Full disclosure: I wander through Gawker and it's affiliated sites on a fairly regular basis- though the actual mothership probably isn't my most-visited site, I give it a go from time to time, but really, Deadspin and io9 are where I'm usually to be found. I could really give half a shit about the whole Hulk Hogan sex tape thing, but the reaction to the news that Billionaire Peter Thiel was the guy funding Hogan's lawsuit the whole time is sort of amusing to say the least.
Billionaire do this. I detest the whole 'money is speech' notion, because it reduces our basic rights to commodities and that's just bullshit. The Constitution doesn't say that you can have as many rights as you can buy- it says everyone has the same rights under the law. More money shouldn't buy you more rights.
But, as I said, billionaires do this. The difference is that when billionaires like Tom Steyer or George Soros fund lawsuits that liberals and progressives like, then we don't hear about it. When Thiel goes after a media company that has done some excellent work and some frankly cheap tabloid hackery, all of a sudden the media elites are clutching their pearls and talking about what a 'threat to free speech it is.' (Some people say it's a load of bunk, some people say- of course- that it's really racism that's behind this, some people say maybe. The opinions run the gamut.)
So Thiel went a little Count of Monte Cristo on Gawker... maybe Nick Denton is right- maybe the guy is a comic book villain, but as I keep hearing whenever the (usually, but not always Progressive/Liberal) internet mobs run amuck because someone has the audacity not to hew to their ideological orthodoxy*: 'Free speech doesn't protect you from consequences.'
No, it doesn't. So why should Gawker get a pass? They outed a dude with, to coin a phrase used by Bill Burr, 'fuck you money.' And if you out a dude with 'fuck you money' you really shouldn't be all that surprised when they in fact, use their money, to well, fuck you. Granted in the case of Gawker it could be well be a terminal fucking, but as the great and the good always sermonize: free speech doesn't protect you from consequences.
Is it a threat to free speech itself? No more than anything else is these days... one prominent case doesn't make a trend, but it might set a legal precedent that's worthy of some concern. If we find ourselves getting to the point where billionaires can use the law to hide themselves from the scrutiny of the press, then I think we have a problem. But conversely, if you're the ones driving the content that sets the tone for our public discourse, then there's some onus of responsibility on the side of journalism as well.
I mean, look at the original story that purportedly started Thiel on his Count of Monte Cristo quest. This wasn't about exposing the wrong doings of a rich and powerful guy. They figured out that he was gay and then went ahead and outed him, because they thought it was pretty cool? How is that newsworthy? How is that responsible journalism? How is that any of Gawker's business much less any of mine? They ran a story that took what I would imagine to be an incredibly personal decision- to come out as gay, in public- out of the hands of someone, just because they could. And just because you can do something, doesn't mean that you should.
Actions, as people like to remind us these days, have consequences. And if Gawker goes down, it'll be a shame, because when they hit home runs, they can produce things of beauty when they want too. But the problem is, when they miss, they miss in the worst way possible. It's sort of fascinating to watch- because there's the range of genuinely incisive, even important journalism/commentary at one end and the worst kind of tabloid trash at the other. And in this case, the latter got them into some deep and well-deserved doo-doo, and to be honest, it couldn't have happened to nicer people.