Some people I’ve spoken to about blog collective Gawker Media’s recent legal and corporate tribulations have expressed concerns about the chilling effect well-funded lawsuits may be having on a free and unfettered press. But it’s hard to find any angels in the ongoing saga of Gawker Media and its many detractors.
The latest news is that Gawker is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection even as it entertains an acquisition bid from publishing firm Ziff Davis.
Reportedly, Ziff Davis is offering $90 million to purchase Gawker Media. This compares to the $140 million judgment against Gawker handed down by the courts in March in the Hulk Hogan defamation lawsuit.
Looking at the sordid details, it’s hard to find sympathy for any of the major players. In the choice words of journalist and writer Bob Garfield:
“[Gawker Media is a] snide, predatory gossip site that built a reputation cutting hypocritical big shots down to size, but soon ran out of big shots and turned its sneering animus on any anonymous medium-shot unfortunate enough to fall into its sights … Gawker.com is in the schadenfreude business.”
Professional wrestler and television personality Hulk Hogan (aka Terry Gene Bollea) isn’t a paradigm of virtue, either – what with his history of obnoxious statements and what we’ll call euphemistically “other activities” that fall pretty low on the class-meter.
Tech industry billionaire Peter Thiel, who provided the financial backing for Hulk Hogan’s successful lawsuit, was once a victim of Gawker himself – being “outed” as gay by the media site. But Thiel’s über-libertarian pronouncements appear churlish on the one hand, while his legal takedown of Gawker seems to be at cross-purposes with the “anything goes” free speech premises of libertarianism.
Nick Denton, Gawker founder and CEO, has remained defiant even in the wake of the latest turn of events: “Even with his billions, Thiel will not silence our writers. Our sites will thrive – under new ownership,” Denton has been quoted, adding that court appeals will continue.
Clearly, this drama isn’t ending anytime soon. But with no sympathetic characters in this drama — and that’s about the most positive thing one can say about it — who’s ready to take a shower right about now?