Hulk Hogan, tool of the media-hating aristocracy?
The pro wrestler is at the center of a growing uproar over media transparency and the so-called one percenters who control most of the wealth in the U.S. This week it came to light that Hogan’s successful lawsuit against Gawker over his published sex tape was secretly financed by PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel.
It’s the latest example of the ultra-rich secretly trying to control the flow of news and information. Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson has insisted he isn’t influencing news coverage of the Las Vegas Review-Journal – the newspaper he bought after years of clashes over stories.
Weaponizing litigation is old news. GOP candidate Donald Trump is far from the first wealthy person to use the threat of lawsuits to try to intimidate critics.
But now the super-rich are waging war against not just reporting but against any kind of transparency. Thiel has admitted to secretly bankrolling anti-Gawker lawsuits in an attempt to ruin the website because a sister publication, Valleywag, outed him as gay.
“Plutocrats already have outsized power in this country, and we cannot allow them use their vast fortunes to silence media companies,” the union representing Gawker editorial employees, the Writers Guild of America, East, wrote in a statement on Thursday.
In his defense, Thiel told the New York Times: “It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence. I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”
There is reason to believe, however, that Thiel – who has, ironically, given money to the Committee to Protect Journalists – may not have been acting purely out of personal hurt feelings. He is also on the Facebook board, the social-media giant cofounded by Mark Zuckerberg.
“Just days after Gawker Media’s site Gizmodo exposed that Facebook’s news section has suppressed certain points of view, we’ve now learned that a Facebook board member and a major funder of The Committee to Protect Journalists has been secretly funding a legal campaign against our journalists,” Gawker said in response to the Forbes report.
“Petty, vindictive billionaires like Thiel literally have the power to destroy media outlets in secret,” The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald tweeted Wednesday as the Gawker news broke.
But Simon also told the Huff Post that CPJ supports “the right of individuals in the United States and around the world to seek civil redress in case of defamation.”
Meanwhile, Adelson remedied his problems with the Las Vegas Review-Journal by simply buying it.
Adelson wanted his purchase of the paper to remain anonymous. Recently he has said he doesn’t intrude on news judgment. However, there have been allegations that Adelson and his representatives have vetoed particular stories and instructed editors to shape stories to make them more favorable to Adelson and his business partners. In addition, the paper has reportedly fired employees for disloyalty.
“There are a many billionaires out there who would be happy to take Thiel’s lead. I am sure,” Lowell Peterson, the writers’ guild executive director, said in an interview. “This may just be the tip of the iceberg.”
Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, has vowed to “open up” libel laws to make suing the media easier. Fortunately for journalists, The Washington Post reports that Trump would not be able to “unilaterally change the libel laws,” due to First Amendment concerns.
But the mere prospect of a Trump presidency – combined with Thiel’s now-exposed campaign to destroy a website he doesn’t like – is enough to rattle anyone interested in the free exchange of ideas and information.