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Sunday, June 20, 2021

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News + PoliticsGawker is dead. Who's next?

Gawker is dead. Who’s next?

A billionaire set out to kill a news outlet -- and did it. This is really, really scary

Gawker.com, which helped redefine journalism in the era of the blogger, shut down Monday, and while much of the discussion has been around the site’s gossip, sometimes irresponsible postings, and a Hulk Hogan sex tape, I have a different take:

This is scary as shit.

This looked like a crazy conspiracy theory -- but it wasn't
This looked like a crazy conspiracy theory — but it wasn’t

By all accounts, Gawker is dead not because of a failed business model or because advertisers abandoned it or readers got tired of the content and went elsewhere. It’s out of business because one billionaire who had a vendetta against the site financed legal action that ran up legal costs to the point where it couldn’t possibly continue. Peter Thiel, according to the New York Times, had a secret plan to find people who wanted to sue Gawker and hired lawyers to fund their cases.

I was never a huge Gawker fan; not my style. I have always looked for journalism that is more thoughtful and less snarky; I am not into celebrity gossip in the first place. But Gawker was a news outlet that did real reporting (even if it was about the mayor of Toronto’s alleged crack habit) and made appropriate mockery of the Silicon Valley royalty. It was journalism, independent journalism.

I, personally, would never have run a post saying that Peter Theil was gay; I’ve always been a bit troubled by the idea of outing someone, since really it’s nobody’s business. And Gawker has done that sort of thing more than once.

I would never have posted a sex tape of Hulk Hogan, either; that’s really not part of our beat here at 48hills, and I could argue that it’s nobody’s business who a retired pro wrestler is fucking anyway.

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But those are the kinds of decisions that news outlets make all the time, and there’s good and bad judgement about what the public ought to know – and all of us, all of us, get it wrong sometimes. That’s not the point.

It was probably 25 years ago that we started hearing about the “chilling effect” of libel suits. Some powerful individuals and interest groups had figured out that they could stop some types of news coverage – especially coverage by smaller outlets – by threatening to sue and marshaling the kinds of legal resources that small publishers could never fight.

Even if you’re completely in the legal right, a libel suit is way expensive. Even if you have insurance, there are deductibles and limits. If you’re a small operator, the time involved in defending yourself is massive.

The threats worked; some stories never got reported. Some outlets, even bigger ones, backed away from hard-hitting investigative reporting – which is expensive enough as it is, without the added costs of defending lawsuits.

Some states have passed anti-SLAPP statutes; a SLAPP suit is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, aimed at chilling an activist group or a news outlet. Those laws make it easier to dismiss what is clearly a frivolous case – and force the folks filing the suit to pay the defendant’s legal fees.

But the threat is still there. Every investigative reporter knows about it. Every editor loses sleep over it.

And now we have the chilling effect, on steroids. One guy, Thiel, a libertarian-leaning supporter of Donald Trump, decided he hated Gawker and wanted to shut them down. He set in motion a plan to file legal actions, and  wound up secretly funding Hogan’s lawsuit, which led to a $140 million verdict and the end of Gawker.

The idea that there are rich people out there who decide that they are going to destroy a news outlet – and then use libel suits to get away with it – is terrifying to all of us who have had occasion to piss off the very rich.

It should be terrifying to anyone who worries about a free press in this country.

I’m not defending Gawker’s decision to publish the Hulk Hogan sex tape (although I think the size of the verdict was far more punitive that it should have been). Gawker, of all outlets, needed to understand better how in the Internet era, when news and gossip (even if it’s untrue) whips around the world a light speed and can quickly damage people’s lives, it’s important for reporters and editors to have some sense of human decency. If Hogan had gone on his own and looked for a lawyer and sued, that would be one thing. (And the case would more likely have settled; without deep-pockets funding, most lawyers would have taken a nice payday that Gawker could have afforded and gone home).

But to have a billionaire who had nothing to do with Hogan, the tape, Bubba the Love Sponge, his wife, or any of this taking aim at a news site and killing it … we should all be afraid.

Who’s next?

