The news that venture capitalist Peter Thiel is the man behind the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that may bankrupt the media company is the latest twist not only on this particular story, but on the saga that is Gawker itself. Thiel is apparently still mad about the time he was outed in 2007 by Valleywag, a now-shuttered Gawker site that he has called “the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda.” Titled “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people,” the post uncomfortably straddles two different worlds: Gawker’s roots as a site that treats personal gossip as news and a growing awareness that it is ethically dubious to out someone who doesn’t want to be outed. The post ends up arguing that outing Thiel is actually good for Thiel and other gays trying to succeed in Silicon Valley, since it would make the tech industry more tolerant.
So the Hogan controversy now resembles the one that engulfed Gawker in 2015, when it published an article that outed the chief financial officer at Conde Nast. At the time, Gawker editor-in-chief Max Read, voicing the old ethos, said that “given the chance Gawker will always report on married c-suite executives of major media companies fucking around on their wives.” Nick Denton, promising a “20 percent nicer” Gawker, disagreed: He pulled the post and Read resigned in protest. But Denton is still having trouble escaping the past. As he noted in a comment in the 2007 Valleywag post, Thiel “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.” And here we are.