It's hard to imagine Hulk Hogan knew sleeping with his best friend's wife in 2012 would have such far-reaching implications. But his lawsuit against Gawker Media for posting a video of the incident has raised constitutional questions about privacy in the Internet age and freedom of press. Now, eBay's Pierre Omidyar and PayPal's Peter Thiel are involved and the case has turned into a clash of the billionaires.
Omidyar, who owns the online news organization First Look Media, has reached out to other media organizations to garner support for Gawker. His company is filing an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief purportedly to support freedom of the press. But some say billionaire Thiel's involvement really sparked Omidyar's interest in the case.
Last week, Thiel admitted to paying approximately $10 million to fund Hogan's suit, as well as other legal actions against the gossip blog. Thiel says Gawker's 2007 article "Peter Thiel is totally gay, people" and a series of others about his friends "ruined people's lives for no reason." He's equated the site to terrorists.
Hogan has likely appreciated Thiel's financial help. The wrestler and reality-TV star received an award of $140 million in his suit against Gawker. The suit has also pushed the media company to sell a minority seat on its board to afford legal action. Rumor has it that Nick Denton, the owner of Gawker, is even considering selling the entire company to afford an appeal.
However, Thiel's involvement has one serious drawback: Omidyar. While Omidyar previously supported Gawker, sources told the New York Post that the billionaire's interest was renewed when he found out Thiel was supporting Hogan. Omidyar, a crusading liberal and philanthropist, hasn't hid his disdain for Thiel's free-market libertarianism.
"So Thiel agrees with Trump's plan to muzzle press that criticizes government, obviously. That's why he supports him?" Omidyar tweeted after news of Thiel's involvement was released.
By filing an amicus brief, Omidyar is changing the context of Hogan's suit against Gawker. Instead of focusing on Hogan's expectation of privacy, the suit will rise to a full-blown First Amendment rights case. Hogan and Thiel will essentially be taking on the media industry, most of which is owned by other billionaires.
Will Thiel's $2.2 billion net worth be able to stand up to Omidyar's $7.8 billion PLUS the billions of Omidyar's friends in the media industry? It may be hard to equate this clash of the billionaires to the battle between David and Goliath, but Hogan and Thiel have seen a lot of success so far.