Thiel says he decided several years ago to try to cripple Gawker

Earlier today, we speculated that billionaire Peter Thiel may have secretly financed a lawsuit to put Gawker Media out of business owing to a series of antagonistic stories about him written by Gawker’s now defunct Valleywag site nearly a decade ago.

Thiel has since talked with New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin and confirmed that not only has he provided Hulk Hogan (legally Terry Bollea) with $10 million to battle Gawker over a sex tape it released of the former wrestling star, but Thiel long ago decided he’d do what he could to put Gawker out of business.

“It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” Thiel told Sorkin. “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.”

Thiel went on to explain that he had decided several years ago to secretly fund multiple cases to try to cripple Gawker, saying if he didn’t fight on behalf of Gawker’s “victims,” he feared no one would. His first step was to hire a legal team to look for cases that he could help financially support. Asked by Sorkin what other cases he has funded, Thiel declined to offer details, saying only that, “It’s safe to say this is not the only one.”

Thiel’s admission is understandably being met with very divided reactions. While some think Thiel is right to stick it to an outlet that at times seemed to rely on tormenting him to meet its traffic targets, others — including reporters and First Amendment specialists — expressed concern today that Thiel and other wealthy benefactors could effectively silence journalists and other critics by funding lawsuits against them.

Indeed, though not illegal or new — American Lawyer says more third parties are covering legal fees than ever before — the suddenly high-profile case has seemingly raised awareness about the practice, for better or worse.