Trump Delegate Peter Thiel's Secret War on Gawker Is Perfectly Trumpy

Hey, Washington Post, Maybe You're Next

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Peter Thiel.
Peter Thiel. Credit: Noah Berger/Bloomberg

In this week's media frenzy over Peter Thiel's covert financial support for Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker -- see "This Silicon Valley Billionaire Has Been Secretly Funding Hulk Hogan's Lawsuits Against Gawker," by Forbes' Ryan Mac, who broke the story -- the emphasis has been on Thiel's vast wealth and his Silicon Valley bonafides (PayPal cofounder, Facebook investor). The fact that he's a Donald Trump supporter and a delegate for Trump in California tends to get mentioned as an aside.

But now that Thiel has formally confirmed his war on Gawker in a story by Andrew Ross Sorkin that appears on the front page of today's New York Times, it's useful to put Thiel's status as a Trump backer front and center. He's been rich for a long time; that's old news. What's new news is that he's not only in Trump's corner, but he seems to share Trump's conviction that the press -- or at least Gawker Media -- must be brought to its knees.

In Peter Thiel's case, his ire toward Gawker was aroused in 2007 when Gawker Media's then-standalone Valleywag blog, which focused on Valley gossip, ran a post titled "Peter Thiel is totally gay, people."

Fast-forward to today, and we learn that Thiel has spent about $10 million backing Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker, and, it turns out, other anti-Gawker lawsuits as well. As he told the Times,

It's less about revenge and more about specific deterrence. ... I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest. ... One of my friends convinced me that if I didn't do something, nobody would.

Rich people have, of course, had a long history of attempting to control the media. But as technologist Anil Dash put it in a tweet, they typically did it in a more direct fashion:

At any rate, Thiel's support of Trump suddenly takes on added resonance. As New York magazine's Jonathan Chait recently noted in a post titled "Donald Trump's Plan for America Includes Shutting Down the Media," Mr. Trump, who hates some of what The Washinton Post has written about him, has implicitly threatened "to go after the paper's owner [Jeff Bezos] on antitrust and tax issues as retribution for the Post's coverage." Chait further put that in historical context:

The Republican Party is running a presidential nominee who is threatening to punish independent news media. Richard Nixon used to rant about this sort of idea in private, but he never did it, and he certainly didn't talk about it in public. Now it barely even registers. This is not normal. None of this is normal.

Or in a Trumpian world, maybe it's just the new normal.

Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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