The Great Gawker Lie

gawker RIP

Gawker is dead. It is dead because they decided, cruelly, to “out” a wealthy gay man, and then foolishly decided to publish a stolen sex tape from a public figure and then refused to take it down because of their committment to “journalism.”  And now this:

Gawker.com is out of business because one wealthy person maliciously set out to destroy it, spending millions of dollars in secret, and succeeded. That is the only reason.

Yes, Virginia, some sophist has decided to continue to bamboozle the public and the poorly-educated among the journalistic community that Gawker was a champion of journalism and free speech, rather than an arrogant assortment of snarky wordsmiths with an inflated view of their value to society and a casual disregard for the pain that their words could cause, magnified through the megaphone of mass media:

Gawker Was Murdered by Gaslight
Tom Scocca / Gawker

—  A lie with a billion dollars behind it is stronger than the truth.  Peter Thiel has shut down Gawker.com.  —  This is the final act in what Thiel wished to present, and succeeded in presenting, as a simple and ancient morality play, a story of hubris meeting its punishment….

Alas, the moral question is far different than Mr. Scocca pretends it to be.

man with shield.

Ethics

I was very lucky as a young journalist/freelancer. I learned very early that even the most innocuous comments, snark, embellishment, what-have-you can cause real harm and pain to innocents. And that the First Amendment generally protects writers from all but the most egregious examples of this, which is why the vast majority of writers in the mass media (and I base this on forty years of personal, professional experience) do not understand that this is a real issue that causes real pain, and that, while there is no legal authority to govern our ethics,  most of the time, it is STILL an issue of ethics, and causing no needless harm to persons foolish enough to have stepped into the cross-hairs of our keyboards.

Listen to the unctuous sleaze of this justification AND false equivalency:

It is true that Gawker was always a publication that took risks. It had bad manners and sometimes bad judgment. Occasionally, it published things that it would regret—just as, for instance, the New York Times has published things that it regrets.

Because GAWKER was the New York Times? Seriously?

Only in a country of debased intellectual capacity where even rudimentary principles of logic are not taught in public schools, and the population has been intentionally dumbed down so as to facilitate the rise of a plutocratic kleptocracy could this statement be read or heard with a straight face … oh wait.

false-equivalence-jesus-and-hitler

From the fallacies page on False Equivalence that you want to click to right now.

After a long and self-serving rehash of the “facts” of the case, Scocca attempts, time and time again, to claim that the New York Times ALSO did stuff like GAWKER did, so (by imp;ication) whatever GAWKER did was AOK. The REAL reason that they lost in court was not because what they did was wrong. No. The reason is only that they outed a “billionaire.” And consider the conclusion:

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.

The world’s smallest violin is, alas, unavailable for this post, else you can rest assured that I would play it for Mr. Scocca.

Digital Visualization of a Violin

As someone who took on the billionaire Kochs and a stealth electoral campaign run by Howard Rich and the litigious as hell Eric O’Keefe back in 2006, I can attest that the truth is STILL the ultimate defense, and that the final statement in Mr. Scocca’s phony apologia is the pure product that emerges from the south end of a north-bound bull.

The simple truth that the GAWKER apologists fail to notice is that NO ONE has an absolute right to cause harm to another human being with their mass-distributed writings and that just because the First Amendment generally covers such turdish behavior (no matter WHAT the New York Times might have done or NOT done) there ARE checks and balances, and pretending that losing a defamation lawsuit in a court of law, in a fair proceeding and having that outcome confirmed by an appeals court is somehow “illegitimate” and ONLY the result of a thin-skinned (and, by implication, unharmed and merely peevish) rich man’s ire verges on psychosis.

One HAS to accept a mountain of untruth and ignore a mountain of substantiated legal fact to pretend otherwise.

The New York Times was an imbecilic example to choose, transparently self-serving, and laughable — as any serious comparison to GAWKER.

The case of the National Enquirer would serve better.

Devil giving money to a group of people

This is what I was told as a young writer: in the 1950s, tabloids (the famous ’50s National Enquirer headline “I CUT OUT HER HEART AND STOMPED ON IT” comes to mind) were able to get away with just about every kind of sleazy and hateful stunt because they incorporated for EACH ISSUE. Thus, if sued, the only damages that could be extracted were the profits for THAT issue alone. This worked for a while. Then laws changed, and the Enquirer and all other tabloids toned it down to acceptable levels.

In fact, they’re perfect exemplars, since their business model basically consisted of walking as close to the libel/defamation line as humanly possible. The Carol Burnett case in the 1970s changed all that.

