Peter Thiel conspired against Gawker Media. An actual conspiracy that almost no one knew about.
Nick Denton didn't even know Thiel was targeting him under months after he'd be destroyed financially.
Ryan Holiday wrote a book about it:
Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue https://www.amazon.com/dp/0735217645/
You act like conspiracies can't be real...
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Not to mention the numerous pop-sci books which are a detailed history of science in disguise. I'm actually abandoning those. I'm tired of reading about the personality quirks or life stories of Bohr, Einstein, Heisenberg, Schrödinger whenever I pick up a book about quantum mechanics.
Life's too short to invest your time (slow read) in filler material.
To me, this story is not just the story of a ten year revenge plot, it's really the story of all conspiracies. You know we live in this world of conspiracy theories (I happen to live in Austin, the hometown of Alex Jones) but few actual conspiracies. But any student of history knows that the world often pivots on something a few people cooked up in secret. So to me, this book was a chance to tell that larger story. The fact that Thiel was willing to go on the record and explain his process was, in my view as an author, an unprecedented chance to lay out how power really works in a way that few have been able to before. It's ironic, Gawker's informal motto was that they showed "How Things Work"--the story behind the story. But in this case, they missed what was actually happening. So did everyone in the media. What I tried to do here was step back, take judgment out of the picture, and show what went down and why. I think the book captures that, but ultimately that will be for the readers to decide.
The central question of this story to me is, who was the bully? Was Thiel the bully or was it Gawker? Was Peter the billionaire who destroyed a millionaire? Or was he a righteous man who attempted to use his money to solve a problem that only power and money could solve? Was it the media outlet that thoughtlessly outed a then-mostly unknown tech investor? Or was it the billionaire who spent millions plotting against him for it? Was it the website who loved to out gay men or was it the team who would back Trump in the 2016 election, and in the case of Charles Harder, write an 11 page letter threatening to sue Michael Wolff for his book about Trump? Was it Denton who never apologized, who ignored judicial orders or was it Thiel, who never showed his face until after his revenge was complete?
It depends on where you sit, but one thing that has been lost in the coverage since the verdict: Gawker thought they were winning until suddenly, they lost. It was Gawker who had filed endless motions and appeals, who had fought Hulk Hogan with scorched earth tactics, and never apologized for obtaining an illegally recorded sextape and publishing it for more than seven million people to gawk at (and then spent $10M+ vigorously insisting it was right to do so). There was a moment in mid-2014, when Gawker’s lawyers threatened Hulk Hogan, telling him that it was his last chance to drop the case before they went after him for attorney’s fees. More than anything, what the jury and the judge reacted to had been their arrogance. The verdict reflected that.
Nick Denton told me, “The idea that Thiel was terrified of the next Gawker piece is still absurd to me—and given how things turned out, we had much more to fear from him than the other way around." But it wasn’t that absurd at the time, when they were a website with hundreds of millions of readers, when Gawker was the site that had never been challenged in court and published whatever it wanted, Thiel believed that Gawker’s power was partly in pretending that it was more powerful than it was. Now that they're gone...it looks different.
As for who is the bully now? As I said, backing Trump and some of the clients Charles Harder has taken on since give me pause...but that doesn't have the power to rewrite where things were in 2007.
Here is a section from the book that addresses this in part.
>To the modern mind, this reticent gay identity seems like an anachronism, but when you do the math, you quickly realize how different the world was in 2007. The Democrat who would be elected president in less than a year’s time was still five years away from announcing his support for same-sex marriage. The woman who opposed him in the primary would take an additional year to come around. The year 2007 was also much closer to the burst of the dot-com bubble than it is to the present day. Facebook’s IPO was five years in the future and most of the astonishing success of this class of start-ups from Twitter to Netflix still lay ahead.
>While Thiel was not no one in late 2007 when the story broke, Peter Thiel was not then Peter Thiel. He was not the person he would be at the end of this story, the idiosyncratic lion of Silicon Valley venture capital or controversial political power broker. Thiel was more like all the other technology investors most people have never heard of. Do the names Max Levchin or Roelof Botha sound familiar to the average person? They were Thiel’s partners in PayPal. Or the name Jim Breyer? He put a million dollars in Facebook less than a year after Thiel put in his half million. What about Maurice Werdegar, who put in money with Thiel in that famous seed round? Few have even heard of these people, let alone cared whom they slept with. They are, as far as popular culture is concerned, as Thiel was then, barely notable. And he was, above all, a quiet, private person.
>When one considers Thiel’s burning ambitions against this backdrop, and the potential for this Valleywag story to be the first thing to broadly define him outside the Valley, one might better understand Thiel’s reaction to Owen Thomas’s small, unexceptional story and the flippant headline that went with it.
If you can remove just a couple of the worst actors from the internet, does it have an outsized benefit? Are those people defining "acceptable behavior" and by example giving more reasonable people permission to behave that way? Interesting questions regardless of the specifics of the Thiel/Gawker case.
[0 affiliate]: https://www.amazon.com/Conspiracy-Ryan-Holiday/dp/0735217645...
[0 non-affiliate]: https://www.amazon.com/Conspiracy-Ryan-Holiday/dp/0735217645