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Cathy YoungCathy YoungMay 30, 2016

Don't cry for Gawker

(Image source: here.)

There's been much media hand-wringing over the revelation that maverick libertarian tycoon Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's sex-video lawsuit against Gawker and had actively looked for cases to pursue against the news-and-gossip website, which had earlier "outed" him as gay. Many journalists see this as a chilling threat to freedom of the press, particularly in conjunction with Donald Trump's talk about expanding libel laws (and the fact that Thiel is a Trump delegate). This view is held by some people I respect, such as Scott Greenfield of the Simple Justice blog. Scott makes some strong points, namely that very rich people with vendettas could destroy or seriously damage media outlets by dragging them through the courts even without a meritorious case. At the same time, I'm bothered by how categorically he dismisses First Amendment scholars who believe the Gawker lawsuit was not a First Amendment violation as dishonest and agenda-driven. (Eugene Volokh? Really?)

Meanwhile, Thiel says that "freedom of the press does not mean freedom to publish sex tapes without consent" and that his lawsuit was a public service, helping deter gross invasions of privacy.

There's also this observation from Slate tech columnist David Auerbach:

https://twitter.com/AuerbachKeller/status/736611123391279104

And remember that time, a little less than a year ago, when even all the media people hated Gawker? That was when Gawker ran an article claiming that Conde Nast CFO David Geithner, the brother of former U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner -- and a married man with three kids -- had tried to arrange a tryst with a male escort/porn star? The article whose source, the escort, had tried to blackmail Geithner with threats of going to the press? The article disavowed by Gawker senior writer Adam Weinstein and condemned as "reprehensible" and "deranged" by self-professed Gawker fan Glenn Greenwald? (Besides all the other scuzzy elements of this story, there was also speculation that the story might have been a hit on Conde Nast, the owner of Gawker's "enemy," Reddit.)

Also around that time, The Daily Beast's Marlow Stern chronicled Gawker's creepy and vile campaign of what he justly called "harassment" toward actor James Franco -- literally years of gossipy posts flogging rumors that Franco is not only gay but a gay rapist who violently assaulted an ex-boyfriend and paid him off to keep quiet. The author of these posts admitted, first in a tweet and then to The Daily Beast, that these claims were "baseless."

And let's not forget the time Gawker actually made many people on the left sympathize with ultra-conservative Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell by running an anonymous account by a guy who claimed he had a one-night stand with her (or, more accurately, a nude making-out session) and hashed out such salacious details as O'Donnell's unwaxed pubic area.

Or the time Gawker posted a video of a drunken pair having sex in the bathroom stall of a sports bar and laughed off the female participant's pleas to take it down, until the blogger involved decided the drunken sex may have been rape.

Does my distaste for Gawker have something to do with its far-left outlook and its embrace of identity politics and "social justice" zealotry? Only insofar as it has used progressivism as a cover for sleazy yellow journalism. Indeed, editor Max Read even tried to spin the Geithner "outing" as part of Gawker's moral duty to expose media executives who "fuck around on their wives," presumably to strike a blow at patriarchy. On another occasion, Jordan Sargent, the reporter on the Geithner story, wrote a piece -- based on nothing more than anonymous comments on various websites -- about the alleged womanizing of actor/comedian Fred Armisen, rumored to use his celebrity status to woo women and then "use and discard them." When a commenter questioned the "conservative" moralism of attacking Armisen's sexual liaisons with consenting adults, Sargent parried that the "conservative" thing would be to refuse to expose "skeezy men" simply because they weren't breaking the law. Fellow Gawker staffer J.K. Trotter weighed in to assert that "womanizing and sexual assault rely on, and reinscribe, the same systems of male domination." (Imagine actually writing like that.)

But my favorite Gawker political moment is this 2014 piece by Adam Weinstein titled "Arrest Climate Change Deniers." No, this is not metaphorical, and yes, it argues exactly what the headline says: that pundits and other "malcontents" who preach dissent from the scientific consensus on climate change "must be punished and stopped" by means of jail, fines, or lawsuits, since they are endangering humanity's future.

And then there's this:

https://www.allthink.com/i/553CE1880CD0F1E2C2216BA71FF664B583A8002FB3C543A6A96FC5E5B55044C0/image.png

Yes, Schadenfreude is a base emotion. And yes, having billionaires pursue vendettas against the press raises troubling possibilities. But watching the Gawker crowd fuss and stomp and beat their breasts and cry First Amendment is satisfying nonetheless.

