Less than a year after famed (or infamous) media gossip site Gawker was forced to close by a eight-figure settlement in favor of wrestler Hulk Hogan, the successor to the former Gawker Media empire finds itself in the legal crosshairs.
It's for another lawsuit seeking major damages — and it’s the same lawyer taking aim.
This time, attorney Charles Harder, who has also represented First Lady Melania Trump in her libel lawsuit against the Daily Mail, is handling the lawsuit on behalf of RJ Bell, real name Randall James Busack, the founder and CEO of Pregame.com, a sports handicapping Web site.
Pregame.com was the subject of a critical piece published by sports and culture news site Deadspin in June 2016.
Bell is suing Deadspin’s publisher, Gizmodo Media, and journalist Ryan Goldberg for $10 million, alleging the Deadspin story by Goldberg contains untrue and defamatory statements about Pregame’s business model, which damaged the company’s reputation.
Gizmodo Media is the company formed to continue publishing the former properties of Gawker Media after the latter declared bankruptcy. Univision bought Gizmodo Media for $135 million in August 2016.
According to the lawsuit filed in the New York State Supreme Court last week, the Deadspin article, titled “How America’s Favorite Sports Betting Expert Turned A Sucker’s Game Into An Industry,” claimed Pregame was surreptitiously profiting from its customers’ losing bets by receiving what amount to kickbacks from online sports bookies.
Contrary to this claim, Bell’s lawsuit contends that Pregame hasn’t had any business connections to online bookies for almost a decade, well before the article was first published last year. It also claims Deadspin published incorrect data about its handicapping history in support of its false allegations.
Bell claims that he will donate any legal award or settlement money from Goldberg to fund journalism scholarships at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
One key question that remains unanswered. Is Bell’s lawsuit being paid for by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel?
Thiel secretly bankrolled the lawsuit brought by Hogan, real name Terry Gene Bollea, against Gawker.com for invasion of privacy after it published a sex tape apparently recorded without his knowledge.
Hogan and Gawker Media eventually settled for $31 million.Thiel later revealed that he had funded Hogan’s lawsuit in retribution for a story published by Gawkersome years before, in 2007, outing Thiel as a gay man.
The $140 million judgment awarded to Hogan by a Florida jury forced Gawker Media to declare bankruptcy, shut down flagship Gawker.com, and sell its remaining properties to Univision. However, it’s unclear whether Thiel wishes to continue his vendetta against Gawker.com’s former siblings.