Florida Jury Sides With Hulk Hogan In Gawker Sex Tape Case
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Former pro wrestling giant Hulk Hogan has scored another win against Gawker. A Florida jury has already awarded him $115 million in compensatory damages over the online gossip site's posting of a video showing him having sex with his friend's wife. Yesterday, the jury tacked on another $25 million in punitive damages.
So what does this mean for Gawker now? Well, we're putting that question to Steven Perlberg of The Wall Street Journal. Steven, welcome to the program.
STEVEN PERLBERG: Thank you.
CORNISH: So give us some context here in terms of this court and the amount of money that the jury is asking for. Is this, like, unusual? What should we read from these numbers?
PERLBERG: It's certainly a lot of money. Hulk Hogan going into the trial had asked for $100 million in damages, which itself seemed like a lot of money. There's still a really strong appeals case ahead of Gawker, and that number could get deflated through a variety of ways, either by the trial judge or in the appeals process.
And certainly if the whole case is overturned, you know, they wouldn't be responsible for paying any of that. So it's a large figure and, you know, that sort of grabbed the headlines, but it remains to be seen what Gawker will actually have to pay.
CORNISH: Do we know what their threshold is if they end up having to pay even a fraction of this? Is that a problem for the media company?
PERLBERG: Well, Gawker took on a minority investor earlier this year in order to shore up its books and be prepared for this trial. There's no question that paying $50, $100, $140 million to Hulk Hogan if they end up needing to do that would seriously threaten the business, but it remains to be seen whether that would necessarily put them out of business.
CORNISH: Gawker's legal team built their case around the First Amendment. They argue that the video was newsworthy given that Hulk Hogan is a well-known public figure. They also tried to argue that he made his sex life part of his public persona. Now obviously, the jury disagreed. But what do you think the effect of this verdict could be on other media organizations?
PERLBERG: Sure. Gawker had said that they didn't necessarily believe that a Florida jury would sympathize with a Manhattan media company over a hometown hero. I think the effect in the rest of the media landscape is unclear until the appeals process is over.
I think that one thing in the short term that's true is that the media companies that publish private things about celebrities will take a harder look and speak with their lawyers more thoroughly when they are deciding whether or not to reveal personal information about celebrities if for no other reason than for fear of litigation.
CORNISH: Now the CEO of Gawker, Nick Denton, has said recently that the site should be nicer. And is this lawsuit a sign of Gawker having to reckon basically with its past - right? - when it was all too happy to post things like sex tapes?
PERLBERG: I mean, Gawker got its start by being a Manhattan media blog that was punching up at the likes of the New York Times, the NPR, the Wall Street Journals of the world. And now they're a larger media company that exists in that same landscape, and I think that they've had to have a reckoning about, you know, where they fit in.
Is Gawker going to be nicer in the future? That remains to be seen. They're definitely bigger and more important and loom larger in the media landscape, so they're under the same scrutiny that they were directing at other media companies maybe a decade ago.
CORNISH: Steven Perlberg covers media and advertising for The Wall Street Journal. Steven, thanks so much.
PERLBERG: Thank you.
CORNISH: And today, Gawker CEO Nick Denton published an essay about the Hogan verdict. He writes, quote, "we'll have our day back in appeals court and we will be vindicated."
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