Hulk Hogan’s invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against Gawker Media was about trying to cover up his use of racist language rather than any distress over the publication of a sex tape, contends Nick Denton, founder of the media company.
Gay entrepreneur Denton today published a lengthy response to the verdict in the suit on Gawker, the company’s flagship site. A Florida circuit court jury last week awarded the pro wrestler $115 million in compensatory damages for economic injuries and emotional distress in his suit over Gawker’s 2012 posting of a video showing Hogan having sex with his best friend’s wife. The jury came back Monday and awarded Hogan $25.1 million more in punitive damages — $15 million from the company, $10 million from Denton personally, and $100,000 from former Gawker editor in chief A.J. Daulerio — bringing the total to $140 million.
“The number is far larger than even the plaintiff himself had asked for in relief,” Denton wrote on Gawker today. “It’s a huge pay-day for an indiscretion that would have been quickly forgotten, one among many in the professional wrestler’s personal life. The enormous size of the verdict is chilling to Gawker Media and other publishers with a tabloid streak, but it is also a flag to higher courts that this case went wildly off the rails. … Emotion was permitted to trump the law, and key evidence and witnesses were kept from the jury.”
Hogan was less worried about the sex tape than about other ones that were circulating, Denton wrote, especially one that showed him using racial slurs. “As our lawyers argued in legal briefs that were kept secret by the trial judge from the public — and even from me — until an appeals court unsealed them on Friday, Hogan filed the claim because he was terrified that one of the other tapes, which memorialized his rant about his daughter dating ‘fucking [n------],’ might emerge,” Denton wrote. “As I have come to learn, Hogan himself put it in a text message to his best friend, the radio shock-jock Bubba Clem, days after we published our story.”
“I had suspicions, but it is now clear that Hogan’s lawsuit was a calculated attempt to prevent Gawker, or anyone else who might obtain evidence of his racism, from publishing a truth more interesting and more damaging than a revelation about his sex life,” Denton continued.
Denton and his company intend to appeal the verdict, and he expressed confidence that it will be overturned. Last year Denton had commented that Gawker Media doesn’t keep $100 million in the bank, so a large award to Hogan would endanger the company. To bolster its finances, Gawker Media recently took on its first outside investor.