What are you gonna do when you publish a sex tape, get sued by Hulk Hogan and face a jury verdict that threatens to bankrupt your media company, brother?
That’s the intense question Gawker Media founder Nick Denton is still trying to answer after a Florida jury ruled in favor of a professional wrestler’s lawsuit last week.
The jury awarded Terry Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan) $115 million in damages owing to Gawker.com’s publication of a private sex tape in 2012.
The jury’s decision — which Denton says he believes will be overturned on appeal — stands out as a strong signal that the public’s tolerance for lurid media actions may have reached its zenith.
From the Los Angeles Times:
“People are thinking a little bit more about the concept of what is newsworthy, because what’s changed is the concept of who a public figure is,” said Mary Anne Franks, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law and the legislative and tech policy director of the nonprofit Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, which advocates for privacy issues.
“Society can be contemptuous toward a celebrity because they’re a celebrity, and people think that a celebrity can deal with this,” Franks said. “But nowadays you can be turned into a public figure because of a sex tape that is released of you.”
While experts like Franks debate whether this ruling could have a bigger impact on interpretations of the First Amendment or interpretations of an individual’s right to privacy, Gawker Media is sweating bullets.
As it should be.
The Hogan ruling, especially if it stands on appeal, will become a precedent reminding media companies that just because you can publish something salacious doesn’t mean you should.
More from the Times:
Howard Weitzman, a Santa Monica-based attorney who represents celebrity clients such as pop star Justin Bieber — nude photos of him were recently leaked online — said that the Hogan case sends an important message.
“I believe there is a growing dislike of reckless conduct in this age of digital distribution,” he said in an email. “When someone’s privacy is clearly violated, the ‘victim’ is entitled to some safeguards. In my opinion, such distributors have a duty to act in a decent and responsible manner rather than rushing to satiate perceived prurient interests.”
Gawker has made its brand and its nut on prurient interests. In July, the site published and then pulled down a story about the CFO of Conde Nast purportedly attempting to pay a gay porn star for sex.
That saga exposed a rift among the company’s leadership and ultimately led to executive editor Tommy Craggs — who supported the piece’s publication — leaving the company.
At the time, Denton announced his reasoning for pulling the piece. It was not, noticeably, because the piece was inaccurate.
“The point of this story was not in my view sufficient to offset the embarrassment to the subject and his family,” Denton wrote in a lengthy statement issued on Friday afternoon. “Accordingly, I have had the post taken down. It is the first time we have removed a significant news story for any reason other than factual error or legal settlement.”
That marked a shift in Gawker’s own bravado, and it was clearly noted with an eye to the pending Hogan lawsuit.
Suddenly, the ballsy gossip site had been rattled by a WWE legend who had thrown Denton into the ropes and then lifted his boot in the air, waiting for the publisher to run back into it.
At the moment, the Hulkster has Denton and Gawker pinned to the mat, and the referee has already counted to two.
Things we saw (and heard)
Presenting the 2016 Name of the Year bracket — Deadspin.com
What’s next for Greenwood? — Tulsa People
DA declines to prosecute sexual assault violations — Norman Transcript
When it comes to providing government records the public asks to see, the Obama administration has a hard time finding them — U.S. News & World Report
Quotes to note
“We have never invested at the rate other states have in education, we’ve diminished our investment over the seven years I’ve been here and now we are taking historic cuts in education. Where is the future of Oklahoma if that’s where we’re headed?”
— John Hargrave, president of East Central University to the Ada News after announcing the university would eliminate funding for 13 positions, six educational programs and four athletic programs owing to state budget cuts, 3/11/16
On the whole, I think the people of Oklahoma deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent and what their elected officials are doing, and within reason they ought to be able to do that.
— Rep. Scott Inman (D-OKC), after being the only Oklahoma legislator to respond to an open records request from the Associated Press ahead of Sunshine Week, 3/14/16
A child in kindergarten is facing 13 years of homework ahead of her.
— Heather Shumaker, author, on alternet.org, 3/7/16
Daesh, ISIS, ISIL, they don’t represent the religion. I don’t see them as good Muslims.
— Mohamad Khweis, an American who joined the Islamic State in Syria but then fled after a month, 3/18/16
Highlights from NonDoc
David Walters: Partisan ideology takes its toll on budget by David Walters
Body image: ‘I decided I wanted to be beautiful’ by Shannon Lea Rogers
Filter: Public relations like kissing two butts at one time by William W. Savage III, Editor in Chief