Well, this story keeps getting more and more interesting.
According to a newly published account in the New York Post, Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire founder of eBay, is involved in an effort to help Gawker Media in its appeal of a $140 million judgement that was awarded to Hulk Hogan following Gawker’s release of a sex tape involving the former wrestler.
Specifically, First Look Media, an online news venture that includes the The Intercept and which is financially backed by Omidyar, is reaching out to other media organizations to file friend-of-the-court briefs to influence an appeals court’s decision in support of Gawker.
According to the The Post, by “filing the amicus briefs in support of Gawker, First Look could effectively elevate the trial into a First Amendment rights case,” one that would “pit” the media organizations supporting Gawker against a powerful foe of the organization: billionaire Peter Thiel.
As is widely known by now, Thiel revealed earlier this week that he’s been financially aiding Hogan’s case, to the tune of $10 million. The reason, Thiel said: he deems a Gawker bully whose work often has no connection with the public’s interest.
Thiel did not respond to requests for comment this week.
But Omidyar said this afternoon that any perceived animus between himself and Thiel is non-existent. In a tweet following the Post’s publication of its story, Omidyar writes that he has “never met Peter,” that he respects Thiel’s work as a venture capitalist, and that there is no “bad blood.”
Also, I’ve never met Peter, respect his work as vc, and obv disagree on Trump and press. There is no “bad blood.” https://t.co/2XCZVMyaes
— Pierre Omidyar (@pierre) May 27, 2016
Omidyar was featured periodically in Valleywag, though its coverage was relatively tame compared to some of its posts about other Silicon Valley executives.
Gawker’s treatment of Thiel, who was featured regularly in a now-shuttered Gawker property called Valleywag, was particularly aggressive. Indeed, in an interview with this reporter in 2009, Thiel likened Gawker to the “Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda.”
Other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, many of whom were also written about by the outlet in less-than-glowing terms, have largely rallied around Thiel since his disclosure.
— Vinod Khosla (@vkhosla) May 26, 2016
First Amendment specialists and reporters, however, have voiced concern that Thiel’s involvement could further fuel a practice that’s already on the rise, which is that of third-parties funding legal cases in order to serve their own means.
You think Peter Thiel is dangerous? He’s so much more dangerous than you think. https://t.co/0NACpbO4My
— Felix Salmon (@felixsalmon) May 26, 2016
Omidyar has been characterized as a “crusading but conflict-averse billionaire.” In late 2013, he began funding First Look Media, an investigative news organization, with an eye toward ensuring that such outlets can function in an era when page views drive revenue and cat videos often trump public-service journalism.
First Look has famously had problems of its own since, as detailed in this Vanity Fair piece last year. Even still, The Intercept has published a long-line of hard-hitting stories over its short history to date.