WHEN GAWKER MEDIA WAS SENTENCED to pay Hulk Hogan $140 million in damages for publishing his sex tape, it was seen as a victory over snarky New York media. Now, with the revelation that the lawsuit was secretly bankrolled by Silicon Valley Billionaire Peter Thiel in retaliation for an article that outed him as gay, the case has become a symbol of something else: a shadowy war on the press that’s being waged by wealthy individuals and companies, with a boost from social media.
Thiel’s provocation isn’t the oddity the media is treating it as. It’s merely the latest case of powerful interests trying to silence a journalist. Jane Mayer is a well-known investigative reporter who works for The New Yorker and is highly regarded for exposing wrongdoing and miscreant behavior. Her most recent target was the Koch brothers, only this time the target fought back. In a counterattack as sophisticated as their political finance operation, the Kochs hired Vigilant Resources International, a firm run by the former commissioner of the New York Police Department, to dig up dirt on Mayer.
“ ‘Dirt, dirt, dirt’ is what the source later told me they were digging for in my life. If they couldn’t find it, they’d create it,” Mayer wrote in her new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Radical Right. And create it they did, in the form of plagiarism allegations that were shopped around to news outlets, but with so little evidence that even conservative publications turned them down.