So many villains.
If you want to find a sympathetic figure in the $140 million Hulk Hogan jury verdict and ensuing Gawker Media bankruptcy, it’s going to take a while. It’s going to take ‘til never.
There is, of course, Gawker -- the snide, predatory gossip site that built a reputation cutting hypocritical big shots down to size, but soon ran out of big shots and turned its sneering animus on any anonymous medium-shot unfortunate enough fall into its sights. For instance -- and I don’t cite this at random -- it found out that a media financial executive, who is the brother of a famous figure in finance and government, tried to hire a gay escort.
What a great opportunity to single out a private person and humiliate him in public. Which it did, gleefully. Gawker.com is in the schadenfreude business, and though it evolved into an empire of mostly good spinoffs, to get there it evinced the moral courage of a Norwegian rat.
Hulk Hogan -- nee Terry Bollea -- has nothing to commend him, either. The pro wrestler saw his career and reputation crater in 2015 after being caught on video in a racist tirade. Oh, and the tirade happened to accompany a sex romp with his best friend Bubba the Love Sponge’s wife -- which would be less peculiar if a) Hogan hadn’t been the married star of a family-values cable show and b) the sex acts hadn’t been taped by Bubba himself. So Hogan, saying he was doing so to protect subsequent innocent victims from the sordid gaze of Gawker, sued for invasion of privacy and hit the jackpot.
The jury wasn’t told that the oh-so-private private entertainment figure had originally, unsuccessfully sued for copyright infringement, saying he was the owner of his own video image and had the sole right to profit therefrom.
Then there is Peter Thiel, who secretly bankrolled Hogan’s lawsuit -- for perhaps the opportunity to reciprocate for being outed to the world as gay by Gawker back in 20___. But, my goodness, what a creep. He has said publicly that giving women the vote, and giving financial support to the poor and vulnerable, has damaged our democracy. The billionaire libertarian, like many of his fellow travelers, lives under the delusion that government drains his wealth and privilege rather than guaranteeing the stable society and economy that rewards him to unimaginable degrees. You want liberty, folks? You want to be freed from the yoke of rules, regulations and taxation where every man prospers or dies on the strength of his own resources and ingenuity? Great.
May I suggest Libya? Or Somalia. Pete, I’ll buy your ticket for you.
Then there is the Florida judge -- Pamela Campbell -- who declined to put a stay on the $140 million jury verdict pending appeal. That’s relevant because the appeal is a slam dunk, because Campbell denied the jury access to evidence of Hogan’s previous failed copyright case, and on Gawker’s material claim: that the lawsuit was aimed at preventing the release of the anti-black tirade video. In short” that his claim of injury was a fabrication.
And finally, there is the Law, which, too, disappoints.
Critics have yelped that Thiel has used his fortune to silence the press. And Gawker has contemplated suing him tortious interference -- i.e., intentionally harming its enterprise.
The problem is, neither claim really checks out. Yes, Thiel has bought himself a bankruptcy and squelched a media voice. But the first amendment doesn’t protect media from private citizens; it protects media from the government. If you want to bleed The New York Times Co. dry, and you have a case with merit, go crazy. Watch what happens to Rolling Stone as the Univ. of Virginia cases proceed. Jan Wenner and Nick Denton will soon be together in an exclusive club.
As for third-party financing of litigation, it is routine. Any case taken on contingency is financed by the law firm itself in exchange for 30% or so of any award. Intellectual property cases are frequent commodities funded by specialized investors. And public-interest law -- the do-gooder stuff that has so advanced civil rights, environmental protection, voting rights, anti-tobacco cases and other public spirited issues -- is entirely underwritten by outsiders who, like Thiel, handpick plaintiffs to represent a grievance.
States have legislated against so-called SLAP suits -- nuisance litigation whose only goal is to bury a defendant in legal costs, but there is no law, and can be no law, limiting civil actions with legal merit.
So here we are. A Confederacy of Scoundrels. And for schadenfreude fans, an embarrassment of riches. Hulk Hogan will probably lose his bonanza on appeal. Gawker Media will find refuge in the hands of a corporation that does not wish to monetize the journalism of destruction, and founder Nick Denton will be gone by day 366. And Peter Thiel, whose reputation was so precious that he spent millions to avenge it?
Well, I am delighted to say, his is ruined.