Peter Thiel, Gawker’s Denton Pick Ironic Battleground for PR Slugfest


Did you read the story about the Gawker lawsuit in The New York Times on Friday, May 27? No, not that one. No, not that one either—wait, just how many column-inches are devoted to hashing this out?

The combatants: Nick Denton, founder and CEO of Gawker Media, a blog network—and self-styled old-media slayer—principally known for celebrity gossip, and Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, angel investor in Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora, Yammer, Yelp, and all-around Silicon Valley billionaire powerhouse. Nearly 10 years ago, Gawker outed Thiel as gay. On May 25, Thiel revealed in an interview with the Times that he was the secret financial backer of several lawsuits against Gawker, the most famous of which—Hulk Hogan's invasion of privacy suit over a sex tape—bore fruit to the tune of $140 million in damages against the media network. Another successful investment (Thiel's outlay was $10 million).

It's telling that, in the war between blog mogul and tech tycoon, the most substantive discussion is taking place in the pages of "The Gray Lady," whose business section is replete with articles about Denton's retaliatory broadside, about whether Thiel's actions threaten to damage press freedom, about the future of third-party litigation financing.

Yes, it's also taking place elsewhere, and chances are good that you heard about the Thiel revelations from a blog picking up the story, or from a content aggregator like Reddit, or from a link on Facebook. But it all boils down to the Times, which for many is still the number one place to go to learn the facts or let the facts be known. It and other respectable traditional-media outlets, while no longer the only game in town, are starting to feel like the wise village elders of public opinion. When the waters are muddy, and in this case, when it's two figures connected to electronic media at war, people turn to the stalwarts for guidance.

Follow Ian: @ianwright0101