Pando

“There are no heroes other than that jury”: Jason Hirschhorn on what really took Gawker down

By Sarah Lacy , written on June 21, 2016

From The Press Freedom Desk

Recipe for a story that won’t die?

Combine one part contrarian, controversial billionaire with Gawker’s ability to obfuscate the truth and throw in the latest incarnation of fear that journalism is endangered.

Yesterday two stories dominated my various news feeds.

The first was this thought-provoking, but off base one on how [Pando investor] Peter Thiel’s secret war on Gawker speaks to evidence that billionaires will stop at nothing to silence journalists. What’s wise about this piece: A lot of the adversarial reporting on tech power may well go underground.

What’s frustrating about it: It ignores a lot of reality. It parrots the idea that Gawker was mostly great journalism with only a few misguided stories, and the fiction that Valleywag was a fearless critics of real Silicon Valley power, as opposed to a constant stream of snarky posts about dumb things junior tech workers said on Twitter. It repeats the spin that Thiel himself bankrupted the company, not the jury in the Hogan case who made a judgement against Gawker after hearing the pretty disturbing evidence and depositions. It assumes no other adversarial reporting is happening and that Gawker stood alone as a critic of Peter Thiel. In fact, countless publications (including Pando) have taken Thiel to task for agreeing to be a delegate for Donald Trump and for his involvement in Gawker gate.  Aside from a few half-hearted jabs at Clarium, Gawker’s Thiel coverage focussed mainly on his sexuality. Truth to power!

The worst fiction in the Medium post (and in many of the other hot takes around Thiel’s war on Gawker) is that this is the first time a billionaire has gone to disturbing, secretive lengths to silence adversarial journalism. More on that in a moment.

The second more widely reported but in many ways less interesting story was the news that Thiel isn’t going to be removed from Facebook’s board.

Well, duh.

There’s a huge disconnect between much of the press and the business world on this one. The media is aghast that shareholders don’t care as much about the dissolution of Gawker as the media does. But that’s also because the broader narrative has been effectively twisted into something that didn’t happen.

We’ve said our piece on this already, but last week at Pandoland I asked Jason Hirschhorn of ReDEF for his thoughts. As someone who consumers some 6,000 pieces of content a day, respects Nick Denton, and is a student of the history of media, Hirschhorn’s thoughts were unsurprisingly more measured-- and accurate-- than any of the hysteria in my Twitter feed yesterday.

He notes that he used to read a lot of Gawker’s stuff which makes him feel “dirty” in retrospect. “Like brillo-pad dirty.”

Hirschhorn doesn’t apologize for Thiel like some on the Valley. But he also doesn’t fall into the easy narrative of the “the First Amendment is under attack!”

“All those people coming out for Gawker, aren’t really coming out for Gawker,” he said. “They are coming out for the idea...This was about a private thing made public...This didn’t happen on accident. This wasn’t a flagrant one time thing.”

For a reality check of what actually occurred, check out the clip below...