You may not have noticed, but yesterday was Gawker's last day. In and of itself, that's not a big deal; media companies come and go all the time. But Gawker didn't just die. Gawker was murdered.
It's a rough time to be the 1st amendment. Freedom of speech (and, by extension, freedom of the press) is being attacked from all sides.
From the bottom up you have an army of SJWs indulging their recreational outrage from their parents' basements. From the top down you have plutocrats like Peter Thiel, Donald Trump, and others who express at least a tacit desire to muzzle the press.
I'll be the first to admit that it's hard to feel bad for Gawker. For much of their history they published heinous stories about people and ruined a lot of lives. Many would argue that the reason Gawker lasted as long as it did is the lax attitude toward libel here in the US.
Ultimately, however, that freedom was Gawker's undoing. Absent any realistic legal remedy for being unceremoniously outed on the Internet, Peter Thiel decided to leverage his fortune to drive Gawker into bankruptcy and make its brand so toxic that no media company would even consider touching it.
He succeeded, and Gawker is no more.
It's easy to cheer a move like that. It was straight gangster. And Gawker clearly had it coming for its many sins. But therein lies the problem. In his quest for justice (vengeance?), Thiel laid out an easily duplicable roadmap for fellow plutocrats to shut down unfriendly media.
For those who don't know the particulars, Thiel operated behind the scenes to fund any and all legal attacks on Gawker. In fact, it went beyond that. It appears several plaintiffs were encouraged to file suit when they might not have even considered it. Thiel went trolling for lawsuits. He set up an ostensibly unlimited legal fund for the express purpose of suing Gawker out of existence. And no one ever knew where the money was coming from, or who was behind it.
There were several hits before the kill shot. The fund paid the legal fees for several plaintiffs who received settlements from Gawker. Sort of a "death by a thousand cuts" strategy. Then along came Hulk Hogan.
Gawker published a sex tape with Hulk Hogan banging his buddy's wife while saying some vile stuff, and then refused a judge's order to take it down. That was all the opening Thiel needed. Thiel funded Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker, which resulted in a $140 million judgment against the company and its founder Nick Denton, and even one of its editors.
Gawker Media was unable to continue, and was eventually sold to Univision. By then the Gawker name was so radioactive that no media company could afford the insurance if they used the name. The company's other properties were sold (Gizmodo, Lifehacker, et al), but not Gawker. Thiel salted the Earth by ensuring no company would ever use the Gawker name again.
Again, it's easy to respect that level of hatred and cunning. But Gawker's death doesn't portend well for the free press in the US. Now every half-smart billionaire in the world knows how to shut an uncooperative US media company down.
In my gut I feel like this is a bad thing. While I understand and empathize with Thiel, I wish he hadn't done it. I'm not sure how we walk it back from here.
We're already well down the path to plutocracy in this country, and the free press is one of the final roadblocks. If we lose that, we lose everything. We become a different country altogether.
What are we left with? Wikileaks?