Billionaire Who Helped Bankrupt Gawker Says He Would Do It Again


By Mathew Ingram
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FortuneSilicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel said he had to do it to protect the press from itself.

As Gawker Media prepares for a court-ordered bankruptcy auction to sell off its assets to the highest bidder, the billionaire venture capitalist who helped drive the company under wrote in a New York Times opinion piece saying he is happy to have played a role in its failure—and he would happily do so again, if necessary.

Peter Thiel at the Republican Convention

Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who helped create the online payment company PayPal PYPL -0.09% and was also one of the earliest investors in Facebook FB -0.34% , was revealed as the financial backer of former wrestler Hulk Hogan after Hogan won an unprecedented $140-million Florida court judgement against Gawker in March.

Unable to pay such a massive penalty—which amounts to almost three times its annual revenues—Gawker was forced to seek bankruptcy protection. The company is now engaged in an auction to sell the company’s assets, a process that began today with bids from multiple companies. (Here is a list of the most likely bidders).

In his New York Times essay, Thiel said that he was “proud to have contributed financial support” to Hogan’s case, which involved a video clip that Gawker published from a sex tape the wrestler made with a friend’s wife. Thiel went on to say that he will continue supporting Hogan, since Gawker has said it intends to appeal, and that he would “gladly support someone else in the same position.”

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In fact, while the billionaire doesn’t mention it in his op-ed piece, he has also reportedly been involved in financing several other lawsuits against Gawker that haven’t gone to trial, some of which have even less legal merit than the Gawker case.

Although Thiel implies in his essay that the Gawker story about Hogan’s sex tape would not have been published by any right-thinking journalistic outlet, and that the First Amendment doesn’t and shouldn’t protect such behavior, two higher-court judges ruled before the Hogan decision that the Gawker piece was clearly covered by the Constitution’s free-speech protections.

In an interview with the Times in May, Thiel said that he funded Hogan’s lawsuit and others as part of a multi-year campaign to try and bankrupt the company. “It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” he wrote. “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.”

Since his identity as Hogan’s backer was revealed, Thiel’s crusade against Gawker has been decried by a number of prominent journalists and defenders of a free press, who note that a billionaire bankrupting a media outlet as part of a personal vendetta raises serious questions about free speech.

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In his New York Times essay, however, Thiel argues that there is a line that media should not cross that involves publishing images or other information that could destroy someone’s privacy, when that information is not in the broader public interest. Thiel says he himself was a victim of the blurring of that line when Gawker outed him as a homosexual in 2007 without his permission.

The billionaire investor says a free press is “vital for public debate,” but that journalists must “exercise judgment” when it comes to invading a person’s privacy, and should condemn those who willfully cross it. “The press is too important to let its role be undermined by those who would search for clicks at the cost of the profession’s reputation,” Thiel writes.

Thiel, who also supports the idea of creating autonomous islands on which people could live and create their own laws, said he is in favor of a bi-partisan bill called the “Intimate Privacy Protection Act,” which would make it illegal to distribute explicit private images without a person’s consent, and would involve criminal penalties for those who profit from doing so.

Hulk Hogan vs Gawker by Syndicated News SNN.BZ on Scribd


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Nick Denton and Derrence Washington on their wedding day

Peter Thiel takes one last swing Nick Denton on day of Gawker auction

SALONThe Pay Pal founder explained why he funded Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the former media mogul in The NY Times

By SCOTT ERIC KAUFMAN

Peter Thiel, last seen at the Republican National Convention singing the praises of Donald Trump, penned an op-ed in The New York Times Monday explaining why he provided financial backing for another Trump supporter, Hulk Hogan, in his case against Gawker.

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Nick Denton

Thiel admitted that as one of the founders of Pay Pal, he feels “partly responsible for a world in which private information can be instantly broadcast to the whole planet.”

After recounting his outing by Gawker in 2007, and explaining why most of those who had their privacy violated by Gawker were incapable of fighting Nick Denton’s online media empire, he discussed the circumstances that led Hogan to successfully sue the company for what would, in the end, be $140 million — the unauthorized publication of a sex tape.

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As for Denton’s claim that Gawker was simply exercising its First Amendment rights, Thiel argued that “[i]t is ridiculous to claim that journalism requires indiscriminate access to private people’s sex lives.”

He noted that there would be times when “sensitive information can sometimes be publicly relevant, exercising judgment is always part of the journalist’s profession,” and that while he doesn’t believe it’s his responsibility to “draw the line…journalists should condemn those who willfully cross it.”

Gawker filed for bankruptcy in June and is slated to be auctioned off later today, with Ziff Davis considered the favorite to acquire what remains of Denton’s media empire. As for the man himself, Denton filed for bankruptcy earlier this month, and considers Thiel’s funding of Hogan’s lawsuit just more evidence that the tech investor harbors a hatred against him that is, in his words, sadistic.”

Hulk Hogan vs Gawker JURY INSTRUCTIONS by Syndicated News SNN.BZ on Scribd


scott_kaufman_squareScott Eric Kaufman is an assistant editor at Salon. He taught at a university, but then thought better of it. Follow him at @scottekaufman or email him at [email protected].

 

 

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