Nick Denton: Weinstein Case Proves Gawker-Slaying Lawyer Can Be Stopped

“Charles Harder is dangerous to media companies to the extent that he has a deep-pocketed backer like Peter Thiel behind him,” said Denton in exclusive comments to The Wrap

Former Gawker chief Nick Denton says the case of Harvey Weinstein proves Gawker-slayer lawyer Charles Harder isn’t as all-powerful as some people think.

Harder represented Weinstein and promised legal action against the New York Times for a story that exposed widespread sexual misconduct accusations against him. But Harder bailed on plans for the suit over the weekend.

“Charles Harder is dangerous to media companies to the extent that he has a deep-pocketed backer like Peter Thiel behind him,” Denton told The Wrap.

Nick Denton: Weinstein Case Proves Gawker-Slaying Lawyer Can Be Stopped

But Denton chided the media for treating Harder like a scary Batman villain, citing a tweet by BuzzFeed reporter Matthew Zeitlin:

“I thought this advice was good,” Denton said of Zeitlin.

Harder made his reputation representing Terry Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan) in his lawsuit against Gawker. The resulting judgement and settlement in favor of Bollea forced the company and Denton into bankruptcy. Thiel, a tech billionaire, backed Bollea’s lawsuit financially.

Harder also boasts of winning a multi-million dollar settlement and obtaining a full retraction and apology for first lady Melania Trump, in a libel action against the Daily Mail newspaper.

Denton said Gawker smelled smoke about Weinstein and even published an open call for people to submit accusations in 2015 after allegations by Ambra Battilana nearly led to criminal charges.

“Gawker took risks to get out the story — or half the story — early,” said Denton. 

Since Weinstein’s downfall last week, many have whispered of a “Gawker Effect” to explain how powerful figures can silence media companies with the threat of litigation. The subject caused a flurry of discussion after Columbia Journalism Review published a lengthy piece about journalist Kim Master’s struggle to place her story about sexual harassment accusations against Amazon Studios head Roy Price — someone also represented by Harder. Price was placed on leave Friday.

Denton was skeptical about how much impact the Gawker case had.

“Media outlets have been sitting on stories about Harvey Weinstein for decades, since before Gawker even existed,” he said. “I’d say there is a power effect, in industries such as entertainment and media as much as in politics or finance. People like Weinstein and [former Fox chief Roger] Ailes only get exposed once their power is on the wane.”