There should be no ambiguity about what happened in the battle royale between Gawker and Peter Thiel.
Peter Thiel won. Gawker lost. And democracy took a worrisome blow from the One Percent.
Nick Denton is bankrupted. Gawker is sold and about to shut. Meanwhile Thiel is just fine, counting his money and for all we know plotting his next media takedown. (I hear he really didn’t like The Advocate’s coverage of his RNC speech. Watch out!)
Thus Hulk Hogan, who started it all becomes, a detail in a larger drama that should make all of us anxious who understand that a free and vigorous press is the cornerstone of a free society.
The issue is not whether Gawker deserved to survive, or whether the journalism it practiced was worthy. Gawker lived by the literary sword, and many who suffered its barbs or winced at its gleeful mockery of others find it hard to mourn its passing now.
A lot of what Gawker wrote was not at all worthy. Denton hurt people. Stipulated.
But the argument for the First Amendment sits astride larger principles than that. (And it’s our First Amendment, as in – the most important one. Ever notice?) Thiel flouted and mocked those principles in his campaign to bring Gawker down.
Upset about the coverage he received, Thiel chose not to challenge Gawker in the light of day, in a court of law, under the Constitution that governs us all. He chose to plot against Gawker in secret, under cover of another person’s injury and with the intention not to get satisfaction for Hogan or himself but to destroy Gawker outright.
One wonders what Hulk Hogan thinks now of being used as Thiel’s tool to end the life of a publication. It ended Denton’s career, and threw dozens of journalists out of work. It probably made no dent in Thiel’s pocket.
This was no public service, as Thiel likes to try to convince us in high-minded commentary in The New York Times. Being outed by Gawker, “didn’t feel good, but I knew it could have been much worse,” he intoned. “What I experienced would be minor in comparison with the cruelties that could be inflicted by someone willing to exploit the Internet without moral limits.”
Therefore, Thiel took it upon himself to protect others from this publishing scourge, like a modern day Robin Hood — oh wait, that doesn’t quite work … how about “Braveheart”? And he has vowed to do it again. Thus Thiel and other one-percenters like him become the unelected arbiters of what is over the line, First Amendment-wise. What is too much, or immoral, or just plain mean. Not a judge or a jury. The folks with bottomless pockets.
WILMORE It's the last show.
STEWART What, did you piss off Peter Thiel? pic.twitter.com/Y4v1jStcKI
— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) August 19, 2016
Thiel said as much in his Time’s op-ed: “The press is too important to let its role be undermined by those who would search for clicks at the cost of the profession’s reputation … But they can’t do it if we don’t let them.”
We? He’s not talking about you and me, who can’t afford to play
Is this the country we had in mind? I sure didn’t.