If the First Amendment does not protect offensive speech, it protects no one. Gawker is nothing if not reliably offensive, noxious, and cruel. Nonetheless, it deserves the defense the Bill of Rights affords.
Gawker lost that protection in the judgment Hulk Hogan won against it. I fear this is the First Amendment as Donald Trump would interpret it: “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” 115 million moneys, to be exact.
My greatest disappointment in this case is Gawker proprietor Nick Denton himself. Some disclosure is warranted: I served on the board of Denton’s prior company, Moreover. Nick introduced me to blogging. He convinced me to convince my then employer, Advance Publications, to invest in and save Blogger, founded by the founder of this very platform, Ev Williams. Nick tried to get me to start a blog company that would be the Time Inc. of blogs to his imagined Condé Nast of blogs. I haven’t talked with Nick lately. Most recently, he asked me to introduce him to possible German investors, who could backstop him in the Hogan case. He went with a Russian instead.
Nick Denton is — was — a brilliant journalist and entrepreneur. He believed, quite rightly, that American journalism sucked dick to get access to power. So he started blogs — Gawker, Wonkette, et al — as blunt alternatives beholden to no man. Sadly, after a time, Gawker’s sites did not cover the shitheads; they became the shitheads. Gawker didn’t need to show us Hulk Hogan’s fornicating ass. It didn’t need to ruin a magazine executive’s life (look it up; I won’t link). It didn’t need to attack people for the glee of it (including me). It didn’t need to exist.
Nick proudly portrayed himself as the anti-journalist. Cute but useless. Nick Denton — former Financial Times and Economist reporter and accomplished entrepreneur — could have done so much more than show us Hulk Hogan fucking his best friend’s wife.
I don’t mean to come off as haughty. I am a great fan of Howard Stern. Thus I’ve heard Hulk talk about his fucking. But I never enjoyed it. The visual was too much to bear. I switched over to NPR.
On the demerits of the case, Hulk Hogan is a public figure and he cannot separate himself from his persona. Like it or not, he forfeited his privacy for wealth and fame. Like it or not, Gawker deserves the protection of the First Amendment like Nazis in Skokie. Gawker might well win on appeal.
But along the way, journalism and Denton both lost an opportunity to show what news could be with honesty and accountability to the public instead of the powerful. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a fucking shame.