Peter Thiel takes Gawker Media down to the mat.JD Lasica
UPDATE: Gawker responded Thursday afternoon, saying Silicon Valley needs a watchdog, and Gawker Media was the right outlet for the job.
“The refusal to engage in public relations or access journalism—the refusal to lubricate the flow of venture capital—is usually the mark of an outlet’s credibility.
For Thiel and his peers in Silicon Valley, such a refusal amounts to repudiating their way of life,” Gawker wrote.
Wednesday was not a good day for Gawker Media: first, a Florida judge refused to reduce the $140 million in damages awarded by a jury in the invasion-of-privacy suit brought by professional wrestler Hulk Hogan against Gawker for posting a sex tape.
The judge then refused to order a new trial.
Ars had described the March verdict as a “life threatening” event for the New York-based network of news and gossip sites. Now it has been revealed that Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who a decade ago was outed as being “totally gay” by Gawker’s now-defunct Valleywag site, has bankrolled Hulk Hogan’s litigation.
“It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” Thiel told The New York Times. “I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”
Thiel, whose net worth is estimated at $2.7 billion, cofounded PayPal and invested early in Facebook.
According to Thiel’s Wednesday interview:
Thiel said that Gawker published articles that were “very painful and paralyzing for people who were targeted.” He said, “I thought it was worth fighting back.”
Thiel added: “I can defend myself. Most of the people they attack are not people in my category.
They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can’t defend themselves.” He said that “even someone like Terry Bollea who is a millionaire and famous and a successful person didn’t quite have the resources to do this alone.”
Thiel said that he had decided several years ago to set his plan in motion. “I didn’t really want to do anything,” he said. “I thought it would do more harm to me than good. One of my friends convinced me that if I didn’t do something, nobody would.”
Thiel has donated money to the Committee to Protect Journalists and has often talked about protecting freedom of speech. He said he did not believe his actions were contradictory. “I refuse to believe that journalism means massive privacy violations,” he said. “I think much more highly of journalists than that.
It’s precisely because I respect journalists that I do not believe they are endangered by fighting back against Gawker.”
Gawker now hopes the verdict would be overturned on appeal.
Gawker Media’s properties are valued at an estimated $83 million.
Judge Pamela Campbell also denied Gawker’s request Wednesday to demand Hulk Hogan’s legal team provide documents about Thiel’s involvement.
The Thiel financing revelation highlights a dark side of litigation financing.
There are numerous venture-backed companies that invest in litigation to profit on payouts, especially in the product liability and personal injury fields.
But this is the first time we’ve seen a venture capitalist financing litigation out of what appears to be spite.