Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Gawker Files for Bankruptcy

Peter Sterne, Politico:

Gawker Media filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Friday, in order to protect its assets from seizure by former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan.

Simultaneously, Gawker Media parent company Gawker Media Group announced that it had agreed to sell its assets in an auction supervised by a bankruptcy court. Ziff Davis, the media company that owns PC Mag, has agreed to purchase Gawker’s assets for $90 million to $100 million, a person close to Gawker told POLITICO, though it’s expected that other potential buyers will participate in the auction and make higher bids.

Nicholas Lemann, New Yorker:

At the moment, what seems most important about the Hulk Hogan case is last week’s revelation that Hogan’s legal costs were borne by Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire on whom Gawker has been inflicting pain for years. The story has been that Thiel is out for revenge against Gawker and its founder, Nick Denton, and may well get it, in the form of a forced sale or even Gawker’s going out of business. The stakes may actually be bigger than that. Remember that Thiel is a graduate of Stanford Law School who clerked for a year on the Eleventh Circuit, and that, in his world, “scale” and “disruption” are the hoped-for ends of every investment. He is surely aware of this case’s potential to begin a reëxamination of the fundamental questions in American press law, far beyond the fate of Gawker.

Nothing is right about this whole case. I don’t think there was a good reason for Gawker to have published Hulk Hogan’s sex tape, but I also don’t think their punishment was commensurate with the damage inflicted.

But most damaging of all is the ability for Peter Thiel to bankroll the suit. This is not a case where the plaintiff needed a friend to lend them a few bucks; this is Thiel’s personal vendetta under the guise of a right to privacy suit. Make no mistake: I am not in favour of many of the things Gawker chooses to publish, but I am far more opposed to the bankrolling of an opportunity to suppress their publication.

If money is truly representative of speech, as implied in the Citizens United decision, Thiel has a far greater freedom of speech than does Gawker or, indeed, most publications.

Remember when, in 2012, Mother Jones released the “47% Tape”? Shortly after, they were sued by a billionaire donor to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

I’ll let Mother Jones’ CEO Monika Bauerlein and editor-in-chief Clara Jeffery take it from here:

People have asked us whether we think these two things were connected, and the honest answer is that we have no idea. What we do know is that the take-no-prisoners legal assault from VanderSloot and Melaleuca has consumed a good part of the past two and a half years and has cost millions (yes, millions) in legal fees. In the course of the litigation, VanderSloot sued a former small-town Idaho newspaper reporter whose confrontation with him we mentioned in our article. His lawyers asked a judge to let them rifle through the internal records of the Obama campaign. They deposed a representative of the campaign in pursuit of a baseless theory that Mother Jones conspired with Obama’s team to defame VanderSloot. They tried to get one of our lawyers disqualified because his firm had once done work for Melaleuca. They intrusively questioned our employees—our reporter was grilled about whether she had attended a Super Bowl party the night she finalized the article.

Legally, what we fought over was what, precisely, the terms “bashing” and “outing” meant in the context of our article. (Read the decision for yourself.) But make no mistake: This was not a dispute over a few words. It was a push, by a superrich businessman and donor, to wipe out news coverage that he disapproved of. Had he been successful, it would have been a chilling indicator that the 0.01 percent can control not only the financing of political campaigns, but also media coverage of those campaigns.

Mother Jones justly won that lawsuit, while Gawker lost theirs, arguably for good reasons. But re-read that last quoted paragraph and notice the similarities: these are lawsuits borne of the personal vendettas of billionaires. They were designed to suppress the publication of true articles disliked by the funding parties.

The Gawker Media Group will apparently be purchased by Ziff Davis — they’re the “ZD” in ZDNet. However, Gawker itself was conspicuously absent from their press release. Brian Stelter heard a potential reason for its omission:

Denton has talked with associates about potentially trying to buy Gawker.com back from whatever company acquires it, sources confirmed to CNNMoney. Then he could run it on its own.

This idea comes with several “ifs” — it is dependent on Denton prevailing in the appeal of Hulk Hogan’s ongoing lawsuit against Gawker.

That’s a plot twist worthy of a Gawker article.