Billionaire Peter Thiel pushes ‘Gawker bill’ as website prepares to be auctioned off
Tech billionaire Peter Thiel sounded off about Gawker Media in a New York Times editorial on Monday as he watched the news and entertainment website head to the auction block.
Gawker filed for bankruptcy in June, seeking to sidestep a shutdown from a $140 million judgment for releasing a Hulk Hogan sex tape in a lawsuit bankrolled by Thiel.
Monday evening in New York was the deadline for submitting offers to buy the company, with qualifying bidders to take part in an auction on Tuesday.
In March, a US jury in Florida ordered that wrestling star Hogan be allowed to collect $140 million in total compensation after Gawker published a videotape of him having sex with a friend’s wife.
“For my part, I am proud to have contributed financial support to his case,” Thiel said in the editorial, referring to Hogan by his given name Terry Bollea.
“It is ridiculous to claim that journalism requires indiscriminate access to private people’s sex lives.”
Gawker founder Nick Denton early this month filed for personal bankruptcy protection in a bid to stop his assets from being seized because of the judgment.
Denton has slammed what he called a “personal vendetta” and said in a memo to staff that it was “disturbing to live in a world in which a billionaire can bully journalists because he didn’t like the coverage.”
While Gawker has come under fire for its no-holds-barred approach to celebrity coverage, the case also raised questions about whether powerful interests can use their resources to silence media for unfavorable coverage.
The case drew heightened attention when Thiel, a Silicon Valley titan, acknowledged that he had helped fund the litigation and others against Gawker, with whom he has feuded for years since it “outed” him as a homosexual.
A filing in federal bankruptcy court in New York lists Gawker assets in a range of $50 million to $100 million, and liabilities between $100 million and $500 million.
German-born Thiel was a founder of the online payments firm PayPal, and served as its chief executive before it was sold to eBay. He was also an early investor in Facebook and has been active in venture investing in Silicon Valley.
Thiel used the Times op-ed piece to lobby for support of the Intimate Privacy Protection Act, legislation under consideration in US Congress that he said would make it illegal to distribute explicit private images, sometimes called revenge porn, without the consent of the people involved.
The act is nicknamed the “Gawker Bill,” according to Thiel.
“Since sensitive information can sometimes be publicly relevant, exercising judgment is always part of the journalist’s profession,” Thiel said.
“It’s not for me to draw the line, but journalists should condemn those who willfully cross it.”
Speculation regarding who may bid for Gawker has included US digital media company Ziff Davis, Vox Media, Penske Media, and Univision.