Billionaire outed as funding Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against shared enemy, Gawker
PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has been revealed as the money source for WWE wrestler Hogan’s lawsuits against Gawker, who published several excerpts from a sex-tape featuring Hogan and his best friend’s wife, recorded without his knowledge.
On Monday, the New York Times reported that Gawker CEO Nick Denton believed a wealthy individual was funding Hogan’s multiple lawsuits against the site.
By Tuesday evening, Denton’s suspicions were confirmed when Forbes magazine reported billionaire Thiel has been financially assisting Hogan in his cases against the website.
“According to people familiar with the situation who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, Thiel... has played a lead role in bankrolling the cases Terry Bollea, a.k.a. Hogan brought against New York-based Gawker,” wrote Forbes.
In March, a Florida court awarded Hogan $140 million in damages, with the highly publicised case raising questions about the rights surrounding celebrity privacy, free speech and free press.
Judge Campbell denies Gawker's motion for a new trial. She will not reduce the $140m damages at all. #hulkvsgawk— Anna Phillips (@annamphillips) May 25, 2016
Gawker appeared in a St. Petersburg court Wednesday to contest the jury’s verdict, but their motion for a new trial and lowered damages were both denied. Gawker plans on appealing the decision.
Unsurprisingly, judge just ruled against Gawker's motions to reduce/reverse the jury verdict. Gawker will appeal. #hulkvsgawk— Peter Sterne (@petersterne) May 25, 2016
Denton told the NY Times his suspicions about a possible lawsuit financer began when Hogan dropped a claim for “negligent infliction of emotional distress” - a claim which would have been covered by Gawker’s insurance.
Dropping the claim meant a potentially lower payout for Hogan, but any damages would have to come from the news organization’s pocket.
Thiel, who is now open about his sexual orientation, was outed as gay in an Gawker article published in 2007.
In July 2015, Gawker controversially outed a married Conde Nast executive who they reported had attempted to arrange a meet-up with a gay escort. After receiving “widespread” criticism, the company apologized and removed the post.
It’s not illegal for a third-party to help with litigation funding in the US, and sometimes results in the outsider receiving a percentage of any profits from the suit.
However, the non-profit group (to which Thiel has donated in the past) Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned Thiel for using his wealth to avenge an apparent personal vendetta and bankrupt a media organization.