There is a lot of talk today about Gawker, the journalism website that operated like a cavalier gossip rag run by Internet Vigilantes. Sure, at times it provided solid news, but it was incredibly unethical about many things it did, which included outing gay men.
Peter Thiel was one of Gawker’s victims, and he successfully funded a large-scale assault on Gawker, resulting in a $140 million judgment against them. That $140 million is supposed to go to Hulk Hogan, because Gawker obtained and leaked portions of the geriatric wrestler’s sex tape.
Many of the more traditional media, as well as new media juggernauts, constantly criticized Gawker over what they did, but are now crying about how the freedom of the press is being silenced.
Now, I know journalism. I know journalism school. I know that you are taught two really important things in journalism school: freedom of the press and ethics. Gawker’s judgment was not a violation of the former, and they clearly know nothing of the latter. You see, the First Amendment prevents the government from shutting down or silencing any journalistic enterprise on a whim, and several cases that have gone before the Supreme Court have helped define the limits of the freedom of the press. As of now, there is no protection for anyone who leaks a private sex tape under the guise of journalism.
Gawker plays the Internet vigilante. They come across a “scoop” where someone has acted inappropriately, and they don’t just report on it – they go out and try to utterly humiliate the person for it. Shame them out of the public eye forever.
That violates the very ideals of journalism, which is rooted in informing the public of a story without becoming part of the story. Gawker has routinely and without remorse gone well beyond even the dubious advocacy a lot of modern media takes part in, into the realm of playing judge, jury, and social executioner. There is absolutely nothing ethical about what they constantly try to get away with.
99% of what they do goes unchallenged. But one time, just one damn time, they found themselves getting punished for their poor attempts at journalism. And they deserved it.
Any media outlet that acts as Gawker does will find itself eventually facing a lawsuit of this caliber. That’s why they don’t do it. Gawker is now being bankrupt and being sold off in order to pay for its mistakes. Hopefully, they’ll learn from it. But, I doubt it.