After Judgment, Gawker's Denton Fires Back

Gawker may have lost the first round in its legal cage match with Hulk Hogan, but it still has one powerful weapon – itself. Following the eye-watering $140 million verdict handed down by a Florida jury on Monday, Gawker founder Nick Denton naturally turned to his own publishing platform to present the other side of the story.

In his scathing 1,700-word essay, Denton noted that the legal drama is just beginning: Gawker’s lawyers are already appealing the decision, pointing to a number of omissions in the first trial which, when rectified, they believe will ultimately allow the gossip site to prevail.

Emphasizing the verdict’s chilling effect on publishers, Denton urged readers to set aside the image constructed by the prosecution, pitting the salacious and unprincipled gossip site against a hapless celebrity whose privacy it violated. It reminded them that the case, however tawdry, is actually a contest over First Amendment rights.

Turning to the evidence, Denton disputed one of the central claims of the prosecution, namely that Hogan (real name Terry Gene Bollea) was unaware that he was being videotaped when he slept with Heather Clem, the wife of his friend, radio shock jock Bubba Clem.

The basis of their argument that Hogan had a reasonable expectation of privacy. According to statements, Bubba made to the FBI, Hogan was aware that Clem had wired his bedroom to record his own sexual encounters, and that he would be recording Hogan’s encounter with his wife.

However, Gawker’s lawyers were barred from presenting this evidence to the jury.

Denton also claimed that Hogan’s lawsuit wasn’t intended to seek redress for the publication of the sex tape at all, but actually prevent publication of another video in which he is heard using racist language. Here, Denton pointed to another piece of evidence, a text message from Hogan to Bubba Clem after the publication of the sex tape, reading: “We know there’s more than one tape out there and one that has several racist slurs were told. I have a [pay-per-view special] and I am not waiting for anymore surprises….”

Denton notes that this and other evidence contradicts Hogan’s testimony during the trial that he was unaware of the existence of the other tapes.

The Gawker boss also asserts that Hogan and Bubba staged a sort of sham lawsuit, in which Bubba accepted responsibility for violating Hogan’s privacy. Even though Hogan was actually aware of the taping – and promised not to testify to in the trial (Clem cited his right not to incriminate himself under the Fifth Amendment.)

2 comments about "After Judgment, Gawker's Denton Fires Back".
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  1. Andrew Susman from New Value Associates, March 23, 2016 at 2:16 p.m.

    The Cardinal Rule of Journalism:  "Report the story, don't become part of the story."

  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, March 23, 2016 at 2:18 p.m.

    Still, it was hard for the jury to unring that bell, rung loudly by Denton that it would be OK for Gawker to show a celebrity sex tape unless it involved a four-year-old child.

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