Billionaire Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel said he secretly financed Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Media, in an effort to put the news website out of business, The New York Times reported.
In an interview published Wednesday, Thiel said “it was worth fighting back” against the outlet which, in 2007, published an article entitled “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.”
Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and sits on Facebook’s board of directors, allegedly provided millions of dollars for Hogan’s lawsuit and is apparently funding other cases.
The Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin noted that Thiel declined to reveal what other cases he supported.
“It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” Thiel told the Times in his first interview since the rumours that he funded the lawsuit reached a tipping point on Tuesday.
“I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”
In a widely publicized privacy lawsuit this year, a Florida jury awarded Hulk Hogan $US140 million in damages from Gawker for publishing a sex tape in 2013 in which the former wrestler was featured. Neither the jury nor the public knew of Thiel’s involvement in the case.
Thiel told The Times he has been planning for years to secretly fund lawsuits against Gawker in an effort to shut the company down. The website publishes articles that “ruined people’s lives for no reason,” he said.
“One of my friends convinced me that if I didn’t do something, nobody would,” he added.
“Most of the people they attack are not in my category. They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can’t defend themselves.”
Gawker founder Nick Denton denounced Thiel’s involvement in the lawsuit in a statement to The Times:
“Just because Peter Thiel is a Silicon Valley billionaire, his opinion does not trump our millions of readers who know us for routinely driving big news stories including Hillary Clinton’s secret email account, Bill Cosby’s history with women, the mayor of Toronto as a crack smoker, Tom Cruise’s role within Scientology, the N.F.L. cover-up of domestic abuse by players and just this month the hidden power of Facebook to determine the news you see.”
In another blow to Gawker on Wednesday, a Florida judge refused to overturn the $140 million verdict against the news site.
The case will now go to a court of appeals. In a statement, Gawker said it hoped the appeals court will “correct” the verdict and “reaffirm the law that protects a free and critical press, which is more embattled and important than ever.”
Gawker is the high-brow gossip sheet covering media, entertainment, politics and technology.