Gawker is a US based scandal sheet, a sort of online tabloid that speciaizes in sleazy celebrity gossip and repetition of unsubstantiated rumour. They’ve published stories that have attracted the attentions of copyright and privacy lawyers. There has always been a market for such sleaze and in the contemporary, celebrity obsessed atmosphere, gawker has found an eager audience.
But when Gawker went after wrestler and actor Hulk Hogan it all went pear shaped for the sleaze merchants. Hogan became upset over an intrusive article containing revelations about his sex life, which we would agree is a private matter. So the Hulkster decided to sue.
And a very wealthy and very secretive silicon valley figure, a man obsessed with privacy, decided to help him by hiring a team of the very best lawyers. And then it all went pear shaped for Gawker. Hogan won the case, which was justice. Punitive damages which were out of all proportion to the offence, but would certainly bankrupt Gawker, were awarded. And that was not justice but something very dangerous.
Society and the law are headed down a very dangerous road if the extremely wealthy can use their money and power to avoid scrutiny of their activities and thus can destroy publications they want to silence, not just scandal sheets that reveal sleazy details of their sex lives, but more respectable publications. One of the functions of a free press, we should remember, is to hold to account the rich and powerful and expose any crooked dealings they may be involved in. If the law is perpared to help such people suppress free speech and avoid being held to account, that is an intolerable threat to democracy and free speech. If megamoney damages awards in lawsuits are to be the new weapon in the arsenal of the super rich who believe they are above the law, few publications have the resources or the death wish to scrutinize them closely.
So the question is, in a battle between two piles of shit, which pile of shit should a fair minded person support.
from Talking Points Memo
A Huge, Huge Deal
Here and there we’ve reported on the Hulk Hogan lawsuit against Gawker. As you probably know, Hogan won the case and won a massive judgment of $115 million dollars and an additional $25 million in punitive damages. While it is widely believed that the verdict is likely to be reversed on appeal or at least the judgment dramatically reduced, Gawker had to immediately place $50 million into escrow. The anticipated need to produce that sum forced Gawker to sell an undisclosed amount of the company to a Russian oligarch named Viktor Vekselberg. Simple fact: It’s hard to feel too much sympathy when a publication gets sued for publishing excerpts of someone’s sex tape. But some new information emerged this morning that, in my mind, significantly changes the picture.
This morning The New York Times reported an interview with Gawker owner Nick Denton in which Denton said he had begun to believe rumors that some extremely wealthy person had been bankrolling Hogan’s suit. Read the Times article for the specifics. But the gist is that Hogan’s lawyers made key decisions which made zero sense if the goal were to maximize the plaintiff’s settlement. Denton said he thought the person was likely someone from Silicon Valley, where you have a strong overlap between people who have virtually unlimited wealth and people who are not accustomed to the intrusive and aggressive coverage Gawker and its sister sites specialize in. It was a little difficult for me to believe something like this was actually happening. But the evidence of the legal strategy was pretty compelling. And in recent weeks, in the aftermath of the Hogan verdict, there have been a spate of new lawsuits brought against Gawker that are unrelated to the Hogan case. All have been brought by the same lawyer who handled Hogan’s suit.
Now sure enough, this evening Forbes reported that the bankroller of the Hogan suit is none other than Peter Thiel, a prominent Silicon Valley billionaire who styles himself a libertarian but somewhat incongruously is a big time supporter of Donald Trump in addition to numerous other right wing causes, most of which have a distinctly Randian cast.
Regardless of his politics, this news should disturb everyone. People talk a lot about the dominance of the 1% or in this case more like a tiny fraction of the 1%. But being able to give massive political contributions actually pales in comparison to the impact of being able to destroy a publication you don’t like by combining the machinery of the courts with anonymity and unlimited funds to bleed a publication dry.
So one again we see that for all the liberal, politically correct, ‘caring and sharing’ posturing of politicians, the world is increasingly dominated by big money and big power. And everywhere in what we have called ‘the free world’ power is being concentrated in the hands of the obscenely wealthy, and exercised on their behalf by the politicians they control
And whatever label people who support such a system pin to their clothes, liberal, progressive, left wing, socialist, the only label that truly describes it is ‘fascism’.
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