The Writer Nick Denton Couldn't Let Go (And Then Secretly Smeared)

There are some bloggers Gawker Media overlord Nick Denton simply can't stand to lose. Some can be drawn back into the fold with generous counteroffers. Some cannot. Emily Gould could not. And she paid.

"Speak no ill of a former Gawker writer," Denton once wrote, citing a longstanding, "unspoken rule" at his company, apparently intended to keep his loose confederation of caustic writers from turning on one another and collapsing his profit-making enterprise into an online black hole of self-reference and backbiting.

The Writer Nick Denton Couldn't Let Go (And Then Secretly Smeared)

But some snark slaves couldn't help themselves — and Denton, it turns out, was foremost among them, especially after the CEO took direct control of his flagship website and started churning out blog posts. Breaking the directive in a lengthy item on his predecessor Gould's bed-hopping allowed the gossip merchant to surface some juicy (and worthwhile) dirt on wunderkind novelist Keith Gessen, even if it did betray a certain fascination with the Brooklyn literary set from whom the former business reporter believed himself to be reclaiming Gawker.

The goal posts had been moved: Speaking ill of a former Gawker writer was now allowed, it seemed, if confined to activities undertaken since leaving the company. This allowed any number of further items on Gould, who was turning into a bona fide fameball (and worthy subject of coverage).

The Writer Nick Denton Couldn't Let Go (And Then Secretly Smeared)

But it turned out Denton had broken more sharply with the old Gawker norms than was readily apparent. Recapping Gould's story on Vanity Fair's website today, Jim Windolf reveals that the blog mogul last spring planted an embarrassing video of Gould that was shot at at Gawker Media event while she worked at the company, in which the blogger peformed "mock fellatio on a plastic tube:"

"When I finally met Emily," [onetime "Gawker Mascot" Andrew Krucoff] says, "I felt so bad about posting the blowjob video and I took it down. Yes, it came from within Gawker. Denton fed it to me and I was too eager to play his lapdog on that one."

Perhaps Denton's intent was more mischievous than vengeful; Gould herself once called him "a pranksterish rapscallion" of a boss. But in the same post, Gould also presaged the less charming, "much less okay" ways Denton might treat her, especially once she was out the door. (Denton had begged her to stay and offered an $80,000-$90,000 annual salary, former Gawker editor Choire Sicha told Windolf. Denton disputes that account.)

Gould left little question how the leak of the video felt from her side of things:

"That was the point where I was like, ‘Wow, I am actually kind of scared of this person,'" Gould says. "I had never during my time at Gawker witnessed Gawker being used as a tool to try to take someone down. It was more like, people take themselves down, and you watch, and you write about it. This was different. This was him having an agenda, and to watch people fall in line with it, it's very creepy."

We — oh fuck it, I — don't buy Gould's premise that Gawker coverage of her has been part of a filthy, inaccurate and somehow evil attack campaign. This is (and always has been) a gossip website, and Gould became a significant player in the world we write about long before she appeared on the cover of the Times magazine or signed a six-figure book deal.

That said: leaking an embarrassing in-house video — if that is what in fact actually happened — shot at a company event, to visit a sort of vengeance on an ex-employee is beyond the pale and beneath the man I ultimately work for.

(Especially because I got fairly plastered at the last company event. And acted really obnoxious with Ian Spiegelman. And may or may not have invited Richard Blakeley up to my place. To crash on the couch, I SWEAR.)

[Vanity Fair]