The Gawker Shutdown: The unlikely tag-team of Hulk Hogan, Peter Thiel and Palantir
Why would billionaire Peter Thiel join forces with wrestler Hulk Hogan? Both were exposed by Gawker and together they got revenge.
This is not the plot to a cheesy Wrestlemania production. This is all unfortunately very real.
Bollea v. Gawker is a Florida lawsuit in which Terry Gene Bollea, known professionally as Hulk Hogan, sued Gawker Media, publisher of the Gawker website, and several Gawker employees and Gawker-affiliated entities, for posting portions of a sex tape of Bollea with Heather Clem, at that time the wife of radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge.(1)
Hogan sought $100 million in damages. In March 2016, the jury found Gawker Media liable and awarded Hogan $115 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. Gawker CEO Nick Denton said the company would appeal the verdict. Three months after the verdict, Gawker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and put itself up for sale.(2)
For once-unknown reasons, billionaire Peter Thiel, a co-founder of Paypal, Palantir and current Facebook board member, financed Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Media.
This article will explore the theories behind why Thiel worked with Hulk Hogan on the lawsuit against Gawker and present some novel insights which suggest the suit might just be a single scene in a larger piece of political theater.
Special thanks to PeterVenkman, who’s work on this subject remains some of the finest examples of their research.
What was Gawker.com?
Gawker.com (now defunct) was doing some of the hardest-hitting coverage of the Clinton Foundation, especially breaking developments on sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and his associates. In total, Gawker published over 60 articles on Jeffrey Epstein and his personal ties — likely far more than any other reputable national online publication — and with far more salacious details. Gawker was the first news organization to publish Epstein’s flight logs which put Bill Clinton on Epstein’s infamous “Lolita Express” airplane.(3) Gawker also was seemingly the first news organization to publish Epstein’s “Little Black Book” and describe the meaning behind house butler Alfredo Rodriguez’s notations within that book.(4)
Many would say Bill Clinton’s ties to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein posed the greatest risk to the political (and financial) future of the Clintons.(5) Epstein’s “Little Black Book,” with Rodriguez’s notations, would identify several individuals with close Clinton ties or ties to Clinton’s key donors, from Epstein’s “madam” Ghislaine Maxwell to George Soros’ nephew Peter.
Gawker also spared no punches when it came to reporting on Bill Clinton’s best buddy, Ron Burkle. Gawker cited Burkle more than 53 times in 2006.(6) Most notable, Gawker would refer to the numerous debaucheries in Jared Paul Stern’s defamation complaint (7) — though even Gawker did not mention the specific allegations of Clinton and Burkle having sex with minors, which appeared in the original complaint.
Gawker’s founder, Nick Denton, credits his company with driving the story on Hillary Clinton’s secret email server as well:(8)
In a statement, Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker Media, who was also personally named in the Hogan suit, said: “Just because Peter Thiel is a Silicon Valley billionaire, his opinion does not trump our millions of readers who know us for routinely driving big news stories including Hillary Clinton’s secret email account…”
Who is Peter Thiel and what is Palantir?
