Pando

In death, where is the Gawker for Gawkering Gawker?

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on August 18, 2016

From The Legal Affairs Desk

(Update: Crikey. Gawker.com has announced it is closing down entirely next week. This in the same week that Breitbart announced it is taking over the Trump campaign. All-told, a stellar week for Trump supporter - and (ugh) Pando investor - Peter Thiel.)

Yesterday, as most east coast media types continued to wail and gnash their teeth over the “death” of Gawker Media - reportedly now owned by Univision - Fortune quietly published a stunning scoop. According to Fortune, Gawker “sold” 28% of itself to a British holding company called Greenmount Creek  in 2013.

According to Fortune, Gawker is obliged to pay Greenmount Creek a total of $12.8m (tax free) in 2028.

According to Fortune, Greenmount Creek  is controlled by Nick Denton’s sister.

In other words, says Fortune, Denton has squirrelled away nearly $13m from Gawker into his family’-owned holding company as a way of protecting his assets from Hulk Hogan and Peter Thiel’s lawyers. Meanwhile, Denton’s own employees are left facing personal ruin at the hand of those self-same lawyers over stories that Denton encouraged them to publish.

Long time Gawker watchers should be utterly unsurprised by this latest revelation. From the start, Denton's company has been characterised by its spectacular hypocrisy. As I wrote here, the company tried to incite a class war in Silicon Valley while itself behaving just as badly as the worst, most entitled, bro-yist tech company. It (rightly) attacked Gamergate, whilst at the same profiting from rape videos and celebrity sex tapes. It shamed companies for underpaying workers and dodging tax while being sued by its former unpaid workers and offshoring its own operations in Hungary and the Cayman Islands to dodge tax. And, thanks to Fortune, we now know for certain what has long seemed highly likely: staffers were well aware of the hypocrisy, and rejoiced in it.

The hypocrisy was not lost on Gawker’s employees. One former staffer says they used to joke frequently about how the company paid no taxes. (The ex-employee, like several others contacted for this article, declined to be identified for fear of reprisal.)

But you only have to look at how Gawker staff and supporters have responded to their own company’s sale to Univision (who, lest we forget, Gawker mocked regularly and viciously) to see evidence of the greatest hypocrisy of all.

I’ve written plenty about my extreme distaste for Peter Thiel and his tactics.  But no amount of Thiel’s considerable awfulness quite explains the almost instant post-mortem beatification of Gawker and Nick Denton, even by its former rivals and critics. This, after all, is the same Gawker that, immediately before their loss in a Florida courtroom, was held up by serious journalists as an example of everything a media company shouldn’t be. Gawker was the company that outed and shamed gay people, boasted in depositions that they would publish a toddler’s sex tape, published photographs of murdered black teenagers for clicks, and mocked an alleged rape victim when she begged them to unpublish a video of her attack.  

Today many of those same serious journalists are wiping away tears as they mourn the passing of brave, vital, morally upstanding Gawker. To read the eulogies, you’d think Thiel’s vindictive campaign had slain Bambi’s mother. And, of course, Gawker writers past and present are amplifying and annotating those eulogies - tweeting and posting about how unfair it all is. You'll search in vain for criticism of Denton's role in any of this, or for any acknowledgement of Gawker Media's supporting role in its own demise.

Whether Gawker was awful or not is beside the point, those same mourners will weep. Gawker did some horrible things but it was an important voice! It’s a first amendment principle! First they came for the sex tape peddlers!

I get it. I do. Anyone who read Thiel’s grotesquely disingenuous op-ed in Times (in which he reminds us of his support for Donald Trump) gets it.

But one only has to glance at Gawker’s archive, to see Gawker’s deathbed hypocrisy in stark relief.

Nick Denton is far from the first CEO of an American tech/Internet company to leave his employees hanging while (reportedly) securing his own financial future. Consider Gawker’s coverage of Fab’s layoffs, or Lolcats’ or Sprint’s or Patch’s. And what about the time a Gawker writer urged potential acquirers not to save the ailing Newsweek? When it came to those companies, and those CEOs, the site’s coverage was brutal. Often deservedly so.

And yet when it comes to reports of Nick Denton’s self preservation as his staff face personal financial ruin? On Gawker: Silence. Elsewhere: Revisionist myth-making and hero worship.   

One can only imagine how much Gawker would be gloating and mocking if any site was shutting but Gawker.com or if Univision was bailing out any company but Gawker Media.  Actually, one doesn’t have to imagine either of those things...

And just last year Gawker posted a typically Gawkeresque takedown of Univision:

According to SEC paperwork filed by Fusion’s parent company Univision, investing millions of dollars in a TV network nobody watches and a website nobody reads is bad business.

The reason for its disastrous performance?

The lopsided numbers probably have something to do with Fusion’s aggressive hiring of notable internet writers and editors and the enormous salaries they’re paid.

Having just spent $135m rescuing Gawker, heaven help Univision’s 2017 numbers. Except now, of course, Univision is cast as a white knight in shining armor. Huzzah for Univision!

It’s good, I suppose, that the rest of the media holds itself to higher standards - even knowing that, were the shoe on the other foot, Gawker would be pissing on their rivals' graves.  

Still, I can’t help but feel the more appropriate way to honor Gawker’s legacy would be to cover its epic and explosive demise with the kind of snark and mockery that Gawker itself pioneered. In other words, where is the Gawker for Gawkering Gawker?