The Hulk Hogan-Gawker saga took another surprising turn this week when Paypal founder Peter Thiel revealed that he had bankrolled the wrestler’s lawsuit against the website in retaliation for a 2007 Gawker article outing him. Mr. Thiel hoped the $140 million lawsuit would put the media company out of business.
Near the end of a New York Times interview, published in today’s paper, Mr. Thiel hints at other pending court cases, saying “It’s safe to say this is not the only one.”
The Writers Guild of America East, the labor union which represents Gawker’s writers, seized on this final piece of information and released a statement calling on Mr. Thiel to reveal all his secret lawsuits.
“Plutocrats already have outsized power in this country, and we cannot allow them to use their vast fortunes to silence media companies,” the statement read.
Lowell Peterson, executive director of the WGAE, told the Observer that Mr. Thiel’s actions threatened all independent journalists.
“He is using a scorched earth attack, saying ‘if I don’t like what you write about me or my industry, I’ll put you all out of work,'” he said. “He wants Gawker to cease to exist. That’s just not acceptable. That kind of existential threat has to be taken off the table.”
While Mr. Peterson admitted that it wasn’t a guarantee that Mr. Hogan would win the suit, he said there were a few early indicators that it would succeed. The first was that the trial was held in Florida.
“The litigation was brought in Hulk Hogan’s backyard, so the court was much more sympathetic,” Mr. Peterson said.
As the Observer reported in March, however, many in Florida were annoyed by the media circus, with one media analyst saying “Gawker is a big ‘who cares’ around here.”
Mr. Peterson also said that a claim in the initial Florida lawsuit meant that Gawker’s insurance company had to pay for its defense and supply the payouts to Mr. Hogan.
“That takes away the company’s ability to fund its own defense,” he said. “Thiel and Hogan knew from the beginning that this could put Gawker out of business, regardless of the ultimate outcome.”
Indeed, Gawker Media generated only $48.7 million in revenue in 2015.