The media whinging over Peter Thiel’s bankrolling of Hulk Hogan’s suit against Gawker is starting to make me nauseous.
What do we need more, a refresher on the First Amendment or a refresher on what journalism is?
Posting a video against someone’s will of them having sex is not “free speech.” Especially when they tell you to take it down and you refuse to. It doesn’t matter if they are assholes. It doesn’t matter if the use the N-word. It doesn’t matter if they played the part of person who has a lot of sex. (Wrestling is fake, BTW.) What you did is probably illegal and definitely worthy of a civil suit.
You may even be sued out of business. The fact that you made some rich enemies by doing similar things to them and now they want to help sue you isn’t a scandal, a journalism apocalypse, or even surprising. It’s karma.
That’s not to say that what happened to Gawker is O.K. because they’re scumbags. The fact that they’re scumbags is irrelevant. It’s OK because that’s how things work.
The primary purpose of the First Amendment is to protect speech from the government. Peter Thiel is obviously not the government. He’s a rich guy, he’s pissed off at Gawker, and whether or not he has the right to is not the point. He saw a suit that they were likely to lose (because they finally went too far against the wrong person,) he invested, and as of now, it looks like it it was a good investment.
Meanwhile, Facebook’s trending links are not journalism. It’s already an old joke by now, but if your primary source of news is Facebook, you’ve got problems. Outrage and shock over the fact that they were curated by hand and curated with bias — whether it’s a bias for liberals, kittens, or bratty reality stars — is woefully misplaced. Facebook is not a news company.
But, more importantly, Congress has no business “investigating” Facebook whether they are a news company or not. Nothing compels Facebook, Fox News, or even gasp, the New York Times to be “unbiased.” Which is a good thing since the meaning of the word “bias” is difficult to pin down.
The Congressional investigation is nothing more than a dog and pony show. It’s happened before, and it’s worth pointing out, repeatedly, that they have better things to do. Like breaking the previous congressional benchmark for inactivity. As the article says:
“Congress has a history of investigating content that it can’t legally control,” Paulson said. “That’s why we’ve had hearings on video games, rock and rap music, and comic books. We need to be vigilant about regulation through intimidation.”
The Post article is about intimidation. It tries to create a false equivalence between Congress’ intimidation and Thiel’s intimidation. Government intimidation of journalists is a real thing. It happens all over the world and here in the U.S.
But we’re supposed to believe that Thiel’s involvement in the Hogan suit will have some kind of a chilling effect on journalism. You see, we shouldn’t sue news organizations because suing them might hurt them.
Hopefully it will have a chilling effect on posting unwanted videos of people having sex. Hopefully the next time someone gets a video of a celebrity having sex they’ll say “Let’s not use this, that’s stupid, and it can get us sued.”
Maybe it will have a chilling effect on outing gay executives that want to stay closeted too.
That would be a tragedy.
Will this “chilling effect” spread to other, more news-like news topics? I don’t see how. Can you think of a legitimate news story that can also land you in a civil suit?
It’s discomforting to hear that Thiel has lawyers soliciting people to sue Gawker with his wallet. But the thing is, the suits have to be able to go somewhere. Poynter talks about how it can be a strategy to bury Gawker in legal fees – that’s not what’s happening here. It’s one suit, they lost, and it’s the damages that are killing them.
Don’t post sex videos as news and this won’t happen to you. If you’re really intimidated, stay away from tech billionaire’s sexual preferences too. I know it’s going to be difficult, but maybe western civilization will survive.
But don’t conflate a civil suit over a sex tape with government intimidation of journalists. It’s dishonest and risks taking our eyes off the real problem.