Funding Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker? That’s not cool. Actively going out to find potential plaintiffs who might have cases against Gawker and then giving them the money to bring those cases? Even that’s not cool.
You know what’s cool? Reinventing the concept of philanthropy so as to include weapons-grade attacks on America’s free press, and doing so from the very heart of The New Establishment.
This is the big story, which a lot of people are missing about the news that Peter Thiel secretly funded a series of lawsuits against Gawker: the Facebook board member and Silicon Valley demigod just gave the world a master class in how a billionaire can achieve enormous ends with a relatively modest investment. That’s a lesson many of his friends are eager to be taught—not least his protégé, Mark Zuckerberg, who is just beginning to try to reinvent philanthropy for the 21st Century.
Thiel’s interview with the New York Times about his legal campaign, in which a $10 million investment on lawyers managed to bring an entire media company to the brink of disaster, is the new required reading in Silicon Valley, especially the bit where he says that it’s “one of my greater philanthropic things that I’ve done."
Thiel, like most Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, loves to think of himself as a visionary. His first company, PayPal, started as an attempt to create a whole new global currency; since then he has invested most of his time and money into ambitious attempts to change the world. But it’s his investment in a campaign against Gawker, intended to inflict as much damage as he can on Gawker Media and its proprietor, Nick Denton, which could prove to be his most effective – and his most harmful.
Thiel’s tactics in going after Gawker are very, very frightening for anybody who believes in freedom of speech; they’re also extremely effective, in an evil-genius kind of way.
Historically, news publications have treated certain subjects very carefully: if you’re rich and known to be litigious, then there’s a good chance that news organizations will have lawyers do a careful review of anything they write about you before they publish it. That’s the main way that they protect themselves from the destructive potential of lawsuits being brought against them.