On Monday, the New York Times reported that Gawker Media CEO Nick Denton had come to believe that a wealthy individual has been funding a steady stream of lawsuits, including three different ones filed by Hulk Hogan alone, against his company. Two journalists at Forbes magazine, Ryan Mac and Matt Drange, are lending credence to Denton’s theory. On Tuesday evening, the pair revealed that the powerful Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel has been secretly underwriting Hulk Hogan’s litigation against Gawker:
According to people familiar with the situation who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, Thiel, a cofounder and partner at Founders Fund, has played a lead role in bankrolling the cases Terry Bollea, a.k.a. Hogan, brought against New York-based Gawker. Hogan is being represented by Charles Harder, a prominent Los Angeles-based lawyer. A spokesperson for Thiel declined to comment.
Thiel, an original co-founder of PayPal and the data analytics firm Palantir, ranks among Silicon Valley’s most influential investors. He was one of the earliest backers of Facebook, where he has a board seat, and has since been involved in a number of powerful venture capital firms, including Y Combinator, Valar Ventures, and his own Founders Fund. A self-identified libertarian (and, it turns out, a California delegate for Donald Trump), he has invested in a variety of journalism endeavors, including the tech website Pando Daily and the non-profit group Committee to Protect Journalists. He also made a $10,000 donation to fund the efforts of right-wing sting artist James O’Keefe III.
Gawker and Valleywag, Gawker Media’s defunct tech gossip vertical, have often written critically of Thiel and his investments, covering the failure of his hedge fund Clarium Capital, his right-wing politics, and his personal life. In just the last month, Gawker Media’s tech site Gizmodo published a series of stories on Facebook’s use of “news curators” to manipulate the site’s “trending” module, sparking a congressional investigation into the social network’s practices.
In a comment on a 2007 post by Valleywag editor Owen Thomas on the open secret of Thiel’s sexuality, Denton described being threatened for his prior attempts to report on the billionaire’s dating habits: “He was so paranoid that, when I was looking into the story, a year ago, I got a series of messages relaying the destruction that would rain down on me, and various innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, if a story ever ran.” Thiel later described Valleywag as “the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda.”
The Times characterized Denton’s theory as a personal suspicion that he hasn’t had the time or inclination to verify. However the rumor that a benefactor has been paying Hulk Hogan’s legal bills has been floating around since early 2016, and was even the subject of a March 6 article by ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams for his website LawNewz.
Hogan sued Gawker Media, Nick Denton, and former editor A.J. Daulerio in October 2012 after Gawker published several excerpts of a sex tape depicting Hogan having sex with the wife of his best friend, the Tampa-area radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. In March of this year, a jury in Pinellas County, Florida awarded Hogan $140,100,000 in damages. Today, Gawker will appear in a St. Petersburg court to contest the jury’s verdict.
Neither Thiel nor Hogan’s attorney, Charles Harder, returned requests for comment.