Gawker and Hulk Hogan reach S$43 million settlement

Hulk Hogan attending the 2015 NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Upfront at The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City.
Hulk Hogan attending the 2015 NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Upfront at The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTimes) - Gawker Media, which filed for bankruptcy after losing a lawsuit brought by former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, settled the case on Wednesday (Nov 2), bringing to a close a multi-year dispute that led to the demise of the company as an independent news organisation.

Court documents indicate the settlement is for US$31 million (S$43 million). Less than eight months ago, a Florida jury awarded the wrestler, whose real name is Terry G. Bollea, US$140 million in damages in an invasion of privacy lawsuit over Gawker's publication of a video that showed Bollea having sex with a friend's wife. Gawker will forgo its appeal of that judgment.

Known for its wry, conversational tone and willingness to push the boundaries of Internet journalism, Gawker had remained defiant throughout the legal process and had expressed confidence that it would overturn the verdict on appeal.

But the significant financial pressure from the judgment - and the revelation later that Mr Peter Thiel, a billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur, was financing the lawsuit and others against the company - forced Gawker to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Gawker Media put itself up for sale at auction, which Univision won in August with a bid of US$135 million.

"After four years of litigation funded by a billionaire with a grudge going back even further, a settlement has been reached," Mr Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker, said in a blogpost on Wednesday.

"All-out legal war with Thiel would have cost too much, and hurt too many people, and there was no end in sight," he added. "Gawker's nemesis was not going away."

In May, Mr Thiel, a founder of PayPal and one of the first investors in Facebook, acknowledged in an interview with The New York Times that he was providing financial support for Mr Bollea's lawsuit, saying he was financing cases against Gawker because it published articles that "ruined people's lives for no reason". Mr Thiel was outed as gay by Valleywag, one of Gawker's now-defunct blogs, nearly a decade ago.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, he said: "It is a great day for Terry Bollea and a great day for everyone's right to privacy." The settlement will most likely revive a long-simmering debate about press freedom that Gawker's demise has stoked.

There had been murmurings for months of a potential settlement between Gawker and Mr Bollea, but even in the weeks leading up to its sale, Gawker maintained its typical swagger, hosting parties - one at a burlesque club in downtown New York - and publishing articles as part of a "senior week" in August that seemed both to be a collection of pie-in-the-sky stories and a reminder of its brashness.

Founded in 2002, Gawker became a go-to site for New York media gossip and a magnet for young journalists who would later go on to work at places like The New Yorker, The Awl and The New York Times.

Mr Denton was widely known for saying journalists shared their most interesting stories at the bar after work, and his mission was to guide those stories onto his sites - to entertain and surprise their readers with information that traditional news organisations often shied away from.

When Univision won the auction for Gawker in August, it was regarded by some as the end of an era, and journalists - not just those who had worked at Gawker - published articles that often read like obituaries. The sites that Univision acquired are now under a new umbrella - Gizmodo Media Group.

As part of the deal between the sides, three Gawker articles will be removed from the Internet, including the one involving Hogan.

"As with any negotiation for resolution," Mr David Houston, a lawyer for Hogan, said in a statement, "all parties have agreed it is time to move on."