Pyrrhic Victory

New York Times Takes Page From Gawker’s Playbook To Expose Peter Thiel’s Bid To Kill Gawker

It remains unclear whether the collection of biting websites making up Gawker Media will survive, but its effects on journalism cannot be denied.

05.28.16 4:10 AM ET

The Platonic ideal of a Gawker story is getting told in the New York Times, and in the Gawker style. And that weird sort of moral victory could end up being the site’s last stand.

You know, the story where the network of websites including the flagship scandal sheet (now 20% nicer, with 50% less web traffic) that long relished publishing what others wouldn’t is on the verge of being sued out of existence by a professional wrestler with a creepy sex life who, it turns out, is backed in that suit by an immortality-craving, gay Silicon Valley billionaire who helped found the CIA-backed spooky-as-hell “data analysis” company Palantir and who called the nasty New York media operation “terrorists” after they reported nastily on him and his West Coast friends a decade back. That’s not to mention the part where the rival billionaire with his own CIA ties who basically purchased the Snowden archives for his own vanity media company stepped up Friday to support Gawker’s potentially crippling legal expenses as it appeals a Florida court’s decision that it owes Hogan $140 million, and maybe ends up owning Gawker when all’s said and done.

Anyways, it’s a hell of a story, one that would be right up Gawker’s alley if it wasn’t a player in it and maybe on the verge of getting destroyed or mangled beyond all recognition by it, depending on how the judges and billionaires decide things from here for the site dedicated to taking the piss out of just such types.

Back to the irony: We know that about this billionaire, Peter Thiel, because star Times business reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin effectively gave a column Tuesday to Gawker CEO Nick Denton speculating about a secret backer, without naming one or even confirming one existed.

Hours later, Forbes put up a report, anonymously sourced and, I’m told, long in the works, saying that person was Thiel. A day later Sorkin got an interview with Thiel on A1 of the Times, where the billionaire confirmed that he was the guy who’s been serving Denton and his employees a very cold dish of revenge.

So the billionaire and Facebook board member who’s talked a big game about press freedoms didn’t intend to announce that he was also backing lawsuits intended to destroy a significant media voice, but was forced to reveal himself by reporting that looks an awful lot like Gawker’s at its best.

The story, as it unfolded over three running days of headlines this week, advancing from inside the business section to A1:

Here’s how one veteran of Gawker (motto: “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news”) connected those dots:

“That story, it was very much a Gawker-type story. The thing I feel has gone somewhat unappreciated here is that the way it got out points to this widespread adoption of the Gawker method: Speculation and iterative reporting. You don’t wait until you have the whole thing wrapped up in a neat bow, a big Sunday spread. You get what you can out there and then get more.

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“That [the first Times story] ran at all, that’s Nick Denton’s founding principle: That you write what you know and what you can even if it means not doing the full comprehensive story.”

The Gawker veteran concluded: “The whole thing points to the necessity and influence of Gawker.”

A Gawker spokesperson Friday evening said that the site did not know who the funder was when Denton spoke with Sorkin, and that no one at Gawker had suggested any names of possible funders to the press.

But whatever led him down that trial, Sorkin, who was on a flight Friday when this reporter asked him for comment, replied Saturday, after the story originally posted, that “I knew – or I should say, I highly suspected – it was Thiel. At the time, I felt the sourcing was too uncertain to name him given that some sources were trying to dissuade me that there was a third party backer at all. But it was clear there was more to the story. My hope was that the column would shake the tree. And happily, it did. (And much faster than I ever expected)."