The thrusting naked bottom of Hulk Hogan is an unlikely place to lower the flag of ‘free speech’; but there it currently resides. Pending an appeal.
Gawker v. Bollea was an American court case that turned on the Constitution’s 1st Amendment which protects the right to freedom of expression from government interference. The sheer fact that Criminal libel exists on the statute books of some States, though rarely prosecuted, should tell you that even in the ‘land of the free’, a certain amount of government interference into ‘Free speech’ exposes itself.
Gawker Media was one of the earliest semi-professional news sites in existence. It preyed upon the rarified demimonde of the media and advertising types that inhabited its immediate surroundings and chortled over their misdemeanours. It was back-of-the-bikesheds humour for those who considered themselves to be of above average wit and intelligence, thus entitled to take drugs, shag each others partners, and still look down from the moral high ground.
Gawker locked into the wild west atmosphere of the early internet – and even when it had spread to encompass seven different sites, and had a turnover in excess of forty-four million dollars from accompanying advertising – it still didn’t consider itself to be bound by the rules of ‘old-fashioned journalism’.
Terry Bollea, on the other hand, is better known as ‘Hulk Hogan’ of that athletic form of entertainment – posing as a combat sport – known as professional wrestling. The aim is to put on a ‘good show’ rather than genuinely hurt your opponent. Image, both before and during the match, is all important. Strong man. Big man. Testosterone kid. Professional Actor.
Gawker and Bollea met head on, when Gawker decided that it was in the public interest that the world should know that when Bollea, in his professional role as Hulk Hogan, said he had a ten inch penis, this was not necessarily true. So that Gawker’s readers, who are apparently interested in these sort of curriculum vitae exaggerations, could judge for themselves, they posted a nine second video of Mr Bollea having sex with his best friend’s wife. As you do.
Personally I would have thought that the implication that the sex only lasted nine seconds was enough to enrage Mr Bollea; or perhaps the fact that it was filmed without his knowledge by his best friend; but it was the invasion of his privacy by Gawker, who lured millions of readers to their site by implying that the tape was ‘Not Safe For Viewing at Work’ that drove him into the arms of the lawyers claiming that it was both negligent and intended to cause him emotional distress.
Terry Bollea sued Gawker for $100 million – a jury has just awarded him $140 million, a sum which dwarfs Gawker’s assets. The case has been extraordinary. It has also terrified the world of professional, i.e. money making, on-line journalism. Despite the fact that Gawker had not placed (or not found any advertisers willing to be associated with the tape) any advertisements on the actual publication.
Quite why it should be important that ‘public interest’ should be best served by knowing that actors and their real life personae are not one and the same beats me. Do we care that Peter O’Toole doesn’t really talk to skulls off stage, only when pretending to be Macbeth; or that Boris Karloff doesn’t actually have a ten inch bolt through his neck in real life?
There are some occupations where it is in the public interest to know the truth – finding out that the Chancellor of the Exchequer robbed his grandmother blind before taking up office? Knowing that the Archbishop of Canterbury likes to be known as Richard Dawkins when writing on-line? But really, knowing that an actor who portrays a testosterone-heavy wrestler isn’t actually as well endowed as he claims his fictitious character is, definitely doesn’t count as public interest.
Gawker, or rather their lawyers, argued that reality shows such as ‘Hogan Knows Best’ which apparently featured Bollea sitting on a toilet, accompanied by a soundtrack which Bollea swears was added later, were a sign that Bollea had given up his right to privacy. Bollea countered by pointing out that he was ‘in character’ at the time, as the title of the programme would appear to corroborate.
Celebrity ‘sex tapes’ are big business on the Internet. pace Paris Hilton. Gawker’s editor at the time of publication, A.J. Daulerio, a man who proudly boasts that he had increased the traffic of his previous employment, Deadspin, by paying $12,000 dollars for photographs of quarterback Brett Favre’s penis, said in court that the only celebrity sex tapes he wouldn’t consider publishing were those concerning a child under the age of four years. Gulp.
You might have thought that that comment alone would have turned the Internet world firmly against Gawker – but there has been surprisingly little condemnation. The Internet is far more concerned that Gawker losing the case might involve some censorship of the Internet….sex tapes of five year olds versus the potential income stream for journalistic refugees from the dead tree press.
We have a similar story brewing here in the UK. John Whittingdale, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and ‘one o’ dem Tories’ is in the firing line.
Whittingdale is currently looking at the renewal of the BBC charter, so is of particular interest to those who have a pathological dislike of Rupert Murdoch and his rival Sky channel. When Whittingdale called for a public consultation, 177,000 responses out of 192,000 turned out to have been organised by ’38 Degrees’, a campaigning community that specialises in campaigning against any possible cuts in the left wing’s beloved ‘public services’.
‘Byline’, a web site which publishes the work of tired and retired left-wing Guardian journalists such as David Hencke, decided to revisit a ‘scandal’ first exposed by Natalie Rowe in the middle of last year. Natalie Rowe, who first published a book including claims about George Osborne and cocaine has a new book coming out….the article appeared to be the result of investigative journalism by one Nick Mutch, whose usual journalistic milieu is writing about the Bullingdon Club of elites at his old university.
Natalie’s Twitter feed is now infested with people claiming that the reason the ‘story of John Whittingdale in CAUGHT in prostitution scandal’ had to be published on Byline rather than a mainstream newspaper ‘is a right wing conspiracy to protect a fellow Tory’.
Byline can reveal a year long relationship between a senior figure in David Cameron’s government and a dominatrix which potentially jeopardised government security and left ministers open to blackmail. John Whittingdale, now Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was involved in a long relationship between at least November 2013 and January 2015 with Olivia King, a well known escort who specialises in domination and sado-masochistic practices. It is unknown whether the relationship continues.
EXCLUSIVE – Cabinet Minister John Whittingdale in prostitution scandal, with underworld links – https://t.co/7sM1l305jO
— Byline (@Byline_Media) April 1, 2016
The ‘evidence’ produced to corroborate this story is a series of snapshots of Mr Whittingdale and Ms King attending one of three events with him. Who knows how the photographer managed to be standing right behind them on what appears to be a tube train at exactly the right time? Mr Whittingdale is single, and not a shred of evidence is produced that even if the claims that Ms King is, or has been, or has ever, worked as a dominatrix turn out to be true, that Ms King advised him of that fact, far less was paid for her services by him. Come to that, there is not a shred of evidence that this is even a sexual relationship – as though that should be of interest to us.
There are dark hints from ‘sources’ that she has friends in the London ‘underworld’; she may well do. That this combined with her alleged ‘other’ occupation means that Whittingdale is a security risk who could be blackmailed, is pure tabloid speculation. Correction, it is not ‘tabloid’ at all – none of the tabloids would run the story, hence its desperate appearance on the obscure ‘Byline’. This in turn has led to animated discussion as to how the ‘truth of sleazy Tories’ is being suppressed by right wing media.
I am quite baffled by the very left wing writers who supported ‘Hacked Off’ and wanted the press regulated, now screaming blue murder that the press wouldn’t publish a smear story?
I’m equally baffled as to how we ended up with a media, both main stream and social, that is utterly obsessed with whose penis is where. That includes Caitlyn Jenner’s.
I don’t care! Can I have some news please. Real news.