A Test For the Media: Gawker vs. Peter Thiel, Not Hulk Hogan

 

A legal case we would rather ignore has inevitably gained urgent relevance for its implications for the free press. It emerged that a tech billionaire, Peter Thiel, a PayPal co-founder and Facebook investor, among other interests, had financed a suit by wrestler Hulk Hogan over a sex tape, which resulted in a $140 million verdict against Gawker, the gossip website that published it. It was payback time for Thiel: Gawker had outed him as gay years ago, wreaking havoc, he said, on his private life. Nothing could be further from our interests than defending the sordid editorial decisions. Yet regardless of our views, we feel that many boundaries were crossed in the airing of the tape, first and foremost the violation of the right to privacy. Moreover, this kind of muckraking goes against everything journalism stands for. But we dread a world in which men of unlimited resources can wield their fortune to turn the wheels of justice against coverage they resent. For if today it is a gossip site over an editorial decision we find inadmissible, tomorrow a media company and its legitimate coverage could be targeted by the masters of the universe. This lurks as a threat for freedom of expression. We shall dwell on another occasion on the concerns about a justice system so heavily biased towards the rich and mighty that can afford the best counsel money can buy, and one that wrests $140 million in damages for a wealthy celebrity. A fraction of those funds could be put to so many worthy, and extremely urgent, causes.

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