Billionaire Peter Thiel may buy Gawker, the website he helped bankrupt

Billionaire Peter Thiel may buy Gawker, the website he helped bankrupt
Venture capitalist Peter Thiel is reportedly pursuing a bid to buy Gawker.com, a website he helped topple by funding a clandestine legal battle against its parent company.

The billionaire complained in court documents filed Wednesday that administrators overseeing the sale of the site are “maintaining selective secrecy over the process,” and are discriminating against his bid based on his history with the publication, according to Buzzfeed.  

The roots of the dispute between the site and Thiel is believed to hark back to 2007, when Gawker published a story questioning the sexuality of the Facebook board member. When a sex tape involving former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, real name Terry Bollea, appeared on the site in October 2012, Bollea launched a lawsuit against Gawker Media. Following Bollea’s victory and award of $140 million in damages, and Gawker’s subsequent bankruptcy over its inability to pay, it emerged that Thiel had spent millions of dollars to help fund Bollea’s legal challenge.

Gawker’s sister sites were sold to Univision in August 2016 for $135 million, but the bankruptcy plan administrator has been unable to find a buyer for Gawker.com. Under the terms of sale, the new owner would have control of the site’s 14-year archives, meaning it would be within their power to delete them.

One obstacle to the sale of the site to a party other than Thiel is the threat of further legal action against a new owner. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in February, Bollea’s lawyer, Charles Harder, said the new owner would have to delete some articles in order to protect themselves from litigation.

“It would be the responsible thing to do for a new buyer to remove articles from Gawker.com that violate defamation laws, privacy laws or journalism ethics,” Harder said. “Such articles never should have been published in the first place, and if they were to be removed now, the public, and journalism, would benefit.”

Thiel would not be short of cash to complete his takeover. On Wednesday, the tech tycoon sold three quarters of his remaining stake in Facebook for about $29 million, leaving him with more than 59,000 Class A shares in the social media giant. He had already sold more than $1 billion worth of stock in three separate transactions in 2012 and 2016. But for some, the prospect of a Thiel takeover of Gawker is too much to bear.