Gawker Lawsuit Becomes Battle of the Silicon Valley Billionaires

  • EBay founder’s group opposes suit backed by PayPal co-founder
  • Omidyar’s First Look Media is seeking to join the lawsuit

First Look Media, a news organization founded by Silicon Valley billionaire Pierre Omidyar, said it’s seeking to join a lawsuit in support of Gawker Media LLC in the high-profile case brought by wrestler Hulk Hogan.

Pierre Omidyar.

Pierre Omidyar.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Peter Thiel, another technology billionaire and co-founder of PayPal, said this week that he’s helping finance Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, and other plaintiffs suing Gawker. A jury found in favor of Bollea in March, and the New York media company was ordered to pay $140 million.

Beau Friedlander, a spokesman for First Look, said the group is organizing supporters to file a friend-of-the-court brief arguing in favor of Gawker. Friedlander said the case threatens press freedom under the First Amendment.

“We will be paying close attention as this case moves into its appeals phase,” Friedlander wrote in an e-mail. “To be clear, this is about press freedom principles upon which our company was founded, and about which we care deeply.”

Before starting First Look, Omidyar founded EBay Inc., the auction site that made him a billionaire. EBay acquired Thiel’s PayPal in 2002, and the two companies split last year. Omidyar’s First Look owns the Intercept, a news website staffed by journalists who revealed details of U.S. government spying with the help of Edward Snowden.

Thiel declined to comment. Gawker didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The two have a contentious relationship; the website wrote about Thiel being gay in 2007 before he discussed it publicly.

This week, Gawker Chief Executive Officer Nick Denton challenged Thiel to a debate about free speech and journalistic ethics. Thiel described the media and celebrity-focused website as a business built on “humiliating people for sport.”

Bollea sued Gawker in 2012 over the publication of a video showing him having sex with a friend’s wife, claiming the website cost him endorsements and inflicted emotional harm. Paying the damages in that suit could be potentially cripple the company, and Gawker hired a banker to explore strategic options, including a possible sale. Details of First Look’s planned amicus brief were reported earlier by the New York Post.

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