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:
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:
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.