At first blush, the secret support that the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel provided for Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker is a salacious yarn about money, power, gossip and revenge.
But it is also about something more important: an aggressive bid by the very wealthy to control the U.S. news media at a time when it is in a financially weakened state, struggling to maintain its footing on the electronic frontier’s unstable terrain.
Speaking with Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times on Wednesday, Thiel said he had financed the Hogan lawsuit — which resulted in a $140 million verdict against Gawker — not only because Gawker Media wrote in 2007, against his wishes, that he was gay, but also because he had determined the gossip site had too often operated with “no connection to the public interest.”
His verdict rendered, Thiel had the resources to swap his judge’s gavel for an executioner’s sword. Should the $140 million verdict stand up to appeal, Gawker Media will most likely cease to exist as we know it. And if too much of Gawker survives, Thiel, with an estimated net worth of $2.7 billion, indicates he will keep financing anti-Gawker lawsuits to kill off whatever is left.