Online Media

Univision Bites Head Off Gawker but Keeps Its Appendages

Principal site to be shuttered. Ancillary pages to continue.

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Nick Denton
Eve Edelheit/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Gawker.com is dead! Long live … everything else at Gawker?

Univision has announced—after purchasing the Gawker media empire in an auction for $135 million—it will be shutting down the site for which the outlet got its name. However, according to reports, its other sites, like Jezebel and Deadspin, will remain in operation.

This is all the consequence of the successful lawsuit by Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea against the site for publishing a private sex tape. It turned out that the lawsuit was bankrolled by billionaire Peter Thiel, who was furious at Gawker for outing him as gay and other behavior he thought was "bullying."

The fight brought to the forefront the tension between the free press and the right to privacy. This conflict is most certainly not a new fight and it's not the first time a media outlet has been determined (by a jury in Florida in this case) to have gone too far. But the top concern that has come out of this case is a fear that the wealthiest among us can seek revenge against media outlets that say things they don't like by bankrolling others in an effort to destroy them that is very difficult to fight against.

Note that Gawker isn't accused here of printing factually inaccurate information about Thiel. It's information that Thiel didn't want Gawker to publish about him and that he didn't believe was in the "public interest." As Jacob Sullum noted on Tuesday, that's not a calculation upon which we're all in agreement:

Giving juries the power to determine what counts as a "public interest" or a "good reason," not to mention whether a story advances it, poses a threat even to journalism that Peter Thiel would recognize as legitimate, because people commonly disagree about such matters. Even when a news outlet crosses the line of decency by publishing true but sensitive information that causes an innocent person anguish without any benefit aside from entertainment or titillation (as Gawker arguably did in Thiel's case), it does not follow that anyone's rights were violated, which should be a prerequisite for legal action.

While the media is focused on the impact on the media and about rich elites attacking the media, Ken White, over at Popehat, wants to remind us all that this also happened because we have a court system that is very receptive to this kind of behavior:

[F]or most of us the scary part of the story is that our legal system is generally receptive to people abusing it to suppress speech. Money helps do that, but it's not necessary to do it. A hand-to-mouth lunatic with a dishonest contingency lawyer can ruin you and suppress your speech nearly as easily as a billionaire. Will you prevail against a malicious and frivolous defamation suit? Perhaps sooner if you're lucky enough to be in a state with a good anti-SLAPP statute. Or perhaps years later. Will you be one of the lucky handful who get pro bono help? Or will you be like almost everyone else, who has to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect your right to speak, or else abandon your right to speak because you can't afford to defend it?

The system isn't just broken for affluent publications targeted by billionaires. It's broken for everyone, and almost everyone else's speech is at much greater risk. Don't point to Peter Thiel as an exception. He's just a vivid and outlying expression of the rule.

Indeed, attacks like this on media outlets actually happen all the time but are much lower profile. It's very easy to harass a newspaper or television station and force them to spend money over the dumbest of things. When I was the editor of a small community newspaper (daily circulation: 5,000), we spent more than a year defending ourselves against a baseless, silly lawsuit for publishing the contents of a publicly released police report. In another case we were threatened with a lawsuit from a guy who was literally on death row for murder. I had to deal with frequent angry calls from citizens who were upset when their arrests showed up in our police reports (and as it was, we only reported names for those arrested for felonies).

We had insurance to cover the costs of these lawsuits, but we had to pay and then get reimbursed. I had to alter our budget to account for the fight. The bigger fear is not people who think they're Peter Thiel, but rather the people who think they're Hulk Hogan and decide that the things that they've done are not in the "public interest," even when they clearly are.

NEXT: Thiel vs. Gawker, Silver Linings for President Clintrump, BLM Loses the Plot, and Did the L.P. Sell Out? The Fifth Column Returns

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  1. Gawker didn’t get sued due to what they did to Thiel. They got sued because of what they did to Hogan, so if they violated Thiel’s rights is irrelevant.

    1. That’s what I was thinking. All this talk about Thiel is just hand-waving. He got pissed because of what they did then found a way to go after them unrelated to the original slight.

  2. They’re angry that a wrong-thinker bankrupted a goodthinkful media outlet.

    1. I’m not sure about that, but I do read a lot of “less accountability for my fellow guildsmen.”

  3. Thiel is the White Night here, not the boogieman. Gawker willfully and maliciously violated Hogan’s privacy. The fact that Hogan needed 3rd party funding to fight back doesn’t change the “rightness” of Hogan fighting back.

