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Gawker’s legacy: 5 more chilling lawsuits meant to silence the media

Gawker’s legacy: 5 more chilling lawsuits meant to silence the media
[Photo: Grace Villamil/Financial Times]

Today is the first anniversary of Gawker‘s demise. The website, while hated by many, was the go-to site for snark, unvarnished takes, and courageous scoops that other outlets wouldn’t dare publish.

Gawker was ultimately killed by money and power. Hulk Hogan’s successful lawsuit against it–bankrolled by tech billionaire Peter Thiel–led to its bankruptcy and eventual fire sale to Univision.

At the time, many wondered if the case would create a bad precedent. Would spurious lawsuits from angry rich people become a tool to silence journalism? We’re one year in, and we can say that, yes, this has become a sad reality. In fact, there are quite a few suits currently brewing, or recently settled, that were levied with the same intent to stop a media company from publishing the truth, or punish someone after the fact.

Here’s a surely non-exhaustive rundown of some outlets or journalists being hit with expensive and, for some, potentially career-ending lawsuits:

  • Eric Bolling sues Yashar Ali: Fox News host Eric Bolling hit reporter Yashar Ali with a $50 million defamation lawsuit. Ali wrote a HuffPost story about Bolling sending lecherous and inappropriate texts to his coworkers. Fox News suspended Bolling following the allegations, and the TV host has vowed to clear his name–all the while attempting to bankrupt a freelance reporter.
  • Sarah Palin sues the New York Times: The Times wrote an op-ed that looked at the recent shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise. In an early version of the article, the writer made the false claim that a Palin political ad put Rep. Gabby Giffords’s name under gun crosshairs, which is an online myth that has been debunked. The Times swiftly fixed the error and issued a correction. Still, Palin is suing the paper for $75,000 in damages.
  • Shiva Ayyadurai sues TechDirt: Charles Harder, the same lawyer who represented Hulk Hogan against Gawker, is now representing entrepreneur Shiva Ayyadurai, a man who says he invented email (a claim that has been called into question many times over–including by Gawker) in a lawsuit against the blog TechDirt. In short, TechDirt wrote that Ayyadurai did not invent email, and backed up the article with citations and facts. But because we live in a post-Gawker world, he is now trying to silence the blog by throwing the book at it with this $15 million suit. TechDirt is small and this suit could have catastrophic results.
  • Robert Murray sues John Oliver: A few months ago, John Oliver launched into one of his most beloved and well-known schticks: the tirade. Oliver delved into President Trump’s promise to bring back coal jobs and specifically focused on Robert Murray, a coal company CEO. Murray is now suing Oliver for defamation.
  • Beef producer sues Disney: Now here’s a truly chilling one: A South Dakota beef producer successfully got Disney to fork over at least $177 million, over a 2012 ABC news report that revealed the company used a meat-like by-product lovingly known as “pink slime.” Despite the fact that the company defended the report–and issued no retraction or corrections–Disney ultimately decided to settle to halt any further drawn-out litigation.

CGW