Billionaire Peter Thiel, PayPal cofounder and early investor in Facebook, called financing the $150 million crushing lawsuit against Gawker filed by former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan “one of my greater philanthropic things that I’ve done” in a revealing interview Wednesday.
“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,” he told the New York Times, telling them it was “less about revenge and more about specific deterrence.”
This is first interview Thiel has granted after it was revealed that he had helped fund former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the gossip blog for posting a secretly-recorded sex tape. While a Florida jury originally rewarded Hogan with $115 million in March, the amount has since climbed by the tens of millions in further damages from Gawker Media and founder Nick Denton.
Gawker outed the very private Thiel in 2007 with an article titled, “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.”
Thiel laid out his many reasons for backing Hogan and targeting Gawker:
- Gawker “ruined people’s lives for no reason.”
- Gawker’s articles were “very painful and paralyzing for people who were targeted… I thought it was worth fighting back.”
- Gawker targeted people who couldn’t defend themselves for destruction: “I can defend myself. Most of the people they attack are not people in my category. They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can’t defend themselves. Even someone like Terry Bollea [Hulk Hogan] who is a millionaire and famous and a successful person didn’t quite have the resources to do this alone.”
- Someone gave Thiel the nudge he needed to fund Gawker’s destruction: “I didn’t really want to do anything. I thought it would do more harm to me than good. One of my friends convinced me that if I didn’t do something, nobody would.”
- “I refuse to believe that journalism means massive privacy violations. I think much more highly of journalists than that. It’s precisely because I respect journalists that I do not believe they are endangered by fighting back against Gawker.”
- “It’s not like it is some sort of speaking truth to power or something going on here. The way I’ve thought about this is that Gawker has been a singularly terrible bully. In a way, if I didn’t think Gawker was unique, I wouldn’t have done any of this. If the entire media was more or less like this, this would be like trying to boil the ocean.”
- Thiel recruited lawyers to look for Gawker’s victims and his search has been years in the making: “Without going into all the details, we would get in touch with the plaintiffs who otherwise would have accepted a pittance for a settlement, and they were obviously quite happy to have this sort of support. In a way very similar how a plaintiff’s lawyer on contingency would do it.”
- Thiel spent “roughly in the ballpark” of $10 million on the case, saying: “I would underscore that I don’t expect to make any money from this. This is not a business venture.”
- Holding Gawker and specifically Nick Denton liable for “one of my greater philanthropic things that I’ve done. I think of it in those terms.”
- Thiel told The New York Times he’s “happy his role might spur a conversation about it being ‘extremely hard for the most common victims to get justice.'”
- “It’s not for me to decide what happens to Gawker. If America rallies around Gawker and decides we want more people to be outed and more sex tapes to be posted without consent, then they will find a way to save Gawker, and I can’t stop it.”