I don’t expect you to keep up with a tech billionaire’s crusade against a gossip site. It’s just not a pressing issue. It’s not Donald Trump’s latest face-palming comment nor Hillary Clinton’s newest “burn.” However, it is an issue that has the potential to open up a lot of precedents.
If you haven’t been keeping up with the billionaire vs gossip site war, here’s a recap. Gawker released Hulk Hogan’s sex tape, prompting a lawsuit by Hogan against the site. Turns out Peter Thiel, entrepreneur and co-founder of PayPal, is funding Hogan’s lawsuit. Thiel has been a routine victim of Gawker journalism; they outed him as gay back in 2007. Hogan won the lawsuit to the tune of $115 million, prompting Gawker to file for bankruptcy to protect its assets from creditors. If you don’t yet see the potential disaster this lawsuit could bring to journalism then let me enlighten you…
Freedom of Speech/Press Anyone?
Freedom of speech and press has been an important facet of the Thiel VS Gawker debate. Regardless of the fact that the right to freedom of speech/press applies to the government, not private individuals, it’s still a legitimate point. Is it right for publications to be silenced for publishing offensive and insensitive material? If it is, where’s the line drawn?
I’m no fan of Gawker. I’m no fan of gossip sites in general. Gossip is superficial entertainment with little to no value except to digital peeping toms. But I, as a writer, and someone who has had his fair share of offended readers, can’t help but see the side effects of endorsing such suits.
First they came for the gossip sites, but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a gossip writer…
Once you open that door, it’s hard to close it. I believe that actions have consequences, Gawker is definitely feeling those consequences. But what happens when it’s my turn? And do I think publications should be closed down because someone got offended by them?
Do I condone homosexual relationships? Do I smoke weed or do drugs? No. I’m not going to prohibit anyone who does either though. Not because I condone the behavior, but because I don’t want to open the door to my actions getting banned. And I can’t help but think the same thing in this Gawker case.
The Problem With Billionaires Suing Journalistic Publications
Seems like I can think of another rich guy who wants to punish annoying journalists. Donald Trump has continually railed about opening up libel laws to “sue them and win lots of money.” “Them” being the media and journalists who never fail to frustrate him.
You can praise Thiel’s war against Gawker all you want, but don’t assume this is a onetime thing. Letting the rich decide which publications are acceptable or not isn’t how a republic works. As Vox Editor, Emmett Rensin put it…
If you’re a writer not troubled by Thiel, it’s because you never anticipate writing anything that really pisses off a billionaire.
— Emmett Rensin (@emmettrensin) June 13, 2016
Rensin also mentioned that not every rich plutocrat shares your sense of decency. That’s what it comes down to. Thiel might be pushing standards I can align myself with, but who says the next anti-media crusading billionaire will? I’d rather not flip a coin to see what happens. As a writer who prides himself on writing what he loves, it’s becoming harder and harder for me to condone Thiel’s actions.
Yes, Gawker’s Behavior is Disgusting, but…
Emmet Rensin again…
“I’ll offer the example I always do: If you believe letting rich people litigate to destroy journalists they don’t like is defensible then I promise, should I become a billionaire, to sue you out of existence for expressing such a dangerous, distasteful position. See? Now you may say that’s unreasonable, but hey, we just differ on what’s appropriate, and I’ll have the cash, so tough luck [journalist]!”
Gawker’s behavior is disgusting, but who defines what’s disgusting in these cases? The billionaire suing does. What’s disgusting, indecent, and dangerous is subjective to whoever’s suing. This is why I can’t honestly condone Thiel’s behavior.
In the age of trillion upon trillions of writers, publications, opinions, reporters, and facts it’s a dangerous precedent to condone the crusade of one man to silence a less-than-decent publication. I’d rather not open that door, poke that sleeping dragon, or give that power to a toupee wearing tyrant in training.