Gawker Media CEO Nick Denton discusses Hulk Hogan’s sex tape, their pending trial, and more on Reliable Sources
Today on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Founder and CEO of Gawker Media, Nick Denton, joined host Brian Stelter to discuss the status of the Hulk Hogan versus Gawker Media trial, if his company will fall if they lose this case and if he would still publish the video knowing what he knows now.
Reliable Sources airs Sundays, 11 a.m. to noon (ET).
Text highlights and a full transcript from the show are available below.
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Nick Denton, founder of Gawker Media, tells Brian Stelter about the media company’s legal battle with wrestler Hulk Hogan over a blog post about a sex tape.
Denton on if losing this case could potentially end Gawker Media: “It’s a $100 million lawsuit that we are talking about. And we are a successful small to medium sized online media company. Very few media companies keep $100 million in a war chest for this kind of occasion.”
Denton on what he wants this case to be about: “I want this to be — this is a case about the freedom of the press, the freedom of the press to report on a story that actually had already been aired by other outlets. And it’s about freedom of expression.”
Denton on if Gawker’s finances were cut back due to the pending trial: “…not much. We are carrying on, on the principle and in the expectation that First Amendment rules in this country, that freedom of the press and freedom of expression is essential to the functioning of a healthy society. Here was a newsworthy story. We dug deeper. We exposed the truth. And we are not embarrassed about it.”
Denton on if he would still publish the video, knowing what he knows now: “…This story was true and interesting. And we’d absolutely publish it again in a heartbeat. …There are too many people in the media who–make cautious, conservative financial and reputational calculations that often result in good stories not seeing the light of day. …They settle cases, like this one, even when they know they’re in the right. …we can afford to stand up for the principles of good journalism. …We can afford to bear the risk. We have a higher tolerance for risk than most organizations. But, being independently owned, we can make those calls. … So I am confident that this reputation that we have built and that we continue to build will pay off in the longer term.”
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.
The stage is set for a major courtroom battle between — get this — former WWE pro wrestling turned reality TV star Hulk Hogan and Gawker, the New York-based media company that started as a gossip blog. At the heart of the $100 million lawsuit is a sextape which Gawker published 41 seconds of, a montage of sorts. And the stakes could not be any higher, because the verdict could honestly leave the Web site fighting for its life. Hogan is suing for invasion of privacy. But Gawker maintains that Hogan is a public figure and that the sextape was newsworthy. And now a jury of Hogan’s peers will have to decide.
Joining me now is Nick Denton, the CEO of Gawker Media.
Nick, thanks for being here.
NICK DENTON, FOUNDER, GAWKER MEDIA: Hey, Brian.
STELTER: There were lots of new developments this week. You were expecting a trial starting next week. Now it’s been delayed. And we will get into the reasons why. But, first, why is this a sort of life-or-death situation for Gawker?
DENTON: It’s a $100 million lawsuit that we are talking about. And we are a successful small to medium sized online media company. Very few media companies keep $100 million in a war chest for this kind of occasion.
STELTER: So, you’re saying, if you lose, which you don’t think you will, but if you lose, it could bankrupt Gawker?
DENTON: We will win this case eventually. The constitutional principles are clear. The law is clear. And nobody is contesting, I think, a single fact in the story that we ran. So we will win. And there’s already indications that the appeals court is rather more favorable to our side of the story and our side of the argument.
STELTER: But to your point about the $100 million, you published a lot of your finances this week revealing that Gawker makes a lot of money, turned a profit of, what, $6 million recently?
DENTON: Well, $6.5 million.
STELTER: But the message there was, you don’t have $100 million laying around for this.
DENTON: The message there was that this is a healthy, viable company with more than 100 million monthly visitors. And even the company like ours is vulnerable to the intricacies of the American court system.
