Nick Denton Calls Peter Thiel's Backing of Gawker Lawsuits 'Twisted'

Gawker's CEO asked the PayPal co-founder to debate him publicly.

ByABC News
May 26, 2016, 11:57 PM

— -- Gawker founder Nick Denton has written an open letter to Peter Thiel, criticizing the PayPal co-founder's decision to financially back Hulk Hogan's invasion of privacy lawsuit against the media company.

Calling the ordeal "twisted," Denton warned that if Thiel succeeds in bankrupting Gawker by funding lawsuits against the company, it could mean disaster for the media.

The world, he noted, "is already uncomfortable with the unaccountable power of the billionaire class," and Thiel's behavior, he argued, has made him "a comic-book villain."

"Among the million posts published by Gawker and other properties since the company was founded, there have undoubtedly been occasions we overstepped the line. In offsetting the fawning coverage of tech luminaries and others, sometimes our stories swing too far for my taste toward snark," he wrote. "But this vindictive decade-long campaign is quite out of proportion to the hurt you claim."

On Wednesday, Thiel, 48, told the New York Times that he was bankrolling lawsuits against Gawker to prevent the media company from publishing any more stories that he deemed to be "bullying." Thiel's history with Gawker Media is long: In 2007, Valleywag, a Silicon Valley-focused Gawker website, published a story entitled "Peter Thiel Is Totally Gay, People" before the tech entrepreneur had publicly addressed his sexuality.

Owen Thomas, the author of the article and the former managing editor of Valleywag, denied "outing" Thiel, and provided the following statement to ABC News on Thursday: "I stand by my reporting of nine years ago and the story I wrote. I believe it raised an important issue, and I'm happy that Peter Thiel went on to have success and inspire a new generation of gay entrepreneurs.”

Thiel, who said he'd been plotting this for some time, told the Times that his behavior was "less about revenge and more about public deterrence."

“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 said. “One of my friends convinced me that if I didn’t do something, nobody would.”

Ultimately, Gawker lost the invasion of privacy case, on which Thiel told the Times he spent about $10 million. A jury awarded Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, $140 million in damages -- a staggering amount for a small media company. On Wednesday, a court denied Gawker's request for a new trial. The media company is now expected to appeal the original verdict.

Denton, 49, who was named in the Hogan lawsuit, invited Thiel to engage in a public debate with him to "improve public understanding of the interplay of media and power." If that were to happen, he argued, the public would benefit.

"The court cases will proceed as long as you fund them. And I am sure the war of headlines will continue," he wrote. "But, even if we put down weapons just for a brief truce, let us have a more constructive exchange."

Thiel has not responded directly to Denton's letter, but did tell ABC News in a statement Thursday that he was "proud to have supported Terry Bollea in his successful fight against a bully’s gross violation of privacy."

"Gawker, the defendant, built its business on humiliating people for sport. They routinely relied on an assumption that victims would be too intimidated or disgusted to even attempt redress for clear wrongs," he continued. "Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to publish sex tapes without consent. I don’t think anybody but Gawker would argue otherwise."