Peter Thiel is a co-founder and the current chairman of Palantir Technologies, a private American software and services company, specializing in big data analysis.(9) Thiel is the company’s largest shareholder and is estimated to own roughly 10% of the company valued at $20 Billion, making his ownership value likely $2 Billion.(10) Thiel’s total net worth is only thought to be somewhere between $2 and $3 Billion, so it is safe to assume that his ownership in Palantir is a large portion of his net worth.(11)
The CIA’s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel, provided much of the initial funding for Palantir Technologies(12), and for much of its life and at least until 2013, the heart of Palantir was in contracts that it possessed with agencies within the US government.(13)
Palantir proposed as anti-WikiLeaks platform
In 2010, Hunton & Williams LLP allegedly asked Palantir, Berico Technologies, and HBGary Federal to draft a response plan to “the WikiLeaks Threat.” In early 2011, Anonymous publicly released HBGary-internal documents, including the plan. The plan proposed Palantir software would “serve as the foundation for all the data collection, integration, analysis, and production efforts.” The plan also included slides, allegedly authored by HBGary CEO Aaron Barr, which suggested “[spreading] disinformation” and “disrupting” Glenn Greenwald’s support for WikiLeaks.(14)
Ironically Palantir would come up in the Podesta Wikileaks emails. In an email from July 2015, Haim Saban, owner of Univision ( and now Gawker Media), recommended that John Podesta reach out to Alex Karp, CEO of Palantir. Saban states that Palantir does not get involved in political campaigns, with one exception — Hillary Clinton. Podesta responded that he knows Alex Karp very well and would reach out.(15)
Palantir receives favors from (now shut down) Clinton Global Initiative
The Clinton Global Initiative, part of the Clinton Foundation, partnered with Palantir Technologies to review the foundation records in order to make the foundation look more legitimate.(16) Palantir would declare the partnership in 2013.(17) As a partner, Palantir offered their review of the Clinton Global Initiative for free.(18)
The lack of a price tag may be because Palantir was feeling charitable, or that Palantir saw it as a way to help ensure the flow of their overwhelmingly lucrative federal government contracts from the Clintons and their allies in the federal government.
Not only did Palantir offer its services for free, it even paid Bill Clinton a total of $240,000 for just two meetings, presumably around December 2012.(19) Again, one would assume these meetings were to ensure ongoing lucrative federal government contracts. “Pay-to-play,” so to speak.
Why would Peter Thiel want to take down Gawker.com?
Peter Thiel has never been explicit in why he funded Hulk Hogan’s $10 Million lawsuit against Gawker Media.(20) Many presume it was because Gawker.com (now defunct) outed Peter Thiel as a homosexual in 2007.(21)
As the official story published by The Guardian goes, Thiel, supposedly angered by being outed, funded Hogan’s lawsuit as revenge.(22)
[B]y publicly outing him as gay in 2007, Gawker founder Nick Denton shattered the privacy of Thiel’s fiercely guarded personal life and techno-libertarian vision. And Thiel, it turns out, can hold a grudge.
However, that begs the question as to whether Thiel actually worked to keep his sexual orientation a secret. Going by the unsourced quote in the Gawker article which said “Of course he’s gay. Why would you mention that?,” the answer is a firm no.(23) In fact, Forbes wasn’t even sure if the article even outed Thiel:(24)
…[S]ome dispute whether the article actually outed the billionaire (Thiel said in past interviews that his friends had known since at least 2003)…
However, when Thiel intends to keep a part of his personal life a secret, he does so extremely carefully. As the Guardian stated, “When reporters contacted people in Thiel’s orbit, it’s not uncommon to have basic facts questioned.”(25) For Thiel to be so careless with hiding the truth of his sexuality, even around his close friends, does not match his character, assuming it was something he truly intended to keep a secret.
Based on search engine results limited to that time period (the months after December 2007), it doesn’t even seem the news that Thiel was gay mattered enough to elicit another article on the subject from any other publication. Thiel went on to embrace his public homosexuality (26), without any seeming public denial of the Gawker article. In fact, Peter Thiel has expressed the importance for individuals in the tech industry to ignore social conventions, which one would presume includes conventions regarding sexuality.(27)
Based on the unlikeliness that Thiel was upset over the Gawker article, others have speculated that Thiel financed Hogan’s litigation because he foresaw a profit opportunity.(28) However, at the outset of the case, many individuals felt Hogan would likely lose his case against Gawker Media, including a Federal Judge.(29) That does not even take into account whether there would be a profit over the cost of “reasonable” attorneys fees and how much the final judgement would be. Even if Hogan won and the judgement stood, Forbes admitted it was not clear if Thiel would receive any portion of the award from Hogan’s trial.(30)
For Thiel — someone known for fairly shrewd investments — this case would not be considered a good investment. If there was a profit motive, that motive lies elsewhere.
What really happened to Gawker.com?
