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Thread: Gawker Shutdown Begs Question — is "Lawfare" an Attack on Freedom of Press?

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    Gawker Shutdown Begs Question — is "Lawfare" an Attack on Freedom of Press?

    First, some quick backstory on why they are shutting down:

    Gawker.com, a gossip blog that spawned a multimillion-dollar media empire, is shutting down next week. The decision comes just two days after Univision won an auction to acquire Gawker Media, the parent company of Gawker.com as well as websites like Gizmodo and Lifehacker.
    Gawker Media’s path to bankruptcy began with a decision by Gawker.com editors to publish a video of Hulk Hogan having sex — without the permission of either Hogan or his partner. Hogan sued, arguing that this was a violation of his privacy. A Florida jury agreed, awarding Hogan $140 million in damages earlier this year.

    Gawker Media didn’t have $140 million, so the company was forced to declare bankruptcy. The company was put up for auction, with the proceeds used to pay part of Hogan’s judgment.
    http://www.vox.com/2016/8/18/1253939...tting-down-why

    That out of the way, the more important question raised here is now whether "Lawfare" — a term coined to describe a form of warfare through the use of illegitimate domestic or international law to intentionally damage an opponent — is an attack on Freedom of Press, an otherwise Constitutionally-protected aspect of the First Amendment.

    The reason this question arises is because it was later revealed that Peter Thiel was secretly funding Hogan's lawsuit, born of a grudge he's held since 2007 when Gawker published a post outing him as gay.

    Also from the Vox article:

    Gawker isn't the only publication to be targeted by a disgruntled billionaire. Last year, the liberal magazine Mother Jones defeated a defamation lawsuit filed by Republican donor Frank VanderSloot. Winning the lawsuit cost Mother Jones, a relatively small nonprofit organization, and its insurance company $2.5 million in legal fees.

    If VanderSloot's goal was to punish Mother Jones for writing an accurate but unflattering story about him, a loss was almost as good as a victory. His lawsuit sought $74,999 (staying just under the $75,000 threshold that would have allowed Mother Jones to move the case to federal court and away from an Idaho jury that might have favored the hometown plaintiff). So "winning" the lawsuit cost Mother Jones and its insurance company 30 times as much as the amount they would have had to pay if they had lost.

    What was really ominous was what happened after VanderSloot's loss. He "announced that he was setting up a $1 million fund to pay the legal expenses of people wanting to sue Mother Jones or other members of the 'liberal press.’"
    Thiel's war on Gawker could become a template for other extremely wealthy people with personal or ideological scores to settle against news organizations. And that’s something to worry about even if you think Gawker deserves what it’s getting.
    That last sentence sums up nicely how I feel about this on a personal level. While I'll shed no tears for Gawker going under, the manner in which they did is really worrisome because it shows that with a strong enough grudge and a fat enough wallet, there might be little to stop someone or some group with an axe to grind from shutting down much more morally-grounded and responsible journals in the future. Especially when you consider the fact that everyone's favorite blowhard Presidential candidate himself has promised to change the laws about what the press can even write about should he get elected. The idea that money and power can potentially intimidate journalism like this is some scary, scary shit.
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    I still don't feel bad for them. They print private shit all the time without consent, they invade people's privacy while paying boatloads of money to get pictures and videos. The moral of the lawsuit is stop scumbag reporting. If you obtain illegal or private photos for a boat load of money, I don't feel sorry if you get sued for a boat load of money and have to shut down. I'm tired of this trash reporting to begin with, so if all of these sites get shut down, it's fine with me.

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    That's not the point. It's how they got shut down that's important.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil in Absentia View Post
    That's not the point. It's how they got shut down that's important.
    They got shut down for being a scumbag. Again, they paid a boat load of money for a video of a celebrity having sex, a video made without his consent and sold without his consent. They knew all of this prior to buying the video. It's not like they were shut down for reporting on real news. When a real news site gets shut down because of something like this, then I will agree that it needs to be looked at, but not for a site publishing sex videos and nude photos hacked from people's cell phones.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil in Absentia View Post
    That's not the point. It's how they got shut down that's important.
    It is the point.

    It's like being upset that an orphanage was shut down because it was being funded with heroine money.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pete View Post
    It is the point.

    It's like being upset that an orphanage was shut down because it was being funded with heroine money.
    Not really. This actually has direct implications to the First Amendment. Because it isn't a sole instance. The article in the OP points to the VanderSloot/Mother Jones suit as another example of how a big money complaint can use lawfare to try and bankrupt outlets they disagree with. What's to stop Trump from locking up the Washington Post in court because he hates the negative things said about him in the paper? What's to stop Sheldon Adelson from suing the Huffington Post every time they disparage him?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil in Absentia View Post
    Not really. This actually has direct implications to the First Amendment. Because it isn't a sole instance. The article in the OP points to the VanderSloot/Mother Jones suit as another example of how a big money complaint can use lawfare to try and bankrupt outlets they disagree with. What's to stop Trump from locking up the Washington Post in court because he hates the negative things said about him in the paper? What's to stop Sheldon Adelson from suing the Huffington Post every time they disparage him?
    It's not an apples to apples comparison.

