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Courtney Greenberg

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Hogan vs. Gawker: How a small publication got crushed by a hulk

Hogan vs. Gawker: How a small publication got crushed by a hulk

It's been about a year since Gawker shut down, but a new documentary is shedding light on what happened between the small media company and wrestling giant Hulk Hogan. Nobody Speak, a Netflix doc, follows Gawker founder Nick Denton and then-editor-in-chief AJ Daulerio after they're sued by Hogan for publishing portions of his sex tape. Hogan's crew of lawyers and Hogan himself are also featured extensively.

Hogan wins the case and is awarded more than $130 million, which inevitably bankrupts Gawker and its team. But that's just the start.

The most illuminating part of the doc focuses on the fact that Hogan's lawsuit was backed by billionaire Peter Thiel. However, the case is never really about the ethical dilemma of publishing a private sex tape. It's about silencing people who uncover and reveal the truth, also called journalists.  

And this isn't a one-off thing. 

A group of reporters who worked at the Review-Journal in Las Vegas were gathered in the newsroom one day and told that the paper was under new ownership. After much research and speaking to contacts, the reporters discovered the paper was purchased by billionaire Sheldon Adelson. (He's known for the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and operates the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino.) He has also owned the Israeli daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, since 2014.

Perhaps it is totally innocent, you might say, that a billionaire would want to purchase a newspaper. Maybe they love the news and they see an industry that is flailing like a fish out of water. And they want to help by providing the funds. But we have to be more critical of who is behind the facts. Before buying the Review-Journal, Adelson had sued Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith for libel. Smith wrote a book that included the history of Las Vegas, which he argued could not be told with Adelson. However, Smith said he provided the facts in a professional and unbiased manner. Eventually, after a two-year legal battle, Smith filed for bankruptcy. He resigned from the paper after he found out Adelson had bought it.

It seems that billionaires buy papers for power and to silence reporters to maintain that power. But they're doing the public a disservice because they are not interested in the truth. They are not interested in transparency. (And although it may seem like journalists are "the enemy" with all the hateful rhetoric being used by powerful politicians, it's impossible to have democracy without critical and factual reporting. Instead of welcoming healthy opposition, politicians and some of the public have turned their back on journalism because of "fake news" – a tool used by Trump to feed the public's mistrust of the media.) 

If there is a large enough chasm between the people and the publications, then the power goes to the powerful. Then the power goes to the wealthy. Then the power goes to Trump, or Adelson, or Thiel, who are all serving their own personal interests and investments. And that is the scariest thing of all. Both Adelson and Thiel contributed largely to Donald Trump's campaign, and the Review-Journal was the only paper to endorse him in an editorial piece written in November 2016.

In light of all this there is some hope, some resistance. 

Real journalists will continue to seek truth, not power. 

Real journalists will continue to seek truth, not power. (I had to write this again so it would really sink in).

Here's what the key players of the documentary are up to now:

Hulk Hogan

According to his website, Hogan is planning to buy a place in Orlando because he has a lot of great friends in the area, like Shaq and Carrot Top. In a video posted to the site on June 30, he also mentioned his beach shop on Orlando Drive. He said him and his partner are "ready to do more crazy stuff here," whatever that means. 

 "I just love being here and the fans are so nice. And you never get bored when you’re in Orlando because there is always something to do,” he says in the video. A Facebook post on the same day suggested Hulk would be signing autographs in honour of his birthday in August.

Nick Denton

Since he filed for bankruptcy in August 2016, Gawker Media was acquired by Univision. As part of a non-compete clause, Denton is not allowed to associate with other similar companies without permission from Univision. According to a Fortune article, he is being paid around $16,000 a month as part of the clause. 

His blog hasn't been updated since March, however, Denton has been active on Twitter

A.J. Daulerio

Daulerio was interviewed by Esquire in January. At the time, he said he was unemployed and living in Florida. In mid-June, an article written by Daulerio was published in Mel Magazine, where he talks about his struggles with sobriety and having a son. At the end of the article, it says he is a freelance writer living in LA. His instagram bio says he is a "stay-at-home mom."

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