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What do you think? Reply to Cathy Young.
warrenpeacewarrenpeaceMay 30, 2016662 views
Don't cry for Gawker (Image source: here.) There's been much media hand-wringing over the revelation that maverick libertarian tycoon Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's sex-video lawsuit against Gawker and had actively looked for cases to pursue against the news-and-gossip website, which had

@1300029 I do not feel sorry for Gawker, but I don't think the examples here are akin to yelling "fire." Certainly there was inaccurate reporting and they also had a responsibility to vet sources, but they didn't incite violence. For me, the problem with Gawker was always that you were damned if you do, damned if you don't. If they caught a celebrity being overtly sexual, it was because they were a horrible human being. If they caught a celebrity who appeared asexual or was private about sexuality, they would out him as a horrible human being. Don't donate to the poor, horrible. Donate to the poor, horrible. Without some kind of value system, perspective, or social responsibility -- sometimes known as integrity, Gawker could never truly have any supporters.

1 Reply6 Likes↻ Reply
James A. LindsayJames A. LindsayMay 30, 2016386 views
Don't cry for Gawker (Image source: here.) There's been much media hand-wringing over the revelation that maverick libertarian tycoon Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's sex-video lawsuit against Gawker and had actively looked for cases to pursue against the news-and-gossip website, which had
@1300029 I think it may come to pass that there are interesting cases to be had regarding some climate change deniers, but the one presented isn't one. There are almost certainly some people on the anti-climate-change front who are knowingly promulgating misinformation -- information that they know is false -- in order to sow enough public doubt to maintain whatever conflicts of interests that they hold. These people would be akin to the tobacco lobby who did the same. There is, or probably will be, a significant case that can be made against such individuals (with the usual due processes of law applied to the trials) should they be identifiable. Knowingly distorting information on a topic that causes significant damages, injury, or death, however, is a far cry from the protected speech of voicing one's opinion, be that informed or utterly misinformed.

As for Gawker, they have none of my sympathies, and the defense that libel laws might be strengthened to stifle speech is insufficient protection against actual acts of libel (which, again, can and should be sorted out by the due process of law in qualified courts, not by chest-beaters on the Internet).
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@victor@victorMay 31, 2016298 views
Don't cry for Gawker (Image source: here.) There's been much media hand-wringing over the revelation that maverick libertarian tycoon Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's sex-video lawsuit against Gawker and had actively looked for cases to pursue against the news-and-gossip website, which had
@1302246 How does that differ from prosecution of anyone in the anti-science crowd. The damage they they are doing is even more documentable. The anti-vaxxers, anti-gmo the chemophobes all are well documented liars working for various special interest. Why are they not being investigated also ?
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grayscaleplaidgrayscaleplaidMay 30, 2016353 views
Don't cry for Gawker (Image source: here.) There's been much media hand-wringing over the revelation that maverick libertarian tycoon Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's sex-video lawsuit against Gawker and had actively looked for cases to pursue against the news-and-gossip website, which had
@1302246 "If every man were to receive his just desserts, who would escape a whipping?" And given the incentive structures involved, most political movements in aggregate have probably earned something considerably worse than a whipping (think guillotines.) If propagating misinformation to advance an agenda is actionable, where does that put the warmists, with Michael "Hide the Decline" Mann? (Aside: the Jerry Sandusky comparison in the cited article is serendipitous, since it was a Sandusky comparison that launched the ongoing Mann v Steyn psychodrama.)

Barring specific harm, legal consequences for merely being wrong is absolute poison, because it legitimizes the notion of official truth. The common law system is already a complete train wreck in modern society- about the only way it can get worse is to levy official sanctions on deviationist thinking or reintroducing sluggish schizophrenia diagnoses.
4 Replies1 Like↻ Reply
James A. LindsayJames A. LindsayMay 30, 2016338 views
Don't cry for Gawker (Image source: here.) There's been much media hand-wringing over the revelation that maverick libertarian tycoon Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's sex-video lawsuit against Gawker and had actively looked for cases to pursue against the news-and-gossip website, which had
@1302274 I absolutely agree -- legal consequences for merely being wrong is absolute poison, and for more reasons than the Orwellian one you state -- but legal consequences for knowingly disseminating false information for personal gain is a different category of activity. There's a valid discussion to be had about holding people responsible for damages related to that malfeasance if it can be established by a court that it was motivated and intentional.
3 Replies1 Like↻ Reply
grayscaleplaidgrayscaleplaidMay 30, 2016347 views
Don't cry for Gawker (Image source: here.) There's been much media hand-wringing over the revelation that maverick libertarian tycoon Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's sex-video lawsuit against Gawker and had actively looked for cases to pursue against the news-and-gossip website, which had
@1302301 It sounds like you're arguing for consumer fraud legislation, but we already have that- but in a much narrower sense. In order to meet the criteria you're proposing, you'd have to prove beyond a reasonable that the defendant believed [x], but promulgated ![x] for the purposes of profiteering. Interestingly enough, avoiding the category of "official truth" requires that the factual truth of [x] be irrelevant- and even then, it's tantamount to criminalizing hypocrisy (as long as you made a buck thereby.) This has all kinds of interesting applications- for example, Ann Coulter and Bill Maher are reportedly quite good friends. Suppose it was revealed that Coulter was actually a dyed-in-the-wool SJW (or, if you prefer, Maher was actually 14/88-er) whose pundit persona was an act for the purpose of fleecing the rubes. By this standard, that would be a prosecutable offense- they, for the purposes of personal enrichment, propagated policy they "knew" was harmful. I'm not particularly interested in going down that road.