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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43 COMMENTS

  1. Yea… Ai bots wont save the day, AI bots are there to automatize the bias. Look at what google is doing to free speech. Youtube algorithms will now make voices that are deemed "controversial" un-monetized, un-discoverable, un-likeable. Google parent company, alphabet, dropped the don't be evil slogan in 2015 and replaced it with "Do the right thing." and so they seem to do the REICH thing as much as they can.

    They are enemies of free speech and net neutrality. censorship is no different to physically blocking access to a site or setting up a pay wall.

  2. Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family! !iw670t:
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  3. Gawker’s editors were monsters.

    I read the site frequently and wondered how they got away with skirting the liability they had. Well they finally crossed the wrong person , invaded his privacy and he in turn used what he had. But he didn’t invent the Hulk Hogan story, and while that was an iffy choice, he could have picked dozens if not hundred of Gawker victims.

    They were relentlessly vicious in their desire to invent content. Why would you equate that to an attack on freedom of the press?

  4. Gawker was taken out by Denton’s arrogance and their total stupidity in nuking people’s private lives to drive traffic to their site. Now they are dead, Denton is being liquidated, and all of the Gawker alum at other media sites are weeping and gnashing their teeth bemoaning the evil billionaire that funded Hogan. Somehow these type of apologetic articles seem to miss out the fact that a jury of Denton’s peers threw the book at him and Gawker for stepping over the line with Hogan. Thiel has done the public a service for helping the current generation of media types understand that they do not have carte blanche to steamroll anyone in their path.

    By the way, Facebook just canned their media posters for trending news and replaced them with algorithms to remove idealogical bias from what is posted. Get ready for an even bigger purge by A.I. bots of the media.

  5. Gawker was a shithole that did not do any valuable journalism, it was a clickbait driven website of zero standards, hypocritical, lying and spinning stories to promote a certain political goal. This is not reporting, this is called propagandising. And if you dont get that – and you dont because you write about htem as “journalists” – then i know more than enough about your understanding of what a journalist does, people like you conflate journalists and propagandist spinsters as one and thesame. You dont even understand the job. You are not there to change the world you are there to report dry facts and keep them as unbiased and uncolored by your personal goals and aims as possible. You are not there to be activists for a cause you shits… That would be fundamentaly contrary to what journalism is there to do.

    Gawker buisness model was about shitting on good people and labeling them with the worst they could try and make an uninformed idiot reader swallow. They also cried about scummy paparazzi and hackers publicising intimate pictures of celebrity women with one hand and then publicizing intimate sex videos of a celebrity man with the other. The truth is they eventually did that shit to someone who had the money, standing, and time to counterattack and they lost. The scary thing is it took so long.

    So i say GOOD RIDDANCE, hopefully half of you “journalists” are next. Because atleast half of you are dumb, corrupt little malicious shits who think themselves worldly and enlightened, hovering above your readers like some sort of mystical higher beings. Meanwhile all you are are uneducated failures with a blog trying to live out a fantasy you will never become because ye shit m8.

    “and all of us, all of us, get it wrong sometimes. That’s not the point.”
    No, that is exactly the point. And speak for yourself, I hope they sue cunts like that to the ground, every time. You dont get to atack people and when they knock your dick in the dirt go arround saying ” its just a mistake bro” “its just a prank bro”. Yea.. and this is just the end of your excuse for a job bro. FUCK YOU.

    Additionally they didnt apoligise, they didnt retract they did not seek forgiveness. No. They doubled down. So fuck them and fuck you for trying to make them into some poor lost souls who just made a mistake. You pay for your mistakes. No Journalist worty or the job makes such a mistake. No chief edditor worthy of a name lets it get publicised. But if you are not a journalist and your edditor isnt a journalist you are just a clickbaiting leach that feeds from the misery he creates then you should get what gawker got and plenty sooner.

    Increase your journalistic standards, obey them, avoid corruption, propagandising and buddy buddy narrative based broadcasting. And if you cant then journalism isnt for you. go sell vegetables or wash dishes. Bad journalism needs to die. We deserve proper journalism, not gawker clickbait.

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