As stated earlier, the massive financial burdens of the suit caused Gawker Media to file for bankruptcy in June of 2016 and be put up for sale. Before the official bankruptcy, however, Gawker had already began to sell large numbers of company shares in order to finance their end of the lawsuit.
In January 2016, Gawker sold a minority share to Russian oligarch, Victor Vekselberg, via his company, Columbus Nova.(31) The investment granted Columbus Nova a seat on Gawker Media’s board.(32) Viktor Vekselberg has a history of ties to corruption.(33) Not surprisingly, Vekselberg’s investment in Gawker puzzled many observers.
Vekselberg is, to put it mildly, not the man you’d expect to save Denton’s website. In a parallel universe, he’s likely the frequent target of a Moscow-based cousin of Gawker. In fact, the site once wrote a brief post on him in 2008, describing him as an “ultra-rich” “Soviet oligarch.”
In hindsight, with the knowledge gleaned from various leaks, the transaction would make more sense. As it turns out, Viktor Vekselberg was a Clinton ally. One leak showed in 2012, Vekselberg was interested in meeting with Bill Clinton in the U.S. regarding the Clinton Global Initiative, part of the Clinton Foundation.(34) Another leak showed Vekselberg’s Renova Group donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Clinton Foundation as well.(35)
Essentially, the Gawker transaction makes it appear a Clinton ally was beginning the Clinton takeover of Gawker Media, in what one could see as an attempt to have a check over the organization’s coverage. In particular, the Clinton ally would have a check if the coverage swung dangerously negative for the Clintons.
Finally, after the lawsuit and Gawker Media’s bankruptcy they were acquired by another notable ally of the Clintons, Univision in August.(36) Univision, which typically catered only to a Latin American audience, outbid everyone else.(37)
Univision completely reconfigures Gawker Media
While Univision intended to support all sister sites, it did not want Gawker itself — the heart of Gawker Media.(38) Gawker.com, the gossipy section of the Gawker Media website group which would publish articles on the scandalous Jeffrey Epstein, or Hillary Clinton’s ongoing email woes, was effectively shutdown as part of the Univision purchase.(39) Many of these subjects, once frequently discussed, would now no longer be major parts of Gawker’s journalistic efforts.
Denton, founder of Gawker, admitted that the Gawker sites owned by Univision “all will be held to standards shared by Univision properties generally.”(40) Thus, it would seem Univision has final say over what the Gawker sites publish. Indeed, Univision even put their own man in place to oversee editorial operations of the remaining sister sites.(41) Not surprisingly, Univision’s ownership reportedly began with an internal culture clash with Gawker Media writers.(42)
Many found Univision’s purchase of Gawker Media confusing because Gawker’s sites did not fit with Univision’s brand image.(43) However, the puzzling purchase makes more sense when one looks at who made it. Haim Saban, majority shareholder of Univision, has old, deep ties with the Clintons and their foundation, according to Wikipedia:(44)
The New York Times reported that Haim and his wife “slept in the White House several times during President Clinton’s two terms.” Saban remains close friends with the former President. Clinton described Saban as a “very good friend and supporter.” Saban contributed between $5 million to $10 million to the William J. Clinton Foundation.
During the 2000 presidential election, Saban increased his rank to 5th among individual donors with a combined contribution of $1,250,500. Matthew Yglesias wrote that “Saban was the largest overall contributor to the Democratic National Committee during the 2001–2002 cycle.” Saban’s donations during that 2001–2002 period exceeded $10 million, the largest donation the DNC has received from a single source up to that time.
In September 2004, Hillary Clinton described Saban as a very good friend, supporter and adviser…
While it may seem that all of Haim Saban’s donations to the Clintons are above board, some believe Saban engaged in pay-to-play practices with the Clinton Foundation when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.(45) Thus Saban himself may have a vested interested in preventing any possible corrupt practices of the Clinton Foundation from coming to light.