    Gawker funded it's legit news with revenue generated from its smut. The smut got sued. The whole media site loses.

    Not the case with Mother Jones.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NYR2711 View Post
    They got shut down for being a scumbag. Again, they paid a boat load of money for a video of a celebrity having sex, a video made without his consent and sold without his consent. They knew all of this prior to buying the video. It's not like they were shut down for reporting on real news. When a real news site gets shut down because of something like this, then I will agree that it needs to be looked at, but not for a site publishing sex videos and nude photos hacked from people's cell phones.
    Still not the point. How they got shut down. Not why. I don't care about the why. I actually agree with Hogan and Thiel over the why. They were a shitty e Rag that had no journalistic integrity. Clearly. But how they got shut down, through the use of lawfare like this, funded by a millionaire/billionaire with a grudge sets a scary precedent for what can happen when anyone with money gets upset over what's written about them on a blog or in a newspaper.

    See my response to Pete for more.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pete View Post
    It's not an apples to apples comparison.

    Gawker funded it's legit news with revenue generated from its smut. The smut got sued. The whole media site loses.

    Not the case with Mother Jones.
    Sure, but the precedent is still set despite the moral inequality between them. That's the thing that scares me.
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    HuffPo has more money than Mother Jones.

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    You're getting hung up on the wrong details. Insert some other blog that doesn't in it's place. It's the how here I'm concerned with. Not the why.

    The idea of rich people being able to buy the silence of the press via legal intimidation is scary. Even when the company deserves it, like Gawker.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil in Absentia View Post
    Sure, but the precedent is still set despite the moral inequality between them. That's the thing that scares me.
    I think Vox, being another privately held media company, is writing a piece out of fear that the next time a sub-brand writes a negative piece, they'll be sued.

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    Even if that were true, can you blame them? The precedent just set here is terrifying for smaller media companies.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil in Absentia View Post
    Even if that were true, can you blame them? The precedent just set here is terrifying for smaller media companies.
    Yes. I can blame them for using the worst case scenario as a scare tactic for "the new norm".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil in Absentia View Post
    Not really. This actually has direct implications to the First Amendment. Because it isn't a sole instance. The article in the OP points to the VanderSloot/Mother Jones suit as another example of how a big money complaint can use lawfare to try and bankrupt outlets they disagree with. What's to stop Trump from locking up the Washington Post in court because he hates the negative things said about him in the paper? What's to stop Sheldon Adelson from suing the Huffington Post every time they disparage him?
    Quote Originally Posted by Phil in Absentia View Post
    Still not the point. How they got shut down. Not why. I don't care about the why. I actually agree with Hogan and Thiel over the why. They were a shitty e Rag that had no journalistic integrity. Clearly. But how they got shut down, through the use of lawfare like this, funded by a millionaire/billionaire with a grudge sets a scary precedent for what can happen when anyone with money gets upset over what's written about them on a blog or in a newspaper.

    See my response to Pete for more.
    The problem is tay they weren't sued because of an opinion over someone, this isn't a first amendment right issue. They weren't sued for an opinion they had over someone. They were sued because they were buying and posting illegal videos and photos of celebrities. They new what they were doing was illegal, plain and simple. They weren't saying Hogan likes to have sex with married women, they bought a video that was made without his knowledge or consent, they knew it, and they posted it. It doesn't matter in this case who funded it, because what they did originally was illegal. You can't compare this lawsuit to any other lawsuit against a real new site. If someone gets sued for saying trump is an egotistical maniac and goes on to provide the many proofs that are out there, gets sued and shut down, then I am fully with you, but this isn't he same thing. This also wasn't the first time they printed photos or videos of someone they obtained, paid for out of their own pockets, knowing full well what they were doing was illegal. Is someone's invasion of privacy less than a sites right to print and post illegal photos of them?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil in Absentia View Post
    Even if that were true, can you blame them? The precedent just set here is terrifying for smaller media companies.
    I'll get to this case and the implications going forward, but what we should care about much more in this realm is that the Press was given certain Constitutionally guaranteed protections because of their role as "The 4th Estate" in our government system. They have failed, in recent years, to hold up their end of that bargain. The reason they have failed is because they put their corporate interests ahead of the interests of the citizens of this country. When you travel up the ownership line, these same Billionaires you fear will seek to utilize the courts to silence media own those media themselves. It is only the tiniest voices that they don't control. It is those tiny voices that get lost, for the most part, in the sea of noise we experience every day. They are no more a threat to the Billionaire class than we are.

    Now, I'm a Constitutionalist, so to me, that's what matters here. Thiel, through his proxy Hogan, had every right to raise a lawsuit against Gawker for their actions. Thiel and Hogan are private citizens and utilized the system correctly. Gawker was in the wrong here. What your question doesn't ask is what happens when "news" media companies target individuals for public shame, ridicule or embarrassment who don't have the financial means to retaliate? It seems like in this case, even Hogan, who we imagine is wealthy enough, couldn't bring suit without the help of a Billionaire.

    While free speech should not have prior limitations, we are responsible for what we say. When we say false things that cause others damage, we're liable. As Gawker was and should have been found here.