STELTER: And we will get into the reason why it’s been delayed and why it’s going to be dragged out. But, first, on these First Amendment principles, you want this case to be cast as a journalism fight, right, as a fight for the right to publish information, even if it’s really embarrassing for a celebrity?
DENTON: I want this to be — this is a case about the freedom of the press, the freedom of the press to report on a story that actually had already been aired by other outlets. And it’s about freedom of expression.
STELTER: Even when the press is a blog, and even when the content is a sextape?
DENTON: We employ journalists. We employ journalists that are recently unionized members of the Writers Guild of America East, along with Salon, which I think today also — also unionized. So, we do stories — you’re focused on the sextape. We do stories about Manti Te’o and his fake girlfriend, a story that the mainstream media ran with for weeks or months. And we exposed the truth behind that. We have run stories about personal technology, about video games. It just so happens that the media is more interested than sextapes.
STELTER: So, you’re blaming the rest of the media. That’s funny.
DENTON: I’m just acknowledging the fact that we’re all human, and sex is an important part of existence. It is a topic of news. And particularly for modern news consumers, it’s not something that shocks them particularly. It’s a part of life and part of news.
STELTER: And the reality about court cases involving journalism is that sometimes they fought over not government secrets, but issues like sextapes. They still have some of the same principles at play.
DENTON: I am a former Financial Times journalist. I never really thought I would be cast in the role of the Internet generation’s Larry Flynt. But, hey, here I am.
STELTER: So where are you today? What is the current status? Because everyone is expecting this to go to trial starting in early July. Now we don’t know when it’s going to go to trial. Right?
DENTON: Well, my bags were packed.
STELTER: You were ready to go to Florida.
DENTON: I was ready to go to Florida tomorrow. And I guess I will have a slightly more leisurely summer than I would have otherwise had.
STELTER: I just can’t help but laugh when you mentioned Hulk Hogan. Did you ever think that you would find yourself in the proverbial wrestling ring with someone like this?
DENTON: I — no. No. Life sometimes is stranger than fiction. And — this reads like a Carl Hiaasen novel.
STELTER: And sometimes it can seem silly. And yet, at the same time, so much money is at stake that it is so serious. You have even had to cut back on some expenses at Gawker, right? You all have been a little cheaper at work, perhaps?
DENTON: A little bit, but not much. We are carrying on, on the principle and in the expectation that First Amendment rules in this country, that freedom of the press and freedom of expression is essential to the functioning of a healthy society. Here was a newsworthy story. We dug deeper. We exposed the truth. And we are not embarrassed about it.
STELTER: Knowing what you know now, knowing all of the legal costs already, would you have still published the video?
DENTON: I am glad that decisions that are taken on publishing are taken at the time. And I’m glad that we only really look at whether the story is both true and interesting. This story was true and interesting. And we’d absolutely publish it again in a heartbeat.
STELTER: You don’t ever kind of wish you hadn’t, though?
DENTON: There are too many people in the media who make calculations. I can understand that — what they do. But they make cautious, conservative financial and reputational calculations that often result in good stories not seeing the light of day. And they settle cases. They settle cases, like this one, even when they know they’re in the right. We are independently owned. And we can afford to stand up for the principles of good journalism.
STELTER: You say you can afford it. And yet you’re saying you don’t have that $100 million in the bank.
DENTON: We can afford to bear the risk. We have a higher tolerance for risk than most organizations. But, being independently owned, we can make those calls. And as far as business goes, to have a reputation for putting out the real story, despite the risks, that is a rare and — is a rare thing in the modern world, in the modern media world. So I am confident that this reputation that we have built and that we continue to build will pay off in the longer term.
STELTER: Nick, great to see you.
DENTON: Good to see you.
STELTER: Thanks for being here.
Now, for their part, Hogan’s lawyers say this case poses no potential danger whatsoever to the First Amendment. They say this sextape is an example of speech that is not a matter of legitimate public concern. I would love to have Hulk Hogan here on the program in the future to hear his side.