Billionaire Investor Peter Thiel Admits to Funding Hulk Hogan's Suit Against Gawker

By on May 28, 2016 in ArticlesBillionaire News

Want to buy a rhinestone charm off eBay? Use PayPal. Need to pay back a friend for getting you tickets to Guns n'Roses? Use PayPal. Suing gossip blog Gawker for violating your privacy? Use PayPal co-founder, Peter Thiel.

Thiel, who is also one of the earliest investors in Facebook, has admitted to paying about $10 million to fund the lawsuit Terry Bollea (a.k.a. Hulk Hogan) brought against New York-based Gawker Media, as well as other legal actions against the outlet. Hogan sued the site for $100 million after it posted a video in 2012 of him having sex with his former best friend's wife. A Florida jury awarded the wrestler $140 million in March and Florida Circuit Judge Pamela Campbell upheld the award on Wednesday.

John Pendygraft-Pool/Getty Images

John Pendygraft-Pool/Getty Images

When the news of the Silicon Valley billionaire's bankroll came to light, Gawker wasted no time attacking Thiel. On Wednesday, the media outlet said in a statement to Huffington Post:

"According to these reports, a board member of Facebook and the Committee to Protect Journalists has been secretly funding a legal campaign against our journalists."

But the New York Times reported Thiel doesn't believe his actions are contradictory:

"I refuse to believe that journalism means massive privacy violations," he said. "I think much more highly of journalists than that. It's precisely because I respect journalists that I do not believe they are endangered by fighting back against Gawker."

In 2007, Gawker published an article: "Peter Thiel is totally gay, people." Thiel said that article and a series of others about his friends "ruined people's lives for no reason." In a 2009 interview, Thiel described Gawker's writers as terrorists – quite the admonition from a man who also supports Donald Trump. One of his friends convinced him to use his power and money to help other victims of Gawker's coverage defend themselves against the site's attacks.

"It's less about revenge and more about specific deterrence," he said on Wednesday. "I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredible damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest."

But Owen Thomas, the author of the salacious 2007 Gawker story defended his work. (He is now the business editor at the San Francisco Chronicle.) He said he was merely reporting common knowledge about a public figure, and did not "out" the tech billionaire.

"I did discuss his sexuality, but it was known to a wide circle who felt that it was not fit for discussion beyond that circle," Thomas said in a phone interview with the Times. "I thought that attitude was retrograde and homophobic, and that informed my reporting. I believe that he was out and not in the closet."

The Silicon Valley's admitted involvement raises questions about whether Hogan had a financial interest in bringing the case to court. At the hearing before Judge Campbell on Wednesday, Seth Berlin, an attorney for Gawker, attempted to introduce printouts of the New York Times and other articles linking Thiel to the case. But the judge stopped him.

"I don't like looking at all the stuff that's published out there," she said. "It's not healthy."

Now that Hogan's case is moving into the appellate stage, it remains to be seen whether the Silicon Valley billionaire's bankroll will help or hurt the case. Robert Richards, a professor of First Amendment Studies at Penn State University, told the Wall Street Journal that while Thiel's financing is not illegal, it could set a precedent for other wealthy figures who might want to change the media landscape.

"If you have a situation now where a newspaper fears doing something that might be controversial because they don't know who is going to come out of the woodwork to sue them, I think that certainly has a chilling effect," he said.

Of course, this chilling effect is exactly what the First Amendment is supposed to guard against.

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