    1. As RC Dean and maybe others have pointed out, lawyers fund other people’s lawsuits all the time. Its called contingency. As long as the lawyers were acting in the interest of their named client and not the guy signing the checks, this is neither illegal nor unethical.

  4. Either Bollea had a case agaisnt Gawker or he didn’t. A jury determined he did, and to the tune of over a hundred million dollars, which was AFAIK upheld on appeal.

    What does Peter Thiel’s funding of Bollea’s lawyers have to do with anything? How is this argument all that different from the common refrain against Citizen’s United?

    1. Yeah pretty much this.

      If you got a beef with the fact that the courts took the Bollea/Gawker case or the way it was decided that is one thing but Thiel is utterly irrelivant here because the fact remains that had Gawker been a bit more circumspect with what they published there never would have been a case for Thiel to fund.

      What is more I don’t know that I agree that this case was wrongly decided, you might be able to make an argument that writing an article about the Hulk Hogan Sex tape was legitimate news but actually publishing the sex tape itself, sorry there is no legitimate public interest in that.

    2. An interesting article on barratry, champerty and maintenance that appeared in a law journal after the Mass Supreme Court declared those common-law doctrines to no longer be operative in the commonwealth.

      The ancient prohibition against champerty arose in feudal England. More recently the doctrine has been viewed as a check on frivolous or unnecessary litigation, or a mechanism to encourage the settlement of disputes without recourse to litigation. ? The extent to which courts, here, accepted the doctrine has varied. In some States, champerty was never adopted, or has been abandoned. In others, the doctrine was given narrow application. (doctrine should apply only when “contracts are made for the purpose of stirring up strife and litigation, harassing others, inducing suits to be begun which otherwise would not be commenced, or for speculation”). ? …

      We have long abandoned the view that litigation is suspect, and have recognized that agreements to purchase an interest in an action may actually foster resolution of a dispute. …? “[The] decline of champerty, maintenance, and barratry as offences is symptomatic of a fundamental change in society’s view of litigation-from ‘a social ill, which, like other disputes and quarrels, should be minimized’ to ‘a socially useful way to resolve disputes.’?”

      1. Of course, there is an element of bullshit here:

        [The] decline of champerty, maintenance, and barratry as offences is symptomatic of a fundamental change in society’s view of litigation-from ‘a social ill, which, like other disputes and quarrels, should be minimized’ to ‘a socially useful way to resolve disputes.’

        Only lawyers would see the current model of litigation in the U.S. as a socially useful way to resolve disputes. Anyone who has been sued frivolously or sued someone with very deep pockets will recognize that lawsuits are awful and nasty and a social benefit in that they do away with some of the more brutish aspects of trial by combat.

        1. Yeah, I noticed that. It bothers me a bit that they lump champerty, barratry, and maintenance together even though they are each pretty different in character.

    3. What does Peter Thiel’s funding of Bollea’s lawyers have to do with anything?

      Reason needs to shit on a notable libertarian because he upset the wrong people in the media. And Reason writers care more about peer-approval than the merits of any given legal issue.

      1. I should point out that Reason has been the subject of barratry.

        There was an instance where a lawyer sued Reason for reporting on his vexatious lawsuits naming a bunch of commenters as defendants.

        That shit gets expensive, fast.

        And we all remember the woodchipper incident.

        I can understand their fear at what happened. Gawker’s editor and writers are despicable little shits, and it’s easy to lose sight of how awful our legal system is in our joy at seeing them ground into the dust. But, “me today, you tomorrow” is quite the possibility.

        Imagine, if you will, Reason publishing an expose that showed a hypothetical government official, lets say named Harriet Clandon having sex with her aide Honey Amedin, wherein they discuss a favor Harriet is going to do for Honey’s relatives back in Egypt. Their disquiet at the prospect of being sued for breaking such vital news is pretty understandable.

        1. However, unless they act immorally, ignore court orders, and treat depositions with flippancy they are no more in danger than anyone who isn’t Nick Denton and the Gawker editorial staff.

          1. Personally, I think Reason is more afraid of a civil suit of this nature than they are of the threat of federal “pound me in the ass” jail time.

