Gawker Was Murdered by Gaslight

All of this. Read this. Doing journalism that angers a billionaire is now an existential threat to any news outlet, to any individual journalist. People’s queasiness around Gawker’s output misses the point. Journalism can cross boundaries in ways our tastes deem productive and unproductive, but that principled conversation about content has nothing to do with the demise of gawker. The New York Times published the lies about WMDs that pulled us into the Iraq war — think about “crossing the line” on that scale when thinking of a Hulk Hogan sex tape or anything else Gawker did. But we wouldn’t want the New York Times to disappear. The only reason the New York Times is allowed to exist and gawker isn’t is because one person who is a billionaire decided to exact revenge against gawker. Maybe you thought gawker crossed the line, but wherever the line was, now the line is wherever billionaires is. Gawker’s demise shows us that an individual with money can use that money to suppress speech he personally doesn’t like by buying a result from our judicial system.

The first amendment judgment — particularly the scale of damages — against gawker is laughably without merit. The writer who posted the story (a 40 year old with $1500 in checking, student loans, and no means to hire a bankruptcy lawyer) is no longer working as a journalist and now must live with his parents because he is personally jointly liable for a ridiculous $115 million judgment and his wages will be garnished until the case is thrown out on appeal years from now, or until he dies. That journalist is facing personal ruin because one guy with billions of dollars was personally insulted and so the billionaire is now exacting his petty revenge. And that one person who has billions of dollars wants to send a message on behalf of all his fellow billionaires to every other journalist and every corporation that hires journalists: when you weigh the risks of publishing something, you better not displease any person who has a billion dollars. Otherwise you will face destruction.

“Here is one last true story: You live in a country where a billionaire can put a publication out of business. A billionaire can pick off an individual writer and leave that person penniless and without legal protection.

“If you want to write stories that might anger a billionaire, you need to work for another billionaire yourself, or for a billion-dollar corporation. The law will not protect you. There is no freedom in this world but power and money.”
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