In the history of humanity we have become accustomed to the contests of men who righteously stand tall and upright to show who is the strongest, largest and widest of the bunch. Dick waving in America has long been a favored pastime by corporate elites who sacrifice American jobs, and its workers, for money, power and/or control. Perhaps the most infamous of this was Cornelius Vanderbilt and the aptly titled Erie War between him and his fellow railroad barons. The end result was the sacrificing of thousands of American workers who lost their livelihood in the smoldering aftermath of the battle.
The latest in this long line of course is Gawker. In case you missed the news, media brat Gawker has shuttered its doors as of yesterday with a closing post by founder Nick Denton. Sure the sub blogs will live on so if you religiously read Deadspin, Jezebel, Gizmodo, Kotaku or any other, your daily reading habits likely won’t change greatly. It remains to be seen what happens under the Univision umbrella but wholesale changes are currently not anticipated.
The demise of Gawker has been sad to watch but also not terribly surprising. As the old saying goes, if you live by the sword you die by the sword. Gawker was uncompromisingly devoted to its motto: Live Free or Die Trying. It stayed true to this motto even when it came across an enemy devoted to its destruction.
That enemy came in the form of Peter Thiel, a Lex Luthorian venture capitalist harboring a personal grudge against Gawker in general and against Denton in particular. Thiel, hardly a sympathetic figure in this saga, was reportedly outraged over a Gawker post outing him. Denton says its reporting on his business practices was of much greater concern.
After the fact, it seems predestined that Gawker would die. Priding itself on being a media outsider, as well as on publishing stories that would never be published elsewhere, Denton and some of his staff made legions of enemies and precious little friends. Faced with a future that involved an unending series of lawsuits funded by Thiel, it appears Denton simply threw in the towel.
This digital war was waged primarily through the auspice of a lawsuit brought by Hulk Hogan (real name Terry Bollea) after the website published a sex tape involving him and the wife of one of his friends, Bubba Clem. The video was staged, contained graphic language and even more graphic images. It might seem benign as a medium of battle, but it is in the incremental steps that this war was lost.
As for Hogan himself, he is a remarkably unsympathetic plaintiff outside of his hometown jurisdiction in Pinellas County, Fla where the trial would be held. The video in question contains enough offensiveness to outrage a wide ranging audience yet it would be heavily edited for the jury in a series of rulings issued by presiding judge Pamela Campbell. The jury would also not hear that the lawsuit was financed by Thiel nor would it know why.
Denton admits in his farewell post on Gawker that it failed to adequately test the air and recognize that cyber bullying and revenge porn were areas where consumers, its potential jury pool, as well as journalists, its natural allies, would be disinclined to support. He readily concedes the venue was not favorable nor were the rulings issued by Campbell.
Yet hubris, that engorged dick men wield so well, prevented him from removing the offending post and compelled him to defend it at all costs. That cost, as we know now, was the job security of the journalists Denton says he sought to protect.
Having compounded the ill advised decision to publish the post with an uncompromising attitude toward removing it, or issuing any apology, Gawker girded itself for battle. Despite pre-trial rulings weighed heavily in Hogan’s favor, it went before the jury with guns glazing in its defiant defense of what it had done. It was hubris at its finest.
How ironic that Denton accuses Thiel of unending hubris in his farewell post when it is that same animal which brought Gawker down.
Ultimately, Denton and Thiel waged a digital dick measuring contest that led to Gawker’s inevitable demise. Diametrically opposed, yet remarkably similar, neither Denton nor Thiel seemed willing to negotiate or attempt a truce. The end result was a jury verdict of $140 million which is ridiculously high yet emblematic of a jury that hates the guts of the defendant. Gawker filed for bankruptcy and its name was so toxic that no investor would be willing to take it on.
Denton poses his battle as one for journalist freedom without ever recognizing sometimes winning the battle means living to fight another day, or, as in this case, living to publish another blog. Yet in defending so called journalist freedom, Denton sacrificed his journalists as pawns while decrying Thiel’s use of Hogan as one too.
As for Thiel, digital dick measuring in the end only means you’ve shown your dick. What little credibility he enjoyed is gone having been squandered in what appears to be an all encompassing goal to destroy Denton and Gawker. Now that he has succeeded, it seems fair to question where he might turn his own ego next. What other enemy is lurking out there for him to set his sights upon? One shudders at the thought.
Wars of attrition fought via litigation are rarely easy and often expensive and Denton didn’t seem to have the intestinal fortitude to wage the bigger war. Preferring instead to go down in a blaze of glory, Gawker and Denton were uncompromising to the end.
Live free or die trying and Gawker was meant to die.