        2. If we had a “loser pays” system, it would not be nearly as much of a concern.

        3. I guess we have to decide if the publishing of Hogan sex tape was just a point on the line of providing information to the public, or whether it stands as a particularly unique act which merited a lawsuit.

          I haven’t commented much on The Gawker case because I don’t know. It seems to be a hazy edge issue where the dissemination of information may have violated somebody’s privacy that never should have been made public.

          It’s not a new thing for someone to sue a media outlet and grind them into dust. Carol Burnett did it back in the seventies to the National Enquirer. However the court reduced the penalty because the court recognized that the settlement would have been 35% of the National Enquirer value. That to me suggests that the court recognized the Merit of the lawsuit but seem to want to preserve The National Enquirer as a media Institution.

        4. Their disquiet at the prospect of being sued for breaking such vital news

          ….Sorry, i just got distracted thinking of Hulk Hogans oily body slithering up against some late-middle-aged woman, and hearing the phrase, “BREAKING NEWS” being recited

          I’m pretty sure if/when Reason ever decides to cover an actual story which they ‘break’ themselves, it will be something that clearly falls under the below-mentioned definition of “Public Interest”

    4. Wow. I agree with you. At least, I don’t disagree. What is going on here? Someone please explain:

      1. I probably agree with you a lot, too. The problem is most of what you write reads like it’s 10% of a thought coupled with a mentally insane rambling. Maybe if you filled in most of the remaining 90% and kept the delusions to a minimum, useful discussion could be had.

    5. I see no difference.

      If Hogan’s lawsuit was funded by a go fund me drive, whats the concern then? “Oh no crowdfunding is a threat to free press, it’s time to regulate it”?

      Libertarians might have some legitimate concerns, but the left is being entirely disingenuous. What REALLY bothers them is that a “right wing” billionaire funded a lawsuit against a hack gossip site that leans left. That’s ALL. If Hogan was a cherished civil rights figure and George Soros funded his lawsuit, Gawker would have committed honorable seppuku as a gesture of accountability.

      There are literally millions of progs who are having affairs or making sex tapes. They certainly pay lip service to privacy and really detest revenge porn sites and Ashley Madison. But they strangely seem undisturbed by a gossip site posting unauthorized footage of sex acts.

      GJ gets 13%, but Jill Stein gets 3-5% at most. That tells you everything about the left.

      1. If Hogan’s lawsuit was funded by a go fund me drive, whats the concern then?

        Good point. It shows that the source of the funding is irrelevant unless Hogan had a case with merit to begin with.

        I think as a contrast, maybe you could point to Wikileaks and their dump of DNC/Clinton emails… where many in the media seem more concerned that the source was a “Hack”, and seem fit to shoot-the-messenger rather than defend the ‘public interest’ angle of what they’re disclosing.

    6. Sorry but you’re incorrect. The case never made it to a proper appeal.

      What happened was that Gawker asked the judge (the same judge who presided over the case and screwed them on every other turn) to hold off on making them pay the verdict until they could go through the appeal process. He said no. That left Gawker bankrupt and forced its sale.

  5. But the top concern that has come out of this case is a fear that the wealthiest among us can seek revenge against media outlets that say things they don’t like by bankrolling others in an effort to destroy them that is very difficult to fight against.

    Bullshit. This is saying that publisher’s should be able to fuck over anyone they want so long as they don’t have the resources to fight back. Because getting outside funding is wrong somehow.

    1. Pretty much, this shows an upside not a downside. Big media companies now need to respect the rights of those who don’t have the money to sue too, because if they don’t their enemies will fund the lawsuit.

      1. I realized this might have given the wrong impression. The good thing is the equality in treatment, not necessarily what can and can’t get you sued.

  6. Univision’s got some good business sense.

    1. Jezebel seems like a media company’s wet dream. Pay pittances for articles and get a huge self-captivating audience.

      1. Why anyone pays anything to produce these Sites still Amazes me. They all seem to be the kind of thing someone with a Tumblr account and a couple of friends could produce.

    2. Doesn’t Univision do Spanish language media? Are they going to convert the gawker sites into spanish language sites?

      1. They’ve apparently been moving into more mainstream publications. They acquired the Onion a while back.

        1. They acquired the Onion a while back.

          … and it hasn’t been funny or clever since. Gawker sites will fit right in there.

