Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker, reports say
Billionaire said to have had axe to grind against website since it outed him as gay in 2007
Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel was secretly financing Hulk Hogan's recent lawsuit against Gawker as part of a long-simmering feud with the media company, media reports suggested Wednesday.
According to reports in Forbes and the New York Times, Thiel helped bankroll the recent lawsuit in which Hogan — whose real name is Terry Bollea — won a $140 million US jury verdict against Gawker in a privacy lawsuit stemming from a sex tape Gawker had published.
Gawker is appealing the verdict.
Thiel made billions as a technology investor with savvy early bets on PayPal and then Facebook.
He now heads up a hedge fund and has been an outspoken critic of Gawker since 2007, when the site published an article with the headline "Peter Thiel is totally gay, people."
Thiel said little about his sexuality at the time, but has since come out publicly.
Last year, Gawker landed in hot water for a similar story about an executive at publisher Conde Nast and the brother of a former member of Barack Obama's cabinet. Gawker has since apologized and retracted that story.
In a 2009 interview, Thiel compared Gawker-owned site Valleywag to a terrorist organization. Valleywag covered Silicon Valley, but is now defunct.
"Valleywag is the Silicon Valley equivalent of al-Qaeda," he said at the time.
"I think they should be described as terrorists, not as writers or reporters. I don't understand the psychology of people who would kill themselves and blow up buildings, and I don't understand people who would spend their lives being angry; it just seems unhealthy."
Experts say those feelings could be what's fuelling his alleged backing of Bollea's lawsuit.
"If Peter Thiel is indeed backing the lawsuit, I assume that he thinks that disclosing a sex video without the participant's permission is a violation of the participant's rights — here, a right to privacy," said Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles, in an email.
While Gawker is appealing the verdict, the website is currently facing similar suits from other accusers.
There is nothing illegal about a third-party helping to finance a lawsuit against someone else, but typically the financier hopes to receive a share of the proceeds in any judgment. In this case, however, Thiel or whoever is funding the lawsuit appear to not be seeking any monetary gain.
Gawker founder Nick Denton gave credence to the conspiracy theory this week in an interview with the New York Times Monday in which he said he suspects all of the lawsuits against his company are linked by financing from a common unnamed interest.
"My own personal hunch is that it's linked to Silicon Valley, but that's nothing really more than a hunch," Denton told the Times. "If you're a billionaire and you don't like the coverage of you, and you don't particularly want to embroil yourself any further in a public scandal, it's a pretty smart, rational thing to fund other legal cases."
With files from Reuters