One of the more bizarre digital media stories of the past year has been the Gawker/Hulk Hogan stoush over the publication of a sex tape featuring Hogan sleeping with Heather Clem, the ex-wife of his friend, radio personality Bubba The Love Sponge. This deeply weird yarn culminated in a successful lawsuit which awarded the Hulkster a fairly staggering $140 million, which is a, uh, large amount of money for Gawker Media.
The question of where Hogan was getting the dosh for the lawsuit kept coming up during and after the trial. Gawker founder Nick Denton alleged in a New York Times editorial that it was somebody in Silicon Valley:
If you’re a billionaire and you don’t like the coverage of you, and you don’t particularly want to embroil yourself any further in a public scandal, it’s a pretty smart, rational thing to fund other legal cases.
He’s talking specifically about Gawker’s tech industry gossip vertical Valleywag, which spends most of its time pissing off Californian tech people by reporting on the shitty things they do and say in private. Well, turns out Denton was right: the Hulkster’s legal campaign was bankrolled by PayPal founder, early Facebook investor and Donald Trump surrogate Peter Thiel.
But who among us who has not secretly funneled millions to a reality television professional wrestler to sue a media outlet over a sex tape?
— Parker Higgins (@xor) May 24, 2016
Forbes worked out over a months-long investigation that Thiel – who is worth an estimated $2.7 billion – has been “secretly covering the expenses of Hulk Hogan’s lawsuits” against Gawker.
Thiel despises Gawker, and he may have a legitimate reason for it. One of Gawker’s more notorious editorial directions was once outing closeted gay public figures, and they did it to him in 2007. At the time, Denton (who is also gay) defended that particular outing in the comments section:
The only thing that’s strange about Thiel’s sexuality: why on earth was he so paranoid about its discovery for so long?
If Silicon Valley is the bastion of tolerance it likes to believe, and if the tech industry cares only about money, it’s surprising that Thiel would have kept his personal life a secret from journalists and his closest colleagues, for so long. He was so paranoid that, when I was looking into the story, a year ago, I got a series of messages relaying the destruction that would rain down on me, and various innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, if a story ever ran.
Thiel’s response was to compare Gawker to terrorists, describing Valleywag as “the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda.”
So there you have it. What looked like a truly American battle between a horny pro-wrestler and a tabloid is actually the staging ground for an insanely rich tech dude to get revenge. Beauty.