        2. That must explain The Onion piece sponsored by Perdue Chicken that was on my FB feed.

      2. Hopefully they’ll convert it into a site with pictures of men in brown suits surrounded by impossibly beautiful women. I mean that’s basically univision’s business model. Make no mistake, I approve.

  7. The bigger fear is ….people who think they’re Hulk Hogan and decide that the things that they’ve done are not in the “public interest,” even when they clearly are.

    Looks up definition of “public interest


    The fact that the public may be interested in something has nothing to do with whether investigating and covering that issue is in the public interest.

    The public interest is in having a safe, healthy and fully-functioning society. In a democracy, journalism plays a central role in that…. If journalists are good at their job, they hold governments and other institutions to account.

    Public interest justifications

    If the decision is taken to publish, it’s likely to be because the story would do one of these things:

    – Correct a significant wrong.
    – Bring to light information affecting public well-being and safety.
    – Improve the public’s understanding of, and participation in, the debate about a big issue of the day.
    – Lead to greater accountability and transparency in public life.

    Clearly, it would require the public to see actual video of Hulk Hogan bonking someone’s wife in order to achieve these noble goals. Not simply “describing it”, which would have gotten stupid-fucking-Gawker off the hook entirely.

  8. In tarrantopia, Hogan would have gotten bupkis and the only payout Gawker would have to make would be to return the tape to the owner (IIRC the husband of the skank Hogan was banging).

    And in all likelihood, Hogan and others would take more affirmative steps to preserve their privacy in the absence of a court system that retroactively cleaned up messes like this.

    But, with that having been said, the legal system is what it is, and is predictable. Gawker had liability insurance. They should have operated within the parameters of that insurance. They shouldn’t have blown off court orders. They shouldn’t have tried to inflame the jury’s passions with their fuck you attitude.

    Had Gawker not done those things, they wouldn’t have been bankrupted. I really don’t feel much pity for them; they’re like the guys who keep talking smack and shooting rubber bands into passers-by’s butts. One day one of those guys who feel the stinging snap on the glutes will turn out to be a thug with a murderous temper, who beats them to death. It’s wrong. It’s not acceptable. People shouldn’t be murdered for inflicting pain by firing rubber bands at innocent people. But nonetheless you play with fire, you get burnt.

    1. Hogan having never been in possession of the tape, and Gawker having bought the tape after it was stolen from the husband who filmed it, I don’t know how Gawker could fail to be the liable party if injury occurred. If they had been merely negligent in determining its providence, and taken it down when they discovered that they acquired it through actual theft rather than mere negligence or active participation by any of the parties, as you point out, their insurance would have covered it.

    2. Wouldn’t you rather have seen Nick Denton go through Monday Night Rehab?

    3. I really don’t feel much pity for them; they’re like the guys who keep talking smack and shooting rubber bands into passers-by’s butts. One day one of those guys who feel the stinging snap on the glutes will turn out to be a thug with a murderous temper, who beats them to death. It’s wrong. It’s not acceptable. People shouldn’t be murdered for inflicting pain by firing rubber bands at innocent people. But nonetheless you play with fire, you get burnt.

      Je suis Charlie

  9. the wealthiest among us can seek revenge against media outlets that say things they don’t like by bankrolling others whose entirely-legitimate cases are likely to win on merit

    FTFY

    All the money in the world can’t punish media outlets who don’t fuck up. stop pretending that’s what happened.

    1. Indeed, I’m not really getting Shackford’s argument here. “Rich people might finance important lawsuits against media that violated people’s privacy, and that’s bad because…”? Is it just media tribalism?

      1. Is it just media tribalism?

        I really don’t know.

        But of all the fucking battles to pick sides on, everyone at Reason is dead-fucking-wrong about this one.

        They’re wrong about the Public Interest angle.
        They’re wrong about the Thiel -financing issue
        They’re wrong that “its very hard to fight against” meritless lawsuits; but it IS very hard to fight against lawsuits that do have merit, ESPECIALLY when your editors say shit like this in depositions =

        “Can you imagine a situation where a celebrity sex tape would not be newsworthy?” asked the lawyer, Douglas E. Mirell.

        “If they were a child,” Mr. Daulerio replied.

        “Under what age?” the lawyer pressed.

        “Four.”

