occupying. You can't run every operation with a bazooka, sometimes you need more precise weapons. Gawker mainly used their RPG, and it often left them out on a ledge. Take this excerpt from an anonymous male 25-year-old telling his side of an alleged sexual experience with former Tea Party candidate in Delaware, and definitely not a witch, Christine O'Donnell:
“You've got to be kidding,” I said. She didn't explain at the time that she was a “born-again virgin.” She made it seem like she'd never had sex in her life, which seemed pretty improbable for a woman her age. And she made it clear that she was planning on staying a virgin that night. But there were signs that she wasn't very experienced sexually. When her underwear came off, I immediately noticed that the waxing trend had completely passed her by. Obviously, that was a big turnoff, and I quickly lost interest.
To recap: an anonymous man wrote a story about a famous not-congresswoman who was a “born-again virgin” who wanted to lose her virginity to a guy she had passed by one time months ago. Got it. Gawker defended themselves by asserting that O'Donnell's public persona did not align with this story, and therefore was worth running. If it were 100% true, sure – but this post doesn't meet the standard Gawker is holding O'Donnell to. It's an anonymous article with zero corroborating sources. We have no idea whether it is factual, yet Gawker presents it as a matter of faith.
And let's not forget Gawker Stalker Maps, which was definitely going to get some poor celebrity killed if someone hadn't put the kibosh on this idea borne out of a truly creepy level of hatred towards the upper class. Gawker couldn't even come off as a sympathetic figure as they got railroaded by a petty billionaire, as editor A.J. Daulerio “flippantly” told Hulk Hogan's lawyer, Charles Harder, when he asked “Can you imagine a situation where a celebrity sex tape would not be newsworthy?”
Daulerio: “If they were a child.”Harder: “Under what age?”Daulerio: “Four”
A Gawker spokesman later insisted:
“He'd just said in the prior answer that that he wouldn't post a tape of a child and when the question was repeated he obviously made the point in a flip way because his answer was already clear.”
Regardless, cracking jokes about child sex tapes during a deposition isn't a good look, and it helps to reinforce an image of a newsroom bereft of any rules. They deserved to get sued…by Conde Nast's CFO, not Silicon Valley's resident vampire. Peter Theil's anger at Gawker is justified; no one should have to find out on the internet that everyone now knows that they are gay, but he does meet the standard of a “public figure.” Thiel had a wide range of appropriate responses to this offense, and he chose to be a sanctimonious jackass and sue Gawker into oblivion. Hundreds of people that had little to nothing to do with his story lost their jobs because Thiel felt the need to make a point.
Thiel is a billionaire capital L Libertarian who doubles as a Donald Trump delegate. In other words, he is well-versed in every brand of fart on the inside of his asshole. Hulk Hogan's lawyer (paid for by Thiel®) even threatened to sue Gawker for investigating the origin of what exactly the hell is sitting on top of Trump's head. Peter Thiel waged a shadow war against a media company, and once he was caught, tried to sell himself as an alleged free speech advocate, all while sitting on the board of a social network that is every bit as bad as he says Gawker is. Frankly, screw you Peter Thiel (please don't send an army of lawyers to my doorstep, I don't have anywhere near the scratch that A.J. Daulerio does).
The worst part of all this is that much of Silicon Valley is cheering Thiel on.
Not everyone, thankfully, as Jeff Bezos slammed Thiel. But where is the rest of the Valley’s indignation at Twitter for refusing to deal with its “inability” to kick persistently hateful and threatening users, yet can remove every single Olympic image available in an instant while banning accounts who tweeted them? Or at Reddit where someone could learn of an acquaintance’s death under r/sexydeadgirls? Gawker embodied the rawness of the internet and tried to mold its news in that form. Ultimately they got too high on their own supply and spun out of control, but everyone shouldn’t have to lose their jobs because of it. If that were the case, why the hell is the New York Times still open after everything they did to drive us into Iraq?
There really is a stark difference between some of America’s elite and the rest of society, as Thiel painfully demonstrates in his New York Times op-ed that was so chronically unaware you would have thought Jill Stein wrote it:
A free press is vital for public debate. Since sensitive information can sometimes be publicly relevant, exercising judgment is always part of the journalist’s profession. It’s not for me to draw the line, but journalists should condemn those who willfully cross it.”
“It’s not for me to draw the line.” …wut…you sued them into bankruptcy…how is that not you drawing the line?