    Now to the hypothetical. What if this causes the extremely wealthy and powerful to try to silence media. Well, that's the price we pay for the different freedoms we possess. Anyone has the right to bring suit for anything. The courts then have to decide what has merit and what doesn't. They also have to decide what the punishment is for wrong doing. And bringing frivolous lawsuits also, in our society, is considered "wrong doing". So the courts can punish that if they choose.

    Speakers, whether they are a 20 something with a blog, an independent news organization not beholden to corporate interests or a mega-news network providing 24 hours, 7 day a week coverage produced by multi-national corporations all have one thing in common. They are subject, or at least they should be, to the laws of our land. And people bringing suit and courts weighing evidence are two vital cogs in our legal system. It would be much more dangerous, in my opinion, to exempt news media, especially what our news media has become, from that process. The news media that these protections were put in place for have already run amok. They don't need more ammunition, they need less.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NYR2711 View Post
    The problem is tay they weren't sued because of an opinion over someone, this isn't a first amendment right issue. They weren't sued for an opinion they had over someone. They were sued because they were buying and posting illegal videos and photos of celebrities. They new what they were doing was illegal, plain and simple. They weren't saying Hogan likes to have sex with married women, they bought a video that was made without his knowledge or consent, they knew it, and they posted it. It doesn't matter in this case who funded it, because what they did originally was illegal. You can't compare this lawsuit to any other lawsuit against a real new site. If someone gets sued for saying trump is an egotistical maniac and goes on to provide the many proofs that are out there, gets sued and shut down, then I am fully with you, but this isn't he same thing. This also wasn't the first time they printed photos or videos of someone they obtained, paid for out of their own pockets, knowing full well what they were doing was illegal. Is someone's invasion of privacy less than a sites right to print and post illegal photos of them?
    Still isn't the point of what Phil is talking about lol

    The point is that it sets a precedent of a super-rich individual basically shutting down a media site simply because they can. The why is irrelevant, but this opens the door for, say Trump, to effectively cripple any media he so chooses just for writing something he doesn't want to see. It doesn't matter if the lawsuit is frivolous or if he wins. Now I don't think it's nearly as drastic as the Vox article makes it seem, because courts should prevent a lot of that from happening when there isn't wrongdoing, but it is an ominous sign for media groups.

    But, having said that, the idea of the super-wealthy being able to use the law to suit their own agendas is nothing new. This is just a very visible example.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Future View Post
    Still isn't the point of what Phil is talking about lol

    The point is that it sets a precedent of a super-rich individual basically shutting down a media site simply because they can. The why is irrelevant, but this opens the door for, say Trump, to effectively cripple any media he so chooses just for writing something he doesn't want to see. It doesn't matter if the lawsuit is frivolous or if he wins. Now I don't think it's nearly as drastic as the Vox article makes it seem, because courts should prevent a lot of that from happening when there isn't wrongdoing, but it is an ominous sign for media groups.

    But, having said that, the idea of the super-wealthy being able to use the law to suit their own agendas is nothing new. This is just a very visible example.
    But in this case, the why is very important because again, they weren't sued because of an opinion. They were sued for violating someones rights and privacy. They did something illegal knowingly. This wasn't that they ran a puff piece criticizing someones like Phil is implying. They are two different arguments. If you have a legit sites hat ran a piece railing against how bad Trump is, and he sues and they get shut down, that is one discussion that needs to be had, but you can't compare a site doing something illegal, get sued and having to shut down to that. They are two separate issues. The why is very important because without the why, your saying no news sit should be sued and they have free reign to print and post whatever they want without repercussions. You can't dismiss the main reason the lawsuit happens and say that its against there first amendment rights when the knowingly do something illegal and spend their money knowingly to acquire it.

    Gawker wasn't sued and shut down simply because someone could, thats my issue with using the Gawker case in this argument. Are you saying wealthy people don't have a right to their own privacy? They can't sue if someone posts illegal photos/videos of them simply because they are wealthy?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Future View Post
    Still isn't the point of what Phil is talking about lol

    The point is that it sets a precedent of a super-rich individual basically shutting down a media site simply because they can. The why is irrelevant, but this opens the door for, say Trump, to effectively cripple any media he so chooses just for writing something he doesn't want to see. It doesn't matter if the lawsuit is frivolous or if he wins. Now I don't think it's nearly as drastic as the Vox article makes it seem, because courts should prevent a lot of that from happening when there isn't wrongdoing, but it is an ominous sign for media groups.

    But, having said that, the idea of the super-wealthy being able to use the law to suit their own agendas is nothing new. This is just a very visible example.
    Gawker got shut down because they were in the wrong. It wasn't just because a Billionare went after them. Mother Jones, the other outlet mentioned, that successfully defended the suit against them, did not get shut down. What they got was a ton of publicity and a slew of new articles they could write about this topic we're discussing.

    There are also two giant organizations that no doubt would come to the aid of legitimate news sites being targeted like this if they didn't have the resources to defend themselves. The ACLU and the EFF. Either or both could attach themselves to the defense against a legitimate news organization that couldn't defend themselves.

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