How The World Was Going to Work

A lot of the grave-dancing on Gawker has been rubbing me the wrong way and Nick Denton’s farewell post gets close to why: 

It’s difficult to recall now, but at Gawker’s founding there was a sense that the internet was a free space, where anything can be said. An island off the mainland, where people could be themselves. Where writers could say things that would get you fired in an instant from a print publication. Where you could say what you thought without fear of being fired, or sued out of existence. But when you try to make a business out of that freedom, the system will fight you.

As our experience has shown, that freedom was illusory. The system is still there. It pushed back. The power structure remains. There are just some new people at the apex, prime among them the techlords flush with monopoly profits. They are as sensitive to criticism as any other ruling class, but with the confidence that they can transform and disrupt anything, from government to the press.

In the bad old days of early political blogging (I AM INTERNET GRANDMA, GATHER AROUND THE 28-BIT ROCKING CHAIR CHILDREN), especially on the liberal end under Bush, the idea was that at a certain point you have to call bullshit on bullshit. It’s hard to remember but before the takedowns of every take, there was just this seething mass of stuff nobody talked about. That the war was a lie, most people were okay with legal abortion, terrorism was less of a threat than poverty and preventable illness, that some problems were not in fact too big to solve … these were only radical ideas because they weren’t being given voice.

Nobody was calling bullshit. And the minute somebody did, they were rushed off the stage. Bill Maher, that sexist, bigoted douchebag, said it was cowardly to lob missiles from a distance and brave to put your body on the line, and he was put in cold storage for years. A singer said she wasn’t thrilled to have this president be from her home state and people called for her to be executed. Our vaunted political press was calling for torture because it would feel good, calling for bombing women and children because somebody needed to suck on this, and anyone who objected was a dirty fucking hippie.

Coming out of THAT, having THAT be your formative publishing years, it’s hard not to defend somebody’s right to publish a video of Hulk Hogan’s dick, if the alternative is letting someone in power tell you what you can and can’t say and then go after you for all of eternity, drum you out of business, bankrupt you personally. That’s not even a difficult choice.

What’s repulsive about the death of Gawker is everybody acting like they deserved it because they published Hulk Hogan’s dick video and were otherwise MEEN and gross, as opposed to a thousand other people at a thousand other parties who just said things like an entire war is good because it makes me feel good.

Those people are on TV every day in thousand dollar suits. Nobody’s hounding them out of their homes. And that’s much more disgusting than anything Gawker said about anybody fucking a pig.


One thought on “How The World Was Going to Work

  1. Ah, well, Denton seems to be saying that there weren’t any laws or cops on the internet highway, and that, at best, is naive, and at worst, simple-minded, because as much as the internet mavens want to see the system as something separate and distinct from the rest of society, it’s not. It’s just layered on top of what’s already there–including laws against slander, libel and invasion of privacy.

    I just don’t see Gawker as a victim here, except as a victim of its own idiocy. Where was the editor who needed to say, “Hulk Hogan is not important. Hulk Hogan’s dick is not important. This is trouble waiting to happen and to no good purpose”? Denton might as well have said, “lawyers? We don’ need no steenking lawyers.”

    Denton’s last paragraph is a thinly-veiled jab at Peter Thiel. Yes, Thiel found a way to use his money to get back at Gawker for what Thiel perceived as an embarrassment borne of mean spirit. But, it’s a route Gawker could have cut off by applying even a little good sense.

    The suggestion that there are worse people causing worse events in the world is certainly true (and I’m betting that most of them wouldn’t be caught dead in a thousand-dollar suit), but, in context, it’s a red herring, because this wasn’t about Gawker getting drummed out of business for going after those people. This happened because Gawker and its staff were behaving like paparazzi chasing Paris Hilton, not Woodstein chasing Richard Nixon. (And, truth be told, Gawker did a lot more of the former than they did of the latter.)

    The staid old, provincial New Yorker and Jane Mayer are still in business, and, therefore, are still able to go after those people, because they fact-check before publication, and occasionally consult their lawyers on legal liabilities, maybe because they understand there are potential legal liabilities, something for which Denton clearly did not understand the need. As a result, Gawker threw away its operation for what amounted to click-bait.

    Back in the day, waaaay back in the day, I was a big fan of Ramparts, even had a subscription, and they did some important stories (even got a Polk award in 1967), on big subjects, taking on stuff with a lot more weight than Hulk Hogan’s dick (the back story behind their investigation of the apocryphal James Hepburn’s Farewell to America is just downright fascinating), but they still flamed out in about a decade, and mostly because of their own mistakes and poor judgment. Hoover hated them, their phones were tapped, etc., but, that’s not what did them in. In truth, they pretty much did it to themselves.

    Much like Gawker has done.

Comments are closed.