Gawker writer on his last day and Peter Thiel's 'vindictiveness'
After 14 years of online muckraking, Gawker is done. The website has been embroiled in a complex legal saga since publishing a sex tape of wrestler Hulk Hogan. The site lost a privacy lawsuit over the publishing of the video and was ordered to pay Hogan $140-million US.
Gawker and the company's owner Nick Denton filed for bankruptcy. That privacy lawsuit was backed by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel. It was Gawker that outed Thiel in 2007.
Andy Cush was a writer for Gawker Media. As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch spoke with him about the website's last days.
Laura Lynch: Andy what was that last day like at Gawker?
Andy Cush: It started off very sad. Gawker is something that we all were and still are very proud to have contributed to. I understand Univision's reasons for not keeping the site running, both legal and financial. But I felt like what had happened to us over the last several years, through no fault of Univision, was so unfair.
LL: Well Univision is the company or the corporation that bought out some of the Gawker Media as other
domains. Why did they choose not to take over Gawker, the main site?
I hope that it is remembered as a place where writers were allowed to come and pursue their strangest and most unlikely ideas and were given the support to do so by a great team of editors.- Andy Cush
AC: Well, the lawsuit that bankrupted the company was based on a post that ran on Gawker.com several years ago. The man, Peter Thiel, who bankrolled that lawsuit seems to have a special vindictiveness for posts and writers on Gawker.com specifically. And it seemed like the decision to not include the site in the purchase was born largely out of the idea that if Univision continued to run Gawker.com it would put itself directly into Peter Thiel's cross hairs.
LL: OK, let's let's just back it up a little bit more. Tell us how we got to this point with Peter Thiel?
AC: Peter Thiel is a venture capitalist billionaire. He spoke at the Republican National Convention in support of Donald Trump. He is a board member of Facebook, one of the original investors in Facebook, one of the founders of Pay-Pal
and he is also a gay man.
In 2007 the Gawker's now defunct Silicon Valley gossip blog called Valleywag published a post which correctly and truthfully identified Peter Thiel as a gay man. I think something that gets lost in the discussions of that post and the
origins of these lawsuits against Gawker is the fact that the writer was also gay. Nick Denton, the founder of the company, is also gay and if you go back and read that post which is still online it says Peter is the smartest and
most successful venture capitalists in the world. It's important for us as gay people to be able to acknowledge that this pioneer of industry is one of us.
It was written at a time when we didn't have marriage equality here in America, and it was written at a time when politicians were still openly campaigning and legislating based on platforms of gay hatred. And the mindset behind it was that it is a net good for gay people everywhere.
LL: But he still had a right to privacy ...
AC: Sure. Yes. And I think whether you believe that decision to run that post was correct or not, and as a straight guy I'm not going to say that I have the final word, but I don't think that it is something that a publication should be totally shuttered over.
LL: What happens next is Peter Thiel funds the lawsuit launched by Hulk Hogan. Do you think it was
specifically because he wanted to see Gawker shut down?
AC: I think so, yeah. I think that for a long time Gawker's lawyers were confused by the whole Hogan side's continued refusal to settle in the lawsuit. We later learned that Peter Thiel was behind it. And he's basically said as much in an op-ed that was published in The New York Times recently, that the lawsuit and several other lawsuits that he financed against Gawker are as much about what he views as a crusade for privacy on the internet against Gawker as much as they are about the individual cases.
LL: If Gawker is closed by a lawsuit funded by a man who didn't like Gawker, what does it say to
you about freedom of the press?
AC: Well it says to me that this is something that journalists everywhere have to reckon with now and I don't know if there are other Peter Thiel's out there. But he said in this same New York Times op-ed that it is something he would do again if there was a case that he felt merited his financial support. And I also think that it bears mentioning that Gawker didn't just out Peter Thiel. It also spent many years very aggressively criticizing, and rightfully in most cases, the culture of ruthless capitalism, mistreatment of employees, playing fast and loose with users' privacy that Thiel and his companies were a part of in Silicon Valley, and that he enabled. I think that his crusade against Gawker is as much about not liking the criticism of his industry as it is about having been outed.
AC: I certainly hope so. Univision has indicated that they support that kind of journalism.
LL: What do you think the legacy of Gawker will be?
AC: I hope that it is remembered as a place where writers were allowed to come and pursue their strangest and most unlikely ideas and were given the support to do so by a great team of editors.
Andy Cush says many of his colleagues are joining Gawker Media's other websites. As for himself, he's pursuing a lifelong dream as a music journalist. Cush will be joining Spin in the coming days. For more on his story, listen to our full interview.