EDIT: On further reflection, I think the basic flaw with this position is how it requires the removal of specific, attributable harm. Once you get the government punishing vague externalities, there's no way that ends well.

2 Replies1 Like↻ Reply
James A. LindsayJames A. LindsayMay 30, 2016300 views
Don't cry for Gawker (Image source: here.) There's been much media hand-wringing over the revelation that maverick libertarian tycoon Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's sex-video lawsuit against Gawker and had actively looked for cases to pursue against the news-and-gossip website, which had
@1302348 Then, using the tobacco industry as a model, all that will be required is determining proportions of anthropogenic global warming that may have been directly due to exactly such misinformation (given that we know firms like Exxon knew in the 1980s that climate change was happening) and then allow insurance adjusters to go to town, determining the total costs incurred, say, by the drowning of Miami. These are potentially estimable specific, attributable harms, just like the healthcare costs related to tobacco use and misdirection that have repeatedly been upheld in courts allowing for suits against the tobacco industry.

Our dispute goes far afield from the OP, though, so I don't intend to reply again. You may have the last word or forfeit it, at your choice.
1 Reply1 Like↻ Reply
grayscaleplaidgrayscaleplaidMay 30, 2016322 views
Don't cry for Gawker (Image source: here.) There's been much media hand-wringing over the revelation that maverick libertarian tycoon Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's sex-video lawsuit against Gawker and had actively looked for cases to pursue against the news-and-gossip website, which had
@1302609 The key word here is "attributable." It's not enough to have Miami drown- you'd have to prove that Miami would not have drowned had so-and-so not done such-and-such. Clearing the "reasonable doubt" threshold on what amounts to bad weather is, or should be, flatly impossible with the current state of technology.
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grayscaleplaidgrayscaleplaidMay 30, 2016413 views
Don't cry for Gawker (Image source: here.) There's been much media hand-wringing over the revelation that maverick libertarian tycoon Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's sex-video lawsuit against Gawker and had actively looked for cases to pursue against the news-and-gossip website, which had
@1300029 I understand the objections to Thiel's lawfare against Gawker, and in a better world, I'd probably share them. However, Gawker threw in with the free-speech-doesn't-mean-freedom-from-consequences crowd, and this is a game theory compliant (as well as poetically just) state of affairs. "Neither does free press, assholes."
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@markneil@markneilMay 31, 2016403 views
Don't cry for Gawker (Image source: here.) There's been much media hand-wringing over the revelation that maverick libertarian tycoon Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's sex-video lawsuit against Gawker and had actively looked for cases to pursue against the news-and-gossip website, which had
@1300029 As far as I'm concerned...if Hogan couldn't afford to defend himself against Gawker without financial aid from a billionaire, then the issue isn't that a billionaire offered that help... it's that justice is too expensive to attain, even for millionaires. Gawker and it's allies whine about them bogging Gawker down in the courts, destroying them through attrition...and yet, after Gawker uses it's powerful platform to destroy someone, they do the EXACT SAME THING to those seeking reparations. they kept trying to stall, delay, appeal Hogan's trial, expecting to bankrupt him, back before they knew Thiel was a backer...back when they believed they could succeed. No sympathy for gawker, for having done to them what they do to others.
2 Replies5 Likes↻ Reply
@cglasser@cglasserAug 20, 2016185 views
Don't cry for Gawker (Image source: here.) There's been much media hand-wringing over the revelation that maverick libertarian tycoon Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's sex-video lawsuit against Gawker and had actively looked for cases to pursue against the news-and-gossip website, which had
What I find most annoying about all the hand-wringing is the mischaracterization of Theil's support. He did not "destroy" Gawker. He merely allowed Hogan to have his day in court. A judge and jury meted out the punishment.
Reasonable minds may differ about the proportionality of the damages, or even the wisdom of that judge and jury, but at the end of the day this was a self-inflicted wound. The Hogan tape was merely the last in a very long line of egregious abuses of their First Amendments rights, and this time, because they now faced an adversary who could afford to say no to a settlement and demand his day in court, they gambled and lost. It's really that simple.
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