Last week the website Gawker.com published its final post. Not because the site was unpopular and unprofitable, but because it was bankrupt. The bankruptcy came as a result of a lawsuit filed by Hulk Hogan and backed by billionaire Peter Thiel.
Thiel had a longstanding personal dispute with Gawker’s editors for the site outing him as gay in the often homophobic world of big tech development. Thiel was admittedly bent on destroying Gawker for being cruel. But is a lack of cruelty part of media’s responsibility? The New York Post is often accused of salaciousness and cruelty, but they aren’t sued to oblivion. The Hulk Hogan and Peter Thiel lawsuit cost Gawker more than $140 million.
Are we entering an era where billionaires get to decide whose messages and stories are allowed in the public domain?
“The Gawker case is fascinating for a whole lot of reasons,” says Lee Wilkins, professor of communications at Wayne State University. She says a key element of the Gawker case was it’s question over an invasion of privacy, rather than libel. She says media have a harder time wrestling with the question of personal privacy. ”In our current age with computers… to have a jury say ‘No, we think privacy is important…’ I think that is a genuine part of the story we don’t talk about very much.”
“I think people with a lot of dough are perhaps emboldened by the case with Gawker,” says Wilkins.
The issue of having a free press has also be raised during the current presidential election cycle as Democrat Hillary Clinton has largely avoided interviews, and Republican Donald Trump has barred reporters from covering his campaign if he doesn’t like their reporting.
“Getting kicked off the campaign bus is the very best thing that happened to The New York Times and The Washington Post, because [now] they’re doing shoe-leather journalism,” says Wilkins.
Still, Wilkins says, journalism is a vital part of American democracy, and so too is access vitally important.
“Journalism isn’t there for journalists, but there because the rest of us can’t be.”
To hear the rest of the conversation, click on the audio player above.