B.J. Bethel

A view of the world from Ohio

The New Yorker gets everything wrong on Hogan, Gawker, Thiel

The number of apologists for Gawker and their recent, titanic, Cleveland-esqe loss in court to Hulk Hogan has been limited to fellow hot-take writers, who propagate the web from the Northeastern enclaves. Oh, those poor kids writing at Gawker, how could you celebrate them losing their jobs? Probably the same way the Gawker generation has heralded the death of objectivity and traditional journalism, as well as the traditional journalist. Except without the glee they shared, I shake my head.

Andrew Breitbart detested the idea journalism was an objective enterprise, that trying to adhere to a code was a waste of time because every writer brought their biases with them to every story – there was no such thing as credibility. Breitbart’s writers sometimes called themselves journalists, even as they shuttered when the name was applied to their site or work. For the most part they are activists, adopting Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals into a propaganda machine that was re-written into another book by Michael Walsh, a former Breitbart editor. What it led to was the Shirley Sherrod smear and subsequent blow up, the O’Keefe gotcha tapes – which led to O’Keefe being charged with a federal crime and losing numerous times in court – and most hilariously, the Friends of Hamas debacle. As far as I know (and I could be definitely wrong), I don’t think the site has issued any correction ever except to regret not watching the complete video of Sherrod.

Would you call Breitbart a journalistic institution? They never call themselves one unless they want press protection, which is the case with Gawker. Gawker’s news was buying photos of Brett Favre’s genitals, and publishing a story on a Notre Dame linebacker who was having a fraudulent love affair online with a woman that didn’t exist – with Deadspin (the Gawker site that ‘broke’ story) asserting not-so-boldly at the end “we’re 80 percent he’s in on it.” Not exactly a high threshold for sources, there. The accusation at the linebacker was later deleted.

That’s not journalism. Neither was Gawker’s publication of Hulk Hogan’s sex tape. It was filmed without his knowledge and published by an editor who later ranted and raved about revenge porn.

Hogan won a $140 million judgment against Gawker. Hogan’s legal team was paid for by Silicone Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, who held a grudge against the site for nearly a decade after it outed him as gay. Thiel previously donated to causes supporting journalists. Several years ago he began funding lawsuits against Gawker by people who had felt the wrath of the site and didn’t have the financial means to take on the site in court.

The New Yorker’s Nicholas Lemann finds the suit and Theil’s funding of it a substantial threat to journalism. The standard established in Sullivan v. New York Times nearly half a century ago set a precedent that made the United States the most press friendly country in the world. This could be in danger if billionaires are successful in funding lawsuits and running websites and publishers out of business.

Adding to Lemann’s concerns, Thiel is a delegate for Trump out of the state of California. Trump wants to end press standards protecting the press from libel suits from public figures. Lemann sees the combination as inherently dangerous.

Lemann qualifies the differences between the Hogan and Sullivan cases, but maintains they aren’t fundamentally different at their core – one was involving libel against Dr. Martin Luther King, the other is defending a gossip site that posted a sex tape – but beyond that the case changes the rules regarding public figures and how the press can cover them. At their core, they are stories about public figures and the standard hasn’t been met.

That standard is malicious intent. A case can be made Gawker’s inherent raison d’être is malicious. The site in no way has conformed to a professional journalism standard, in fact it disregards all standards, so what makes it a news or a source of journalism? Does Gawker qualify as a journalistic outlet?

Blame will be thrown at the court and jury. If the appeal fails, Gawker will go out of business. The insurance company that was covering its previous suits was tired of the amount of legal bills and settlements it was paying for, and believed Gawker had acted inappropriately and sued it as well.

Press freedom and general whistle blowing are under attack, and those rights need defended, but Gawker isn’t the battle to fight. Gawker needs to go. Those fights need to be saved for battles that matter, not saving a garbage website that posts garbage and has staffers that spend their time mucking in it.

In the end, their own behavior and testimony in court killed Gawker. It was a site with a lot of terrible people involved – no journalism ethics and no journalists.

Emma Carmichael’s admission, she would post the video again if she could, proved her a hypocrite after she ranted for days about revenge porn when hackers uploaded dozens of nude photos of celebrity women (this happened at Jezebel after she took a job there). Many want the case thrown out because a juror asked Carmichael if she was sleeping with Denton. Most felt the question unbelievably sexist, it made me wonder if a member of the Gawker staff was on the jury. After such a horrible answer, maybe the juror was curious as to how she could keep her work at a popular website

A.J. Daulerio and Nick Denton proved that wasn’t the case, as they were idiotic, dismissive, sick and showed Carmichael as the brains representing the company. She did leave after all. Denton had an air of superiority, seemingly put off by being judged by a group of “regular people” and some no-name judge in Florida. Daulerio was worse, acting like a 17-year-0ld being lectured or questioned after coming in past curfew. When asked if he had any journalism scruples, he said he would post any sex video of a celebrity – when pressured he said maybe not if they are four years old or younger. Their behavior was odd, aloof and at odds with the gigantic stakes the case had for the future of Gawker. Adding the site would post pedophilia if they thought it would get views showed these aren’t people with any scruples or responsibility.

Not only was Gawker’s actions against Hogan malicious, the staffers are themselves. How does someone say such an awful things on public record? How does someone reconcile a battle with revenge porn with Carmichael’s answer on whether she’d post the video again?

Gawker has damaged journalism for a while. Many other entities have as well, and social media and search engine monopolies are eating most of the pie that should be going to content. Or what we used to call stories and articles and the people who wrote them and published them. While Lemann throws around Thiel and Silicone Valley trademarks, such as this suit is his way of ‘disrupting’ media, is ridiculous on its head because Gawker’s central theme hasn’t been journalism but swill and disrupting the journalism profession from the bottom. Deadspin is the sports site for people who hate sports. Of sarcastic, ironic, bawdy youngsters with their liberal arts degrees, making a couple bucks and trying to pop something viral so they can get a job. It’s people with no real soul, no real story of themselves, so they see no story in anyone else. The price of that is $140 million.



One response to “The New Yorker gets everything wrong on Hogan, Gawker, Thiel

  1. Chris Zappone June 16, 2016 at 4:42 am

    You nailed it here: “Press freedom and general whistle blowing are under attack, and those rights need defended, but Gawker isn’t the battle to fight.” No one seems to remember that a legally elected president was impeached (but not thrown out of office) because the media turned his private life into a public affair. We have a great need for critical reporting. Focusing, British tabloid-style, on “who is shagging who” just for the sake of gossip rarely furthers that.

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