Update, May 25, 2016: Gawker and Hogan were read a giant verdict in Florida court Wednesday. Judge Pamela Campbell said she would grant neither Gawker's new trial request nor a reduction in damages, the Chicago Tribune reports. Gawker maintained its stance that it will try the case again in appeals court.
The ruling comes a day after both The New York Times and Forbes reported that Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel was financing Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker. One of Gawker's subsidiary sites outed Thiel as a gay man in 2007. The Forbes article cited anonymous sources, though former Gawker Media editor Leah Finnegan was quick to cite, "Nick Denton" in a Genius annotation. The funding of lawsuits by third parties is legal. Judge Campbell did not take these articles into account when making her ruling.
Hogan's lawyers praised the ruling, especially the ways in which called Gawker out for "their reprehensible behavior and method of doing what they call journalism." They refused comment about the reports that Thiel was financing the trial.
Update: A Florida jury returned a $115 million verdict in favor of Hulk Hogan on Friday, March 18, 2016. THR reports that Hogan sobbed at the news, while Gawker founder Nick Denton appeared to be stunned. Denton shared the below statement via Twitter, indicating that Gawker will likely appeal the verdict: "Given key evidence and the most important witness were both withheld from this jury, we all knew the appeals court will need to resolve the case."
Originally published on March 6, 2016:
Once upon a time, Hulk Hogan was one of the most famous professional wrestlers in the world. He had the kind of untarnished image that made him appropriate inspiration for a Saturday morning cartoon and, later, an VH1 reality show about his quirky family. Now, he's a man whose embarrassing sex tape may change how the courts and media view the right to privacy.
On Monday, a jury in St. Petersburg, FL, will hear opening statements in Hogan's $100 million civil lawsuit against Gawker Media for publishing a one-minute-and-40-second video excerpt of a sex tape apparently taken from security footage from the home of Hogan's friend and radio personality, Bubba the Love Sponge, in 2007. Hogan (whose real name is Terry Bollea) claims that inclusion of the video in Gawker's October 2012 blog post violates his privacy. Gawker's response is that Hogan's sex life — in particular, his affair with the woman in the video, Bubba's then-wife, Heather Clem — was a part of public conversation. Therefore, the blog post is protected by the First Amendment.
"Gawker is defending its First Amendment right to join an ongoing conversation about a celebrity when others are talking about it and the celebrity is talking about it," Gawker lawyer Seth D. Berlin told The New York Times.
No one is contesting the site's right to describe every detail of the video in words. This case is all about the moving image.
Hogan's lawyers say we're in danger of seeing a different kind of slippery slope if Gawker has its way. "There’s a world of difference between discussing something and showing a pornographic video, something that goes online and can be seen forever," Hogan's attorney, David R. Houston, told the Times, warning that "absolutely nothing will be private anymore" if his client loses. Hogan and his representatives took their complaint to federal court in 2012. After Gawker won that round, Hogan went through the Florida courts.
Why does this all matter to you? Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California, Irvine, explains to The NY Times that the definition of the word "newsworthy" and what meets this vague criteria is the key. And "newsworthiness" often depends on the context — the standard could be applied differently, for example, for celebrity cases versus those involving private citizens such as revenge porn victims, Chemerinsky and other experts told The NY Times.
The Guardian speculates that a St. Petersburg jury might be inclined to rule in favor of hometown boy Hogan over a New York media company, but Gawker has already announced plans to appeal.