As an indication of how plugged into the zeitgeist of Silicon Valley entrepreneurship I am: I’d never heard of Peter Thiel before around 50% of my Twitter feed suddenly started making repeated references to him. That alone isn’t noteworthy, but it is unusual to find myself disagreeing with practically everyone about an issue.
The short version, as far as I’ve been able to tell: the financially devastating lawsuit that Hulk Hogan recently won against Gawker media was secretly financed by Thiel, an absurdly wealthy investor. His motivation for backing the suit, supposedly, was a long-standing vendetta against Gawker for an old piece in Valleywag that outed Thiel as gay. (Apparently, he’s now openly out of the closet, so I’m not hypocritically spreading rumors here).
We’re told by people that I generally agree with, and also John Gruber, that this is a case with chilling implications for every one of us who’s not super-wealthy. TPM warns us that it’s horrifying when a “bully plutocrat” can take advantage of the American judicial system to obliterate journalists he doesn’t like. The Wired piece I linked to at the top suggests a future in which sites can only publish what the wealthy want to hear about themselves. On The Atlantic, Ian Bogost compares Thiel simultaneously to a Bond villain and an internet troll.
(Bogost’s article acknowledges that there are no “good guys” in a story involving Gawker, Hulk Hogan, and a billionaire with a vendetta against a blogging empire, but it also highlights and hyper-links “Trump-supporting” twice when describing Thiel, so it’s kind of easy to see who’s the real villain here).
I’m a little torn. I’m a decidedly non-wealthy person with zero influence in Silicon Valley, and I tend to say “libertarian” and “Trump-supporter” with the same sneering disdain that Ann Coulter uses to talk about “liberals.” I’m also a gay man who spent a lot of years in the closet, and I’m particularly appalled by how Gawker created an environment of muckraking disingenuously disguised as progressivism: having it both ways by treating homosexuality as money-making scandal, and then trying to rationalize it by claiming that they’re doing it to expose hypocrisy or promote visibility or dismantle the heteronormative patriarchy or some such bullshit.
Of course I care about free speech and freedom of the press. Yes, I think the American justice system has been corrupted to be a travesty of “justice,” where the outcome rarely has as much to do with what’s fair as it does with who has the most money. I’m appalled at the idea of a racist, fascist clown taking power of the country, and the creation of an American class of people with such stratospheric wealth that their concerns are completely removed from the rest of the population.
But this story has made me realize one thing: More than any of that, the thing I care most about is a good dramatic arc. Gawker media getting wiped out by a no-longer relevant professional wrestler who starred in No Holds Barred and an adulterous sex tape — that’s just a weird, sleazy story. But Gawker media getting taken down for writing a sleazy non-journalistic gossip item outing a billionaire against his will? That is straight-up delightful cosmic justice.