Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue
“Even now, it still feels too surreal to be true,” said Rowland Manthorpe in Wired.co.uk. Nearly two years ago, former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan—backed by billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel—succeeded in bankrupting Gawker.com with a lawsuit that began when the popular online news organization posted a short video of Hogan (real name Terry Bollea) having sex with his best friend’s wife. Author Ryan Holiday’s lively new account of Gawker’s takedown sheds new light on the zealousness with which Thiel pursued vengeance against the site, while offering a surprising argument that such brilliant secret plotting should be applauded. “Agree or disagree, it’s all part of the pleasure.”
“Holiday has written one helluva page-turner,” said William Cohan in The NewYork Times. Thiel, as he has publicly admitted, had nursed a grudge against Gawker since 2007, when its offshoot that covered Silicon Valley outed Thiel as gay. Holiday reports that Thiel began actively working to undermine Gawker four years later when a young Australian, identified in the book only as Mr. A, persuaded him that he could destroy Gawker by spending $10 million on researchers and lawyers hired to identify a vulnerability and then sue. Thiel has since admitted that he and A also consid ered illegal methods of achieving their goal before dismissing that route. Then Hogan’s video popped up, and Thiel’s lawyers jumped on the opportunity, devising an unorthodox claim of privacy invasion and funneling enough money to Hogan that he could turn down a lucrative settlement offer and go for the kill.
Though his book acknowledges that Thiel wanted more from the suit than he achieved, “Holiday doesn’t reach the intellectually honest conclusion, that Thiel’s conspiracy was a failure,” said Alyssa Rosenberg in The Washington Post. Yes, Gawker as it was known is dead. But Thiel also brought himself more notoriety, instead of regaining the privacy he valued, and he’s not made the internet at all more civil. He has marginally helped his image by opening up about why he targeted Gawker, explaining, for example, that he believes the mavericks who drive progress need freedom to operate without having to worry that their personal secrets will be exposed by a self-appointed watchdog. But he’ll forever be the billionaire who used his wealth to silence a news outlet he didn’t like. That makes him the story’s villain.