After wide speculation earlier this week, tech mogul Peter Thiel admitted Wednesday night to financially backing Hulk Hogan's invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker, which resulted in a $140 million award in damages for the retired wrestler.
The website published a sex tape involving Hogan, whose real name Terry Bollea, and the then-wife of Hogan's close friend Todd Clem. Thiel has also been the target of past Gawker reports.
“It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” Thiel told The New York Times. “I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”
He added: “It’s safe to say this is not the only one.”
But the back-and-forth between Thiel and Gawker started almost a decade ago.
Gawker-owned site Valleywag publishes a report on Thiel's personal life titled, "Peter Thiel is totally gay, people." At this point, Thiel, a PayPal co-founder and one of the earliest investors in Facebook, had not talked openly about his personal life.
"A gay founder? Oh, hey, wait a second. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But someone else, somewhere else, might take issue with it. That's VC thinking," the report read.
Thiel fired back two years later, when he agreed to an interview with PE Hub, a "Community for Professionals in Private Capital."
"Maybe I’m wrong and did something terrible to them, but I’m not particularly flattered by being targeted. I actually think it’s sort of the psychology of a terrorist, where it’s purely destructive and that Valleywag is the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda," he told the site.
Thiel added, "It’s terrible for the Valley, which is supposed to be about people who are willing to think out loud and be different. I think they should be described as terrorists, not as writers or reporters. I don’t understand the psychology of people who would kill themselves and blow up buildings, and I don’t understand people who would spend their lives being angry; it just seems unhealthy."
ABC News chief legal analyst Dan Abrams writes on his site Law Newz: "What if someone was encouraging Hogan and his attorneys not to settle. What if said person wanted to see Gawker suffer even at significant cost to him/her? We received a tip that certain Tampa lawyers believe a benefactor agreed to cover Hogan’s legal fees in some capacity. I have no idea if it’s true but it sure would explain a lot of the seemingly inexplicable in this already bizarre case."
March 18, 2016
Hogan wins his suit against Gawker, and was awarded a whopping $115 million in economic damages and emotional distress, and $25 million more in punitive damages.
May 23, 2016
The New York Times speaks to Gawker founder Nick Denton, who says he believes Hogan has a benefactor in his lawsuit against the company.
“My own personal hunch is that it’s linked to Silicon Valley, but that’s nothing really more than a hunch,” he said. “If you’re a billionaire and you don’t like the coverage of you, and you don’t particularly want to embroil yourself any further in a public scandal, it’s a pretty smart, rational thing to fund other legal cases.”
May 24, 2016
The very next day after Denton speaks to The Times, Forbes reports that Thiel funded the lawsuit 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," Forbes writes.
May 25, 2016
Which brings us back to last night and Thiel's interview with The Times.
"I figured it would eventually come out,” he said. "It’s not for me to decide what happens to Gawker. If America rallies around Gawker and decides we want more people to be outed and more sex tapes to be posted without consent, then they will find a way to save Gawker, and I can’t stop it.”
Denton fires back, telling The Times in a statement that “just because Peter Thiel is a Silicon Valley billionaire, his opinion does not trump our millions of readers who know us for routinely driving big news stories including Hillary Clinton’s secret email account, Bill Cosby’s history with women, the mayor of Toronto as a crack smoker, Tom Cruise’s role within Scientology, the N.F.L. cover-up of domestic abuse by players and just this month the hidden power of Facebook to determine the news you see.”
A Gawker spokesperson told ABC News today that the company has contingency plans in the wake of losing "Peter Thiel's revenge campaign" and has been engaging with bankers "for quite some time."