By the end of this week, Gawker Media will be in the hands of a new owner — but Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, the man who financed the $140 million Hulk Hogan sex tape lawsuit that forced the company into bankruptcy, says journalists have nothing to fear from him.
In a New York Times op-ed published Monday afternoon, Thiel wrote that Gawker crossed ethical lines that serious journalists should know to avoid.
"It is ridiculous to claim that journalism requires indiscriminate access to private people's sex lives," Thiel said. "The press is too important to let its role be undermined by those who would search for clicks at the cost of the profession's reputation."
Thiel's grudge against Gawker and its founder and CEO Nick Denton goes back nearly a decade. In 2007, Gawker's now-shuttered Silicon Valley gossip blog Valleywag published a story that identified Thiel as gay. Though many of Thiel's friends and colleagues were already aware of his sexual orientation, he said the story effectively "outed" him, and that funding lawsuits against Gawker was meant to deter other outlets from similarly exposing "people's most intimate moments for no good reason."
In 2013, Gawker published a secretly-recorded sex tape featuring Hulk Hogan (real name: Terry Bollea) that Thiel felt violated the professional wrestler's right to privacy. Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook, later secretly bankrolled Hogan's lawsuit against the media company.
Thiel, a delegate for Donald Trump who spoke at the Republican National Convention last month, claimed on Monday that funding lawsuits to push Gawker into bankruptcy doesn't qualify as suppression of free speech. He added in his op-ed that it's "not for me to draw the line" on what constitutes public and private information.
His critics find that hard to believe. Gawker writer Hamilton Nolan, for instance, tweeted out a link to the Wikipedia page for "chilling effect" shortly after the Times op-ed was published.
Follow Noah Kulwin on Twitter: @nkulw