In a rather remarkable journalistic sleight of hand worthy of a more intelligent and cautious Donald Trump, one Stuart Karle, partner and legal counsel of North Base Media, a venture capital firm, comes down on the side of Gawker in the highly charged public battle between the E-Site and Peter Theil of PayPal fame.  He joins an increasing number of folks who object to Thiel bankrolling Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker for publishing a sex tape that showed Hogan having sex with the wife of a friend of his. 

To be fair, while I typically object to the bankrolling of “things” by rich guys including political campaigns as a result of Citizens United (Thanks You Supremes), this time I’m on Thiel’s side.  But let me summarize Karle’s reasoning for supporting Gawker over Thiel. 

Karle spends a great deal of time discussing the multiple lawsuits racist white Southerners used back in the 1950’s and 1960’s in their attempts to silence Northern media (The New York Times, ABC, CBS and NBC let’s assume, since Fox News did not exist back then) from exposing the violence of police and Citizens Councils were using to beat up Negro lunch counter sit-in participants in an effort to crack the Jim Crow segregation laws that were extant throughout the South back then.  Five Alabama officials sued the New York Times over the paper's coverage of the violent beatings for $3 million ($24 million in 2016 dollars).  The case eventually wound up at the Supreme Court who ruled in New York Times vs. Sullivan that public officials could only recover damages for false and defamatory statements (libel) involving their official duties"  and only if they could prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the media knowingly lied or acted in reckless disregard of the truth.”

Thus, Karle tees up his defense of Gawker as one of “libel” and states that Thiel can’t spend money to counter “stories that Thiel believes unworthy.”  Of course, by the same standard, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh would have been out of business years ago.  Karle goes on:

“Criticism of Gawker and other media for coverage that is inaccurate or probes too deeply into someone’s private life is fair – even if reasonable minds could differ on both counts.  Yet with Thiel secretly footing the bills, the playing field is tilted.  His chosen plaintiffs did not have to spend their own money prosecuting their claims, subsidized to the tune of $10 million.”  (Don’t know where this figure comes from but I've seen it everywhere.) 

So thanks to New York Times vs. Sullivan, when Donald Trump calls an ABC reporter a sleaze or Judge Curiel biased, or when the Koch Brothers can spread outright lies about Elizabeth Warren’s “Consumer Financial  Protection Bureau"all over the internet, there is virtually no recourse since the Supreme Court vitiated libel and slander laws in their 1960 ruling. 

But here’s the problem with Karle’s – and much of the media’s – case against Thiel:  Thiel isn’t objecting to the salacious or inaccurate stories that Gawker peddles   - well that may be slightly inaccurate, since perhaps Thiel, like me, does object to seeing the cascades of stupid “news” items about the sex escapades of Kim Kardashian or the Hillary Murdered Vince Foster bullshit every day. But this is not what Thiel’s beef is about.  It is curious that Karle references the term “privacy” only once in this piece (in the quote above) and that in the context of weighing the pros and cons of revealing details about one’s private life (“reasonable minds could differ”). 

What Karle seems to ignore is the premise that even following passage of the Patriot Act, even after the CIA domestic spying revelations, even after the revelation that our internet providers (Google, AT&T, Verizon, Amazon, etc.) sell our personal data for profit and often provide such information to the government, there is still a fundamental right to privacy although given Citizens United and Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court might rule otherwise in the near future.  And this, given that Gawker knowingly outed Peter Thiel as a gay man, which private information was not known to us, the general public at the time, this is what Theil's case defense of this actions rest on.   And, yes, while our rights to privacy has been severely eroded in recent years, they still exist.  I would say that actions do and should (at least occasionally) have consequences.  

Take for example our medical records.  They are still protected as a right to privacy since their release could have direct impacts on our lives.  Or take the case of CIA agent, Valerie Plame, who was outed as such by the Bush Administration after her husband - a CIA agent as well - declared the smoking gun document "proving" the sale of “uranium yellow cake” by the Niger government to Iraq's Saddam Hussein was simply fake.  This case is not unlike the Gawker/Thiel case in that the exposure of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative by Robert Novak in a news article based on information leaked by the Bush Administration constituted a potential danger to her.  That case resulted in a jail term for White House Aide Scooter Libby. (His sentence was commuted by President Bush in the end.)

Sure, outing a CIA agent may not have the same impact as the outing of a billionaire techie as a gay man, but the same principle applies: our expected right to privacy in our private lives.  Much is made of the fact that a great deal has changed over the past decades regarding sexual orientation.  No longer is it obligatory for gay men and women to hide their orientation for fear of being fired from their jobs or being attacked on the street.  But, unless we have eliminated all danger to our personal lives based on our sexual orientation, then this fact deserves to be kept secret if an individual believes that its pubic exposure would subject him or her to personal risk. 

And this, not any libel or slander consideration, is what Thiel has based his grudge match against Gawker on.  And all this criticism of “Well, he’s a billionaire and he shouldn’t use his financial power to support Hogan against Gawker” smacks of abject hypocrisy when the Koch Brothers use large portions of their billions to promote their political objectives, and in secret, I might add.   And isn’t this the same kind of activity as undertaken by the ACLU or the Southern Poverty law Center or the Mormon Church in contributing to legal cases that they believe are counter to their interests? As far as I know, there is no law against anyone contributing to a defendant or a plaintiff involved in a lawsuit.  Frankly I applaud the Florida jury's verdict in this case and its $140 million judgment against Gawker.  Even the jurors in the case, now that Thiel’s bankrolling of Hogan’s defense has been made public, have said that this knowledge would not have changed their verdict.   

In fact, they were “put off” by Gawker’s Denton and awarded more money to Hogan then they had originally intended just because of Nick Denton’s "unbelievable arrogance" throughout the trial. Here’s what Juror, Shane O’Neil, says about the verdict:

“As a matter of fact, when you really think about it, a lawsuit like that, which I have no clue the cost…most people would not be able to afford that, so you probably have thousands of people that have been victimized by similar companies, Gawker and others, that can’t simply defend themselves and obviously even what seems like a wealthy individual, Terry Bollea, obviously needed help…I just don’t really see how that would change the outcome at all,” O’Neil said.   GWAKER JURORS Link.

What this tells me is that the perhaps pubic is sick and tired of corporate America being able to simply call all the shots and exercise their incredible invasive actions into our private lives and private personal business.  I honestly think that this is not some isolated sentiment exclusive to Florida citizens.  The difference in this case is that a private citizen – not the ACLU or the Southern Poverty Law Center with limited resources – was able to finance a case that clearly overstepped the boundaries between what is legitimately fodder for public exposure and the right that all of us have to maintain our private lives as we see fit. 

Karle’s resort to libel and slander technicalities misses the point entirely.  The Hulk Hogan case and Peter Thiel’s bankrolling of the case is clearly about the right to privacy and not any Free Press issues.  It's surprising to me (or maybe not) that Karle never even mentions in his article that the lawsuit was a privacy lawsuit not a libel or slander suit.  I've never seen an article where Theil denied that he's gay.  The jury seemed to understand the nature of the trial while Karle for all his legal maneuvering, does not. Tech billionaires just like the rest of us have a right to privacy.  To believe otherwise only further erodes our claim to keeping our private lives to ourselves.  

Now would that I had the billions that Theil has so that I could bankroll my favorite things!

Good Day Folks!


Popular posts from this blog