Gawker just got hit for $115m (possibly with punitive damages to follow) for posting the Hulk Hogan sex tape.
A Florida jury today ordered Gawker Media to pay $115 million for publishing a sex tape showing Terry Bollea, also known as Hulk Hogan, having sex with his friend's wife.
The stunning sum, which may have punitive damages added to it, is a life-threatening event for the New York-based network of news and gossip sites. Gawker media was one of the first successful, large digital-only news companies. The final sum is even more than the $100 million Bollea was seeking. Bollea also sued Gawker founder Nick Denton and former editor Albert Daulerio, and the jury found those two men personally liable as well.
The sex tape was made about a decade ago, during a period in which the professional wrestler Hogan testified that he was going through a difficult phase with his then-wife. Todd Clem, a Florida radio personality who later legally changed his name to Bubba the Love Sponge, encouraged Hogan to sleep with his wife Heather.
Gawker have said they intend to appeal, which you'd expect them to do. Also worth noting that as well as suing Gawker the company Hogan also sued founder Nick Denton and former editor Albert Daulerio on a personal level... both were also found liable.
Short general, rather than specifically legal, analysis; good.
Gawker's type of journalism... heavy on snark and sarcasm, low on accuracy, nuance or analysis... has always been horrible and worse than simply being horrible in a void I'd suggest the rise of Gawker and sites like it has been one of the major factors behind the degrading of debate online. They've also been bullies, happy to mock and ridicule anyone they disliked... and if that person were to dare respond then they'd simply mock and ridicule some more. You can see an almost perfect example of that in the case; when during his sworn deposition Daulerio was asked how young a celebrity would have to be for their sex tape not to be newsworthy (in the context of whether Gawker would publish it) he replied "four". That's not a joke between friends, not an informal email, not even a written article. This was in a sworn deposition for a serious legal case. Daulerio signed to say the testimony was accurate and only started recanting and saying how he was being sarcastic when it came up during the trial. He's almost certainly right; I don't think too many of even the most ardent Gawker haters would genuinely think they'd publish the sex tape of an eight year old child celebrity... but the fact that it was considered a reasonable topic to snark about in a formal, sworn deposition does give some insight into the mindset. And it's not a pretty mindset.
Hogan isn't exactly the only victim of Gawker's bullying approach to "reporting"... it was only a few months back that they outed an executive at a rival media company
and as such being part of the blackmail plot that executive was facing. That cause a bit of controversy within Gawker itself... although it should be noted that the biggest fallout was Gawker editorial staff resigning in protest of the story eventually getting taken down... but they soldiered on. But what they faced in Hogan was someone with the resources and willingness to actually call their bluff and take them to court over it. There's actually a decent parallel between the way this played out and the Rupert Murdoch/News Corporation hacking stories, at least in the UK. One of the first celebrities who had their phone hacked and looked like they were going to take legal action was Andy Gray
, a former footballer/soccer player turned commentator/pundit. But almost as soon as it became clear he was going to take action, behind the scenes footage of him being sexist was suddenly leaked and his reputation was in tatters before anything could be done. The people who had access to that footage? Sky Sports, part of a TV network controlled by the Murdochs. What happened with Hogan? He threatened to sue and suddenly additional extracts from the sex tape involving him being racist mysteriously get leaked. But what Gawker found was that if someone has enough money and will to survive their reputation being destroyed then you actually have to win on the arguments... and as today's ruling prima facie shows, they couldn't.
There's also a certain hint of satisfaction at Gawker's blatant hypocrisy catching up with it. The Hogan Sex tape was newsworthy and a valid story. The leak of female celebrity nude photos a while back? Well, that was disgraceful. Of particular note was this headline from Jezebel
(one of Gawker's sub-sites); "Behind Every Bullied Woman Is a Man Yelling About Free Speech". What were Gawker "yelling" as their defence in this case? Oh, free speech. It's not even as if this is a "it's ok to do it to men, but not to women" type point (something Jezebel has a history of
... can you imagine the same tone being taken with male on female domestic abuse); not so very long ago they were more than happy to post a bunch of hacked/leaked pictures of Olivia Munn which had her adding captions describing her sexual fantasies over erotic (but PG-13) photos of her.
Full legal analysis (and thus whether Gawker have much hope for an appeal... their current position seems to be that they were prevented from entering material evidence) will have to wait for the judgement to come and just because I dislike Gawker doesn't mean that they don't necessarily have a legal case.
But I do have to admit I let at a little smirk once the news broke.