Let’s be clear, had Hulk Hogan financed this lawsuit by himself, he likely would have settled. Lawsuits in America are absurdly expensive, and Thiel just demonstrated how our two-tiered justice system really works. Law is law, but cash is King, and Kings can change laws. Peter Thiel, yet another white Silicon Valley man in a blue blazer (but no tie because he’s cool and laid back!) just provided the model for the Donald Trump’s of the world to dissolve an entire business because they said something mean.
The American justice system is very different depending on your assets. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you’re fucked, as John Oliver brilliantly detailed in his heartbreaking piece on municipal violations (#shutdownthefuckbarrel). America essentially brought back debtors prisons, and contains the largest prison population in the history of mankind. Meanwhile, Bank of America forecloses on countless homes they don’t own, AIG gets charged by the SEC for fraud in 2003 then is bailed out with taxpayer money in 2008 while the rest of Wall Street looted what they could as Rome burned, yet no executive has even stood trial, let alone went to jail. It’s difficult to look at our justice system and not think there may be some truth to Alex Jones’ loonytunes New World Order rants.
Billionaires can buy whatever they want in this world, and Thiel isn’t the only one using his super power against the press. Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson sued John L. Smith into bankruptcy over a passage in his 2005 book, Sharks in the Desert: The Founding Fathers and Current Kings of Las Vegas. Adelson recently bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and scuttled any articles criticizing him or his endeavors (like trying to bring the Raiders to the city in yet another publicly financed boondoggle). Another Republican megadonor Frank VanderSloot said he was creating a $1 million fund to pay the legal expenses of people suing the “liberal press.” A frontline documentary about the Macau gambling industry was scuttled by PBS, and the lead of the documentary, Lowell Bergman told the Daily Beast that he believed it was shelved out of fear that Adelson and Steve Wynn would sue them, since Wynn sued hedge fund manager James Chanos, who was interviewed about their dealings in the film.
This practice of financing another person’s lawsuit is illegal in some parts of the world and was not utilized very much in America until the 1960’s, when donation based funds were created to help poor African American women battle the southern courts. The ACLU is a prominent example of an organization that exists to do this, except when they fund a case, they have to make it known. But when you’re an individual and your bank account begins with a B, that buys you complete secrecy. This tactic last made useful to help the poor and downtrodden has been weaponized by billionaires, adding to their growing arsenal. The market for these lawsuits is expanding too, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
In 2013, Gerchen Keller, a Chicago-based investment firm that deals exclusively with litigation finance, pegged the size of the US litigation market at more than $200 billion—and it’s growing exponentially each year. Gerchen Keller itself has grown from $100 million in capital commitments to more than $1.4 billion in assets under management since 2013.
This is a harrowing time for journalism, and that’s before you get to the fact that a bunch of billionaires declared open season on those who seek to shine a light in places they’d rather stay hidden. Look across the nation and all you see are outlets struggling to cope with the fact that their consumers expect to consume their work for free. The only sustainable business model on the internet seems to be repurposing the internet – as truly original content is expensive to create. Even though it is easier than ever to find and practice great journalism, these are dark days for one of mankind’s most vital institutions.
Gawker is out of business because they outed Peter Thiel, but the Daily Beast will still operate despite outing a multitude of gay athletes down in Rio. The New York Post put two kids on their front page alleging they were the Boston Bombers and got hit with a defamation lawsuit, lost, and they’re still in business. Had Peter Thiel been on the cover of the New York Post as an alleged terrorist, they’d be kept in production solely to keep Thiel’s toilet paper fully stocked. Enter America’s courts hooked up to a fire hydrant made of money and a high profile client? Leave with a briefcase full of cash. Enter America’s legal system with nothing? You don’t leave, you stay in this cage until you pay what you owe.
Hulk Hogan was issued $141 million because a dark, blurry video of him banging his friend’s wife leaked. In 2010, between $3 million and $9 million were paid out for a series of wrongful death lawsuits won against the state of New York and its police. One of the victim’s fiancée’s will receive nothing, because as the New York Times wrote: “New York law does not permit such payouts to unwed partners. Mr. Bell was killed the day he was to be married.”
The Beasley Firm – of the famous Philadelphia trial lawyer James Beasley., claims on their website that since 1958, they have “obtained over $2 billion in jury awards and settlements in wrongful death cases.” $2 billion in awards for wrongful deaths amounts to a little more than 14 Hulk Hogan sex tape cases, and that’s before you adjust for the time it took to allocate the money. Peter Theil forcing Gawker into bankruptcy feels like a big thing, but it’s yet another small thing within this larger battle being waged across the arc of mankind.