An Oxford education, elite media lawyers and the constitutional shield for freedom of the press was not enough to protect Gawker publisher Nick Denton – and the view of press rights in America – from the wrath of 6ft 7in, 302lb Hulk Hogan.
On Friday in St Petersburg, Florida, the legendary pro-wrestler, whose real name is Terry Bollea, delivered a $115m legal hit on the iconoclastic web publisher, a victory that signals a significant change in the public’s tolerance for media invasions of privacy – and that could bankrupt the site.
For three weeks jurors heard how Denton, a media star with ambitions of revolutionising news coverage, and AJ Daulerio, a former Gawker editor, had published and refused to take down a 2006 sex tape of Hogan and the wife of his best friend, DJ Bubba “the Love Sponge” Clem.
Denton’s refusal to do so now stands as a fateful decision that could determine whether the 49-year-old publisher goes down as both creator and destroyer of Gawker Media. If the judge in the case imposes as $50m bond on Gawker, which its representatives say it cannot pay, the site and its nine ancillary publications could quickly collapse.
That’s just the proximate cause, of course. The ultimate cause is the recent vote to unionise Gawker.
Hey, it’s no worse logically than most of the shit people try to sell us these days.