On Monday evening, Forbes and the New York Times reported that Peter Thiel, the right-wing billionaire responsible for some of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies, has been secretly underwriting Hulk Hogan’s legal battle against Gawker Media. Last night, Thiel confirmed his involvement in the Hogan case—and others against Gawker—in an incredible interview with Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin:
A 2007 article published by Gawker’s Valleywag blog was headlined, “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.” That and a series of articles about his friends and others that he said “ruined people’s lives for no reason” drove Mr. Thiel to mount a clandestine war against Gawker. He funded a team of lawyers to find and help “victims” of the company’s coverage mount cases against Gawker.
According to Thiel, his willingness to fund relentless litigation against a media outlet does not amount to an attack on the free press, but rather an endorsement of it:
“I refuse to believe that journalism means massive privacy violations,” he said. “I think much more highly of journalists than that. It’s precisely because I respect journalists that I do not believe they are endangered by fighting back against Gawker.”
He continued, “It’s not like it is some sort of speaking truth to power or something going on here. The way I’ve thought about this is that Gawker has been a singularly terrible bully. In a way, if I didn’t think Gawker was unique, I wouldn’t have done any of this. If the entire media was more or less like this, this would be like trying to boil the ocean.”
Later on in the same piece, Thiel described his efforts against Gawker as “one of my greater philanthropic things that I’ve done.”
It’s unclear when exactly Thiel began supporting Hulk Hogan, who sued Gawker Media, Nick Denton, and former Gawker editor-in-chief A.J. Daulerio in 2012 after Gawker posted video excerpts depicting Hogan having sex with the wife of his ex-best friend, a Tampa-area radio shock jock named Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. Nor would Thiel confirm which other plaintiffs he is funding, or has funded in the past.
It’s not hard to guess, though. Judging by recent litigation brought against Gawker Media by Thiel’s preferred legal proxy, the Los Angeles entertainment attorney Charles J. Harder, these “victims” likely include the journalist Ashley Terrill, whose feud with a former Tinder executive was covered by Gawker last year, and a man named Shiva Ayyadurai, who has repeatedly claimed that he invented email—claims that have been debunked publicly by the Smithsonian Institution, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Gizmodo. Both have recently brought lawsuits against Gawker Media under Harder’s legal counsel. (Ayyadurai denied any knowledge of Thiel’s involvement.)