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<nettime> TPM > A Huge, Huge Deal
nettime's_speculator on Wed, 25 May 2016 18:14:37 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> TPM > A Huge, Huge Deal


< http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/a-huge-huge-deal >

A Huge, Huge Deal

By Josh Marshall

Published May 24, 2016, 9:57 PM EDT

Here and there we've reported on the Hulk Hogan lawsuit against Gawker.
As you probably know, Hogan won the case and won a massive judgment
of $115 million dollars and an additional $25 million in punitive
damages. While it is widely believed that the verdict is likely to be
reversed on appeal or at least the judgment dramatically reduced,
Gawker had to immediately place $50 million into escrow. The
anticipated need to produce that sum forced Gawker to sell an
undisclosed amount of the company to a Russian oligarch named
Viktor Vekselberg. Simple fact: It's hard to feel too much sympathy
when a publication gets sued for publishing excerpts of someone's sex
tape. But some new information emerged this morning that, in my mind,
significantly changes the picture.

This morning The New York Times reported an interview with Gawker
owner Nick Denton in which Denton said he had begun to believe rumors
that some extremely wealthy person had been bankrolling Hogan's suit.
Read the Times article for the specifics. But the gist is that Hogan's
lawyers made key decisions which made zero sense if the goal were to
maximize the plaintiff's settlement. Denton said he thought the person
was likely someone from Silicon Valley, where you have a strong overlap
between people who have virtually unlimited wealth and people who are
not accustomed to the intrusive and aggressive coverage Gawker and its
sister sites specialize in. It was a little difficult for me to believe
something like this was actually happening. But the evidence of the
legal strategy was pretty compelling. And in recent weeks, in the
aftermath of the Hogan verdict, there have been a spate of new lawsuits
brought against Gawker that are unrelated to the Hogan case. All have
been brought by the same lawyer who handled Hogan's suit.

Now sure enough, this evening Forbes reported that the bankroller
of the Hogan suit is none other than Peter Thiel, a prominent Silicon
Valley billionaire who styles himself a libertarian but somewhat
incongruously is a big time supporter of Donald Trump in addition to
numerous other right wing causes, most of which have a distinctly
Randian cast.

Regardless of his politics, this news should disturb everyone. People
talk a lot about the dominance of the 1% or in this case more like a
tiny fraction of the 1%. But being able to give massive political
contributions actually pales in comparison to the impact of being able
to destroy a publication you don't like by combining the machinery of
the courts with anonymity and unlimited funds to bleed a publication
dry.

We don't have to go any further than Donald Trump to know that the
incredibly rich often use frivolous litigation to intimidate critics
and bludgeon enemies. Mother Jones had a lawsuit like this, clearly
intended to bleed them dry through endless legal expenses. They won,
though at a steep cost. But when bully plutocrats do so in their own
name there is at least a self-correcting dynamic at work. A plaintiff
in a libel suit opens him or herself up to reputational harm and highly
intrusive legal discovery which is often enough to scare people away.
(Remember, when Trump sued Tim O'Brien for publishing Trump insiders'
claims that Trump was worth less than $250 million dollars, Trump was
eventually forced to show O'Brien's lawyers his tax returns.) In some
ways, this lines up with something I noted in my 'Brittle Grip'
series of posts: growing calls from the extremely rich to not only be
able to use their money without limit to shape the political process
but to do so anonymously to avoid being "intimidated" or
"vilified".

It all comes down to a simple point. You may not like Gawker. They've
published stories I would have been ashamed to publish. But if the
extremely wealthy, under a veil secrecy, can destroy publications they
want to silence, that's a far bigger threat to freedom of the press
than most of the things we commonly worry about on that front. If this
is the new weapon in the arsenal of the super rich, few publications
will have the resources or the death wish to scrutinize them closely.

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