Haim Saban would also come up in the Podesta Wikileaks emails, showing a personal connection to Palantir, by way of its CEO, Alex Karp. In an email dated July 2015, Haban recommended that John Podesta reach out to Alex Karp saying Palantir does not get involved in political campaigns, with one exception — Hillary Clinton — based on a conversation Saban had with Karp the day before. Podesta responded that he knows Alex Karp very well and would reach out.(46)
The Clinton piece helps to explain part of Univision’s motive in the purchase. However, it should be noted that Univision purchased other online publications that often influenced politically-minded millennials, such as the Onion and the Root, so it is possible Univision was looking to make a larger play to consolidate and enhance its political power and control in the press.(47) This would be in line with Univision’s desire to host its own Presidential Debate, which it did for the first time this year.(48) However, it is safe to say that when all was said and done, giving control of Gawker to Saban put it in safe hands for the Clintons.
Why would Peter Thiel care so much about the Clintons?
Peter Thiel would have a personal interest in preventing negative information about the Clinton Global Initiative’s corruption from coming to light. First, it would seriously damage Palantir as they supposedly audited the organization, and could thereby hurt one of Thiel’s biggest financial investments (think Arthur Andersen and Enron). In particular, many believe Hillary’s emails provide the key to exposing corruption within the Clinton Global Initiative.(49)
Further information about Jeffrey Epstein could also be problematic. For one thing, some of Rodriguez’s “material witnesses” have key ties to Thiel or his business partners. For example, Peter Soros is the nephew of George Soros, the latter of which Thiel made a joint investment with in October 2015.(50) And while it is unclear what Epstein’s ties may be, a greater focus on how Jeffrey Epstein was involved with the Clinton Global Initiative and participation in any of the organization’s corrupt practices, could also have been potentially damaging to Palantir as they vouched for the Clinton organization.
Overall, Thiel likely possessed an interest in protecting the people Palantir had connections with in the various government agencies that Palantir worked with — many of which would have ties to the Clintons or their allies. For the protection Thiel provided, there would likely be future rewards as well for Palantir, particularly in the form of new government contracts.
Why then, did Peter Thiel endorse Donald Trump in 2016?
Peter Thiel looking not so enthusiastic to be with President Trump
As a former hedge fund manager, the concept of hedging and risk-management will be very well known to Peter Thiel. Through his own actions in the Gawker litigation, and through his company’s actions, Thiel has almost certainly “donated” enough to the benefit of the Clintons. Through Palantir, Thiel may also know the inner workings of the Clinton Global Initiative — including any corruption — and it is likely a President Hillary Clinton would still have had an interest in his continued participation in an ongoing coverup, if one exists. Furthermore, the Podesta/Saban email (discussed earlier) may indicate Palantir was even actively working with the Clinton Campaign through the 2016 election.(51) Thus, to properly hedge, Thiel really only needed to “invest” in Trump.
While Thiel publicly embraced the Republican side early on (even speaking at the RNC), Thiel really stepped up his efforts to support Trump about the time the Podesta Wikileaks began in October 2016.(52) Wikileaks’ first batch of Podesta’s emails was released on October 7th, 2016, with new batches being released every successive day afterwards until Election Day.(53) On October 15th, 2016,(54) Thiel announced his donation of $1.25 Million to Trump’s campaign (which some considered small).(55)
Thiel’s increasing concern may have been due to knowledge gleaned from Palantir’s involvement in security discussions over the information Wikileaks could possess (as mentioned previously), combined with the possibility that Palantir itself knew the real corrupt inner workings of the Clinton Global Initiative and what information could be exposed. Several of the Podesta emails did turn out to be damaging for the Clinton Global Initiative (56) and some people believe the worst emails were prevented from even being released. Thus, Thiel’s enhanced zeal late in the game may have been to provide himself more political cover and plausible deniability if really damaging information was released by Wikileaks.
If any of this seems too clever, remember that Thiel is considered by many to be a genius (57) and has been a chess prodigy since a very young age.(58) It also explains why to many, Thiel’s actions may seem so puzzling and hard to discern, particularly when they do not know the underlying motivations.(59)