Much ink has been spilled about Peter Thiel’s funding of various cases against Gawker. However, the discussion of whether he should or shouldn’t mostly miss the point. Nor do the responses give me much confidence in the media, who seem focused on playing victim, rather than focused on the incredible power they have.
Let me lay some groundwork, before articulating what I wish someone in the media would do.
First, Peter Thiel had every right to do what he did.
Second, if Gawker is guilty it suggests they did violated an individuals right and should pay. (I suspect they will win on appeal). There is such a thing as harassment and bullying. Being a “journalist” doesn’t give you a pass to print or say anything. Figuring out the balance is a debate we should continue to have in society.
Third, having third parties pay for lawsuits doesn’t strike me as an issue. There are real benefits to this and, it should not affect the material facts of the case and thus the outcome.
Fourth, everybody seems to dump on Gawker. I don’t read them, but can see why many people don’t like them. That said, they are important. I remember them for being the only media company willing to print a story about how Rob Ford, the former Mayor of Toronto, was smoking crack. This was very much in the public interest and it appears the Canadian media was too cautious to print it. There is value in this type of journalism.
Finally, while Peter Thiel had the right to fund these lawsuits, I think he’ll come to regret it. We may look back on May 25th as the moment the broader media began to recognize the powerful people in Silicon Valley are the elites of a new Gilded Age who increasingly shape and influence our lives.
So rather than bemoan and write articles questioning the ethics of Peter Thiel’s actions here’s what I wish the media would say:
“We agree with Peter Thiel, there should be smart, thoughtful and professional reporting. In addition, it is also clear that Silicon Valley is one, if not the, new centre of economic power in the world. Given its prominence in shaping our world and the power its elites have, we, the undersigned editors, are each assigning one of our most veteran news reporters to a news beat which will critically examine the people and companies reshaping the lives of America and the world. We look forward to the debate and conversations this reporting sparks about the direction of our economy, and its impact on our lives and democracy.”
At least the Guardian made the commitment before all this happened.