Bitter Battle Emerges For 'Gawker' Archives

In 2016, when popular culture website Gawker was brought to its knees by a lawsuit issued by former pro-wrestler Hulk Hogan, the biggest surprise was who funded the case: Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel.

The legacy of the site depends on perspective. Some viewed Gawker as a necessary source for media, celebrity and other news. Others, Thiel among them, saw the site as something to be destroyed. 

Last week, Thiel officially bid for ownership of the site, following rumors he intended to do just that. Though speculation, many think and fear his move is intended to delete Gawker from existence on the internet. (The site published a story about his homosexuality in 2007.)

That Thiel was able to take down the internet giant by backing Hogan’s lawsuit was terrifying to those who work in media — and those who depend on it. How safe is the press if a wealthy man can successfully attack those publications he feels threaten him or he deems unfit?



Some former Gawker editors failed to raise money through Kickstarter to buy back the archives still online and restart the publication. For the moment, that is Gawker’s existence: an archive of over a decade’s worth of news and scandal, unprotected from permanent removal.

The precedent is a dangerous one.

Gawker was a diligent recorder of those who thought they were too big to touch, and much of the work done by its journalists came from deep, unsympathetic reporting, at times to the site’s detriment. The battle is not just for control of Gawker, but how or if the site’s legacy will be remembered.

Will Holden, the site’s bankruptcy plan administrator, and Gregg Galardi, the site’s bankruptcy attorney, are fighting to stop Thiel from acquiring the site.

The battle is ultimately to sustain a free press. The fear, both past and present, is that a person or corporation can censor independent media through wealth. With sufficient assets and drive, it can push a particular agenda and essentially erase any news or reporting deemed unacceptable, thus preventing the free flow of ideas.

Some may see the move as the ultimate revenge. A man receives full retribution after a media outlet runs stories about him he saw as disparaging. But the real message seems to signify that power has shifted, the imbalance is so intense that private citizens can now sidestep basic values and rights, like freedom of the press, to shape the cultural landscape to their whims.

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