Journalist Kim Masters is the latest journalist to speak out on what some are calling the “Gawker effect,” as she describes her struggle to find an outlet willing to publish her sexual harassment expose on Amazon Studios head Roy Price.
“In the wake of Hulk Hogan’s successful lawsuit against Gawker, a case that essentially bankrupted the company, we seem to be at a point when the wealthy feel emboldened to try to silence reporters by threatening litigation even if they stand virtually no chance of winning,” Masters wrote, in a tell-all column for the Columbia Journalism Review on Friday.
Masters outlined her long journey to publication in the article, saying that despite her extensive work investigating Price’s sexual misconduct, her story was declined by The New York Times and BuzzFeed News, among other publications.
Masters’ piece was finally published on the tech website The Information in August, and on Friday, after Isa Dick Hackett revealed in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that Price sexually harassed her at San Diego Comic-Con in 2015, Price was suspended by Amazon.
Masters thinks the move by THR — who declined to publish her story — may be a sign that outlets are regaining their will to publish stories that could draw the ire of powerful people. But her personal experience struggling to get the story out makes her worried that the media is now afraid of publishing stories that could get them caught in costly lawsuits.
Indeed, Masters isn’t the only journalist to write about struggling to get a big story published even this week. NBC News investigative reporter Ronan Farrow appeared on “The Rachel Maddow Show” this past Tuesday to discuss how NBC News refused to publish his story outlining over a dozen incidents of sexual misconduct committed by Harvey Weinstein. The piece was instead published by The New Yorker.
Masters notes that Charles Harder, the lawyer responsible for the successful lawsuit that bankrupted Gawker, was one of the lawyers who attempted to shut down her story on Price. Another was Lisa Bloom, who was an advisor to Weinstein until she resigned in the wake of the NY Times’ expose.
“Harder and Bloom convinced every publication that considered my story that they weren’t just threatening legal action but would indeed sue,” Masters wrote.
But good news for reporters like Masters may have come on Sunday, when it was reported that Harder had stepped down from Harvey Weinstein’s legal team after openly promising a lawsuit on the producer’s behalf against the New York Times. Harder’s statement severely criticized the Times’ report. It vowed to follow through on the promises of litigation that Masters says he sent to any editor she tried to pitch her story to.
“The New York Times published today a story that is saturated with false and defamatory statements about Harvey Weinstein,” Harder said. “It relies on mostly hearsay accounts and a faulty report, apparently stolen from an employee personnel file, which has been debunked by 9 different eyewitnesses. We sent the Times the facts and evidence, but they ignored it and rushed to publish.”
But now no such lawsuit will take place after Harder’s exit. Meanwhile, another defamation suit against the Times filed on behalf of Sarah Palin ended with a U.S. District Court judge dismissing the case with a ruling calling for a limit on lawsuits against the media.
“If political journalism is to achieve its constitutionally endorsed role of challenging the powerful, legal redress by a public figure must be limited to those cases where the public figure has a plausible factual basis for complaining that the mistake was made maliciously,” the opinion read.