You see, the Supreme Court, in its madness, decided that “public figures” have almost NO defamation protection, and it’s been open season on them ever since — including, ironically, the Hulk Hogan sex tape case that got GAWKER’s goose cooked in the first place.*

[* NOTE: The case, if you want to look it up is New York Times v. Sullivan (1964).  I’m not going into the history and case law on this, since you’re either a lay audience and won’t care, or a legal professional, in which  case I’d just be preaching to a nit-picky choir, since, as we all know, there ARE no actual facts in law, and everything must be quibbled with. And I’m talking about that alien concept — to the legal profession — of “right and wrong.” Suffice it to say that because of my ofttimes completely independent status, I have had to pay much closer attention to libel and defamation law than does the average journalist/writer, whose publication has a legal staffer on retainer in nearly all cases to check whether their writings are “actionable” — not whether they clearly cross the line, but whether what was said COULD be the basis for a non-frivolous lawsuit, since, in many cases, merely defending against a lawsuit is just as bad as losing one — which is why you should never take a “settlement” as an admission of guilt. Very often defendants settle because it’s cheaper than being right and MUCH cheaper than being found to be wrong.]

Businessman running away from Businessdevil.

In the Enquirer case, the National Enquirer published a piece on Carol Burnett, and she took great umbrage. And sued. (See Carol Burnett v. National Enquirer, Inc. for details.) It was a typical case of taking something innocent and turning it into a “feud” and playing the game Rupert Murdoch’s publications love so well: “Let’s you and him fight.”

The Enquirer had relied on the SCOTUS standard of “actual malice” in writing about a public figure: i.e. you have to PROVE that they intentionally published nasty stuff about you, KNOWING that it was false.  The California Court of Appeals found that the California law’s standard of malice was DISTINCT and DIFFERENT than SCOTUS’ Times v. Sullivan standard and the Enquirer found itself $1.6 million lighter in the wallet, AND with attorney’s fees that probably matched.

Since that time, the Enquirer has been scrupulous and it’s made it a better publication — still sleazy, perhaps, but sticklers for non-actionable facts in their reporting. This was why when they published the sleazy “stalk the candidate” and “bribe the hotel staff” article on John Edwards’ love child I immediately knew that it was factual. Slimy journalistic tactics, perhaps — which is what separates the Enquirer from respectable journalism — but factually correct.

typewriter

GAWKER ought to have adopted the National Enquirer model, rather than the “we’re digerati and normal rules don’t really apply to us” arrogance that ultimately killed the blog.

But they didn’t.

There is zero doubt that they maliciously published highly embarrassing footage from a stolen sex tape of Hulk Hogan, and that the court agreed that they were liable.

All attempts to prevaricate that GAWKER = The New York Times (which is blatantly false, journalistically, stylistically, in sheer circulation and in longevity) are simply distraction and rationalization.

Instead the focus is on the man who financed the lawsuit, the person who decided that he had a right to get even for having been publicly humiliated by GAWKER’s intentional and, if not malicious, then surely callous “outing” of a gay man in a homophobic industry!

Blame the victim, making the victim of GAWKER’s “journalism” NOT the monster, and GAWKER into the New York Times?!??

This fellow is one rationalization shy of joining the Grand Old Party.

rationalizations

To you writers out there, who have NOT experience the pain that a few poorly chosen words can cause, words that seem innocuous to you when you type them, but which are magnified thousand-fold in their effects when published, LEARN from this. There is nothing stopping you from a long and successful ethical career without stooping to the politics of personal destruction. Be like a physician: first do no harm.

As Pulitzer put it: “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” but with the added proviso that you try to have a heart and a soul. So many writers are dweebs who sat on the sidelines of life, who were marginalized (‘four eyes’! or ‘nerd’! or whatever) that this is an understandable (but not acceptable) reality of our profession: the desire to “get even.” And I’ve seen way too much of it.

But there is no need for it. And there is a positive need for the profession to police itself, since the First Amendment gives blanket protections to an ocean of snarky, hateful writing that doesn’t deserve it in any ethical sense.

No: GAWKER died of its own sins, and all the rationalizing about being the victim of a thin-skinned billionaire is merely adding class warfare to the already profoundly demonstrated sin of cluelessness.

Devil agitate through megaphone

Had they exercised integrity in place of snark, they’d still be working.

And NOT writing phony screeds pretending that others are responsible for their justified demise.

Courage.

NOTE: Wikipedia defines “gaslighting” as: Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception and sanity. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. This doesn’t actually apply to any of Scocca’s arguments.

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