The fall of Gawker, the celebrity gossip website, is a minor spectacle in the age of Trump. But it’s a very strange one.
To begin with, an outline of events.
Gawker is a more-or-less liberal leaning trashy site that has courted controversy ever since it came on the scene.
As it gained readers and money, it spun off numerous related sites, each focused on a particular area of culture – Jalopnik for cars, Gizmodo for technology, Kotaku for video games, and so forth.
Gawker, and particularly its spinoffs, have also created some interesting stories, and on occasion, excellent journalism. But Gawker itself, the core product, remained one tainted by the fact that it preferred to provoke and attack rather than act seriously.
That has run them into trouble. Among other things, they have sometimes outed gay celebrities or politicians who would rather have not had their sexuality in the public eye. One of those was tech investment billionaire and quasi-libertarian Peter Thiel.
A few years back, someone leaked a sex tape featuring Hulk Hogan. Gawker published part of the tape, including a brief sexually explicit part.
Hogan sued. He won – and now Gawker is facing a $140 million penalty, not to mention staggering legal bills from their adventure in court.
Just after Hogan had walked away victorious, it turned out that Peter Thiel had been backing the lawsuit. His deep pockets – deeper than either Hogan or Gawker – had been financing the legal attack.
This has led to some odd spectacles.
Many journalists are now defending Gawker as an icon of free speech. Thiel’s ploy terrifies them – and well it should – because it suggests he was just looking for a convenient way to deploy his money against an old enemy. Now he’s largely destroyed Gawker. The company is in bankruptcy and will likely be sold off.
Others, particularly on the right and extreme right in the U.S., are openly gloating. Gawker is part of the enemy to them, plain and simple. They want it to die because it espoused values they hate.
I can’t take joy in the number of writers and other staffers who will likely lose their jobs through this. I absolutely can’t root for Peter Thiel – a creep who thinks democracy is a failure and has criticized the idea of votes for women – for his role in trying to crush an outlet utterly.
But I also can’t root for Gawker. What they did was wrong. It wasn’t journalism. They deserve to be punished, and for a corporation, the only real punishment is to take a big whack of their money.
There are no good guys here.
In one corner, we have a millionaire wrestler – America’s other orange, weird-haired racist celebrity – and in the other corner, we have the millionaire management of a multi-million dollar media conglomerate.
And pulling the strings for the wrestler, we have a billionaire who has backed efforts to create man-made islands where people could go to avoid governments altogether.
Ordinary people are just ants to everyone involved.
People are picking sides because they can tell something is at stake.
But there’s an old saying – bad cases make bad law.
This is a bad case. If Hogan wins, it’s a victory for the interference of the rich in the court system, of using lawsuits to hunt down their perceived enemies in the press.
But if Gawker wins on appeal, it’s a vindication of every creep who steals nude pictures of a famous actress and posts them all over the internet.
Sometimes, there are no winners. There won’t be any at Gawker.