May 25, 2016 Last Updated 8:11 am

Forbes appears to confirm that Hogan lawsuits were bankrolled by billionaire investor

Will the press rally around Denton and his troubles, seeing him not as a sympathetic figure, but recoiling at the targeting of a media outlet for its publishing activities?

When Larry Flynt would get hauled before the courts on obscenity charges most in the press saw it as a natural result of the choice of work he had decided to engage in, not seeing the situation Flynt was in as in any way relevant to them. But things changed once he took a case involving a parody ad all the way to the Supreme Court. Then, for many, Flynt was fighting for the First Amendment.

“At the heart of the First Amendment is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern,” the court ruled in a unanimous decision. “The freedom to speak one’s mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty – and thus a good unto itself – but also is essential to the common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole. We have therefore been particularly vigilant to ensure that individual expressions of ideas remain free from governmentally imposed sanctions.”

Likewise, there were likely many in the press who were not at all displeased when a jury came back with a $140 million judgement against Gawker and Nick Denton in the Hulk Hogan case. Denton and his websites were seen as gossip rags and not at all representative of what the majority in the press publish day in and day out.


But when additional lawsuits were filed against Gawker something changed, some felt it piling on. For founder Nick Denton, it was enough to voice thoughts that someone was bankrolling the whole effort in order to drive him out of business.

“My own personal hunch is that it’s linked to Silicon Valley, but that’s nothing really more than a hunch,” Denton told the NYT’s Andrew Ross Sorkin in a story filed on Monday and htat appeared in the Tuesday print edition. “If you’re a billionaire and you don’t like the coverage of you, and you don’t particularly want to embroil yourself any further in a public scandal, it’s a pretty smart, rational thing to fund other legal cases.”

Now a Forbes piece by Ryan Mac and Matt Drange appears to have confirmed Denton’s suspicions. The person bankrolling the lawsuits is, they claim, Peter Thiel – PayPal cofounder, a Silicon Valley investor that Forbes says is worth about $2.7 billion.

Like Jerry Falwell, who had reason to be mad at Hustler after it ran a parody ad about his ‘first time’, Thiel has reason to be upset with Denton and his media properties. “Valleywag is the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda,” Thiel said once, referring to the Gawker gossip site about the Valley, now shuttered. (Thiel was outed by Gawker in a piece titled Peter Thiel is totally gay, people, a piece that appeared to accuse Valley investors of homophobia, and hence could be seen as somewhat positive, but which also may be seen as an invasion of the man’s privacy.)

Like the Flynt case, where most of the public likely sided with Falwell, but the press with Flynt, this situation may divide readers and publishers. The few comments on the Forbes story are mostly “go get ’em Thiel” with one reader saying that it was  “great to see something being done to push back against media terrorism.”

It is Thiel’s view of the media that may explain why he is one of the few Northern California bigwigs supporting the candidacy of Donald Trump. (Thiel is on the California ballot as a delegate for Trump representing the state’s 12th congressional district.)

Thiel, who was an early investor in Facebook, says he is a libertarian. But he invests in an industry that many, including Glenn Beck, sees as dominated by liberals. Thiel has made himself a publi figure by authoring political opinion pieces that many in the Valley see as provocative.

Fro instance, Thiel is no great fan of women’s suffrage, writing for Cato Unbound comments that caused a bit of a stir when Gawker pointed them out in another story:

“Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron,” Thiel said.

Later a note was added to the piece, allowing Thiel to walk back his comment, if only slightly:

“It would be absurd to suggest that women’s votes will be taken away or that this would solve the political problems that vex us. While I don’t think any class of people should be disenfranchised, I have little hope that voting will make things better.

But whereas Falwell sued Flynt directly over his parody ad, Thiel has found the Hulk Hogan sex tape incident to be a better way to go after Denton. So far, at least, he’s been proved right.

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