Peter Thiel has an axe to grind with Gawker.
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A Wednesday report from The New York Times reveals that the tech billionaire has been raging a "secret war" against the media organization for years, and has put millions into the fight. The PayPal co-founder spent about $10 million bankrolling Hulk Hogan's invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against Gawker — and that's just one of several suits against the gossip site Thiel says he has financially backed, according to the report.
For those who hadn't been following the story, Hogan sued Gawker in 2012 after the site posted a sex tape featuring the wrestler. A Florida jury recently awarded Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, $140 million, though Gawker plans to appeal.
Thiel told the Times that he's standing up for the "victims" of Gawker's coverage, and called the site a "singularly terrible bully."
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Posted by PCMag on Wednesday, May 25, 2016
His problem with the site dates back nearly 10 years, when Gawker's now defunct Valleywag blog in 2007 ran a post with the headline "Peter Thiel is totally gay, people." The author of that article, Owen Thomas, now business editor at The San Francisco Chronicle, maintains that he did not out Thiel, and simply reported on what was common knowledge among a "wide circle."
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But Thiel says that and a series of articles about his friends "ruined people's lives for no reason," and he's had it out for the site ever since.
"It's less about revenge and more about specific deterrence," Thiel told the Times. "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."
As the Times points out, the revelation about Thiel backing cases against the site has "raised a series of new questions about the First Amendment as well as about the role of big money in the court system — specifically the emerging field of litigation finance, in which third parties like hedge funds and investment firms pay for other people's lawsuits."
Meanwhile, for its part, Gawker says its coverage speaks for itself. "Just because Peter Thiel is a Silicon Valley billionaire, his opinion does not trump our millions of readers who know us for routinely driving big news stories," Gawker Media Founder Nick Denton told the Times.
News emerged this morning, hwoevre, that the whole ordeal might force Gawker to sell.
See what PCMag's Sascha Segan and Tim Torres have to say about the controversy in Wednesday's episode of Random Access, embedded above.