While speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Monday, PayPal co-founder and billionaire Trump supporter Peter Thiel addressed funding Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Media, claiming they weren’t journalists but instead a “singularly sociopathic bully.”
“If you make a sex tape of someone with their permission, you are a pornographer. If you make a sex tape without their permission, we were told now you are a journalist,” explained Thiel. “I would submit that as an insult to all journalists. This is not about the First Amendment. It is about the most egregious violation of privacy imaginable.”
“Publishing a sex tape filmed privately in the privacy of someone’s bedroom. And to hide behind the First Amendment, to hide behind journalism, that is an insult to journalists,” he continued. “That’s why Gawker lost so catastrophically at the court in Tampa, Florida, because they were arguing all of these abstract theories, and we kept focusing on the facts of the case.”
“There was a deposition of AJ Daulerio, the editor who published the sex tape. In the deposition we asked him, ‘So is there a sex tape you wouldn’t publish?’ [He said] ‘Um, maybe if it involved a child.’ We asked, you know, ‘What age child?’ He said, ‘Well if it was a four-year-old child,'” Thiel recounted.
“There were sort of gasps at the jury at that point. He was like an aspiring child pornographer, and that’s not what journalism is about,” Thiel said. “I strongly believe in the First Amendment. I believe journalists are a privileged group in our society, they play an important role at getting us information in a system of checks and balances, but these were not journalists.”
Upon being asked whether he thought what happened to Gawker could happen to other news organizations, Thiel responded, “I think if they try they won’t succeed.”
“Gawker was a pretty flimsy business. It was a bad business, it didn’t make that much money, but they could have withstood all the lawsuits,” he claimed. “They lost because of an enormous verdict that came against them. That’s why they lost at the end of the day.”
“I could have written many more lawsuits, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was they lost on the facts,” he stated. “I was very careful in the Hulk Hogan litigation in picking a lawsuit where the fight was over privacy. We did not even bring a libel action, because that was sort of the way I wanted to make clear in the Hogan case.”
“They were a singularly sociopathic bully,” added Thiel. “My view was that other journalists, other media organizations were not remotely in the same ballpark.”
“It was one of these things where, as you got involved, you came to believe in the justice of the case more and more, because there were so many different people that you interacted with that had been destroyed, in many cases, most cases, it wasn’t super prominent people, or super wealthy people, it was people who couldn’t afford to do anything,” he continued.
“And one of the striking things is if you’re middle class, you’re upper-middle class, you’re a single digit millionaire like Hulk Hogan, you have no effective access to a legal system. It costs too much. And this was the modus operandi of Gawker to go after people who had no chance of fighting back,” he explained.
Speaking on the new phenomenon of Internet hate mobs, Thiel claimed that “Gawker in some ways perfected it,” adding, “where you pick on people, and you would destroy their lives, and write nasty stories. The writers then might even add comments that were even more vicious than the ones in the story, all so as to generate a virtual mob that would go after these people.”
“There were many different targets they had, they had targets in Silicon Valley, they had celebrities as targets, but the one big class of targets that Gawker went after were people in the media,” he continued. “That’s the one class of people they especially hated, were other reporters, other writers, and in the sort of pre-history as we’re building up to this case, a few people I talked to about it, and some of the people who encouraged me to keep going were some of my friends in the media.”