SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Many of the sexual harassment scandals surfacing in recent weeks about prominent American men are said to have been open secrets. Everyone supposedly knew about the tawdry behavior except the public. But the website Gawker, a digital site that trafficked in news and gossip, often reported about sexual allegations. The website had to close after losing a court case to Hulk Hogan in which they were found liable to pay more than $100 million for publishing portions of a private sex tape. Some former Gawker writers and editors are taking a victory lap, but it's complicated. NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us from New York. David, thanks for being with us.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Of course.
SIMON: Begin please by walking us through some of the big names that Gawker or its sister sites exposed some years ago.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, let's just take a smattering. I think it's fair to say that Gawker was early to report on issues involving Louis C.K., who, of course, apologized on Friday, years after that first unnamed post. It reported on the aggressive activities of Kevin Spacey in approaching young men he didn't know and seeking sexual interactions - at least allegations of that. It really accelerated and fueled attention back on Bill Cosby from a variety of disparate accusations that had surfaced over the years and saying there's a real pattern here to this. Harvey Weinstein was on that list. Bill O'Reilly - don't let me forget that, you know?
SIMON: Let me follow up about Kevin Spacey specifically. The Gawker story certainly seemed to confirm that he's gay, while gossiping about stories that went from grabbing people intimately without permission, all the way to having PAs on set who complained fired. But the focus seemed to be on his sexuality. So were Gawker's Kevin Spacey stories really new?
FOLKENFLIK: You know, I think they may have been news for reasons that were other than the motivations behind the story or the apparent motivations. I think that what you just sketched out suggests, you know, a physical affront. But there was a focus less on the power dynamics and the inappropriateness that just say, not only is Kevin Spacey gay. We can prove it because he was aggressively interested in young men.
SIMON: Which brings me to the question, before we get too misty-eyed about Gawker closing, did they run stories about celebrities that were wrong or, even if true, just needlessly hurt people?
FOLKENFLIK: Oh, sure. I mean, there was a nihilist streak in there, too. There was one time where a woman objected to a video being shown of her at a bar having sex with a man. She said, this sex was not consensual. What you're putting up there is rape. And the editor at that time said, you know, basically something along the lines of, don't worry about it. It's not just they're doing great work, or they're a scurrilous rag. They kind of did both at times. And disaggregating when those two things were happening is sometimes complicated because some of the stuff they were focusing on was so tawdry, you might lose sight that some of the stuff they were reporting on in the same moment were meaningful.
You know, I've come to think of a lot of what Gawker did as a kind of twilight news. And that is news that's perhaps not ready for prime time, news that may rely on anonymous sources, news that may not even identify by name the person they're reporting on but stuff that's disturbing and often of public interest. And I think this is something that The New York Times and the conventional press is not equipped to do. And yet the surfacing of these issues happened earlier in this twilight news setting. There is a purpose being served, even if it's from a place about which, at times, I had great, great reservations.
SIMON: NPR's David Folkenflik, thanks so much.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
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