        They *maybe* have an incidental point about the flimsiness of any “right to privacy”. But its relatively far down in the list of things that are actually important to this particular story.

        1. I think they are panicked. Reason has a lot of people that would like to see them go bankrupt. They’ve got a not totally irrational fear that people will take this case and be inspired to sue for less merited claims. Even if they get thrown out of court, it could cost Reason a lot to litigate.

          1. Reason has a lot of people that would like to see them go bankrupt.

            That’s probably true.

            But unless they do something idiotic like post a stolen celebrity sex tape then behave like petulant teenagers when confronted about it, i don’t think they have much to worry about.

            Even if they get thrown out of court, it could cost Reason a lot to litigate.

            welcome to being a media-outlet. that’s why they have insurance.

            All this would be true even if the Gawker/Hogan case never happened.

            Pretending Gawker was the good-guy in some fight about free-speech doesn’t help the situation at all. Do they think that their potential enemies will decide, “Aw, they’re not so bad after all?”

            is that the “Roll over and pee-on-yourself” form of self-defense?

          2. Reason has a lot of people that would like to see them go bankrupt.

            Any that aren’t alleged sheep-fuckers?

        2. The best solution to frivolous lawsuits is loser pays. And that includes lawyers on contingency. Funny how we aren’t discussing that.

    2. All the money in the world can’t punish media outlets who don’t fuck up.

      Oh yes it can. Any lawsuit is expensive to defend against.

  10. OK, I am not 100% familiar with the details, but as I understand it, Gawker acquired a video it didn’t actually own, showing Hogan adulterizing with some guy’s wife, and he didn’t do it in some public place where anyone should be allowed to record him, but on private property and indoors.

    So, what great principle is involved here?

    1. Journalists think journalists should have carte blanche to say and do whatever they want?

    2. Journalistic privilege. Journalists are super special people, you know, who shouldn’t have to worry about things like subpoenas to testify or turn over evidence, receiving stolen property, any of that kind of stuff.

  11. Luckily Reason will never have to worry about, say, memory holing a blog post due to mean things said by the commentariat about an overly litigious scumbag attorney.

  12. Gawker.com is dead!

    It’s a shame because, now, where will all those Marxians link to whenever they want to provide substance for their bullshit claims? Where, oh, where?

    I had to deal with frequent angry calls from citizens who were upset when their arrests showed up in our police reports.

    But I bet your team was ethical enough to publish follow-ups whenever the cases were dropped or laughed out of court, didn’t you?

    Well, didn’t you?

    Oh. I see… Well, then, no wonder people would feel violated every time you published their arrest records.

    1. You know, you bring up an excellent point I don’t find those names newsworthy at all so if he was angling for some kind of sympathy here he’s not going to get it

  13. I have as much sympathy for Gawker as I do for any other idiot who gets chewed up while teasing a lion.

    None.

  14. I assume the Gawker editors union voted on whether to approve the sale?

    1. now you’re just being mean.

  15. Simple answer: make the loser of a lawsuit pay court and attorney costs. If the defendant is found guilty, then good, more punishment. If not, as would be the case in any of these censorship suits, then the bringer of the frivolous lawsuit is out some severe money.

  16. Gawker being shut down is a start. Hopefully they’ll do some housecleaning and replace the staff at a bunch of those other sites (Kotaku I’m looking at you).

  17. Awesome headline, Scott.

    All the blather about “public interest” BTW, is completely beside the point, isn’t it? Because the Thiel publication itself is irrelevant to this case, right? Nobody in this case was talking about whether Gawker published something in hte public interest or not.

    This case was about Gawker and stolen property which Gawker profited from.

    Just because you think you have something interesting to say about a totally different set of facts, doesn’t mean you should shoehorn it into an article, you know. Try writing about what actually happened. Reactions to this lawsuit that are all about Thiel remind me of reactions to DNC emails that are all about the frickin’ Russians.

    1. Reactions to this lawsuit that are all about Thiel remind me of reactions to DNC emails that are all about the frickin’ Russians.

      Made the same comparison just now above.

    2. Who cares what the lawsuit was about. Good people want Gawker to continue, bad people want to stop it. The lawsuit is just the Mcguffin… the Ball of McGrogg or something… with ultimate power being wielded by the wrong people.

      1. ultimate power being wielded by the wrong people.

        Juries?

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