Land of the free? Gawker Media's new owner deletes six 'true and accurate' stories because of 'frivolous' lawsuits

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The new owner of the Gawker group of websites has deleted six “true” stories, despite protestations from journalists, because of ongoing litigation.

Univision bought US-based Gawker Media last month for $135m in a sale prompted by Hulk Hogan’s successful $115m privacy action over the publication of a sex tape.

Univision has closed the flagship Gawker website.

The stories have been deleted from surviving Gawker Media websites: Gizmodo, Jezebel and Deadspin.

The stories are headlined as follows:

  • 1. The Inventor of Email Did Not Invent Email? (Gizmodo)
  • 2. Corruption, Lies, and Death Threats: The Crazy Story of the Man Who Pretended To Invent Email (Gizmodo)
  • 3. Man Acquitted of Sexual Assault Sues Blog for Calling Him Serial Rapist (Jezebel)
  • 4. Wait, Did Clowntroll Blogger Chuck Johnson Shit On The Floor One Time? (Deadspin)
  • 5. Mitch Williams Ejected from Child’s Baseball Game for Arguing, Cursing (Deadspin)
  • 6. Witnesses: Mitch Williams Called Child ‘A Pussy,’ Ordered Beanball (Deadspin).

According to Gawker Media’s collective bargaining agreement with staff, once a story has been posted it can only be removed by a majority vote of the chief executive, executive editor and general counsel.

Executive editor John Cook was reportedly overruled by colleagues.

He said in a memo to staff reported by Gizmodo: “I communicated to Felipe and Jay in the strongest terms that deleting these posts is a mistake and that disappearing true posts about public figures simply because they have been targeted by a lawyer who conspired with a vindictive billionaire to destroy this company is an affront to the very editorial ethos that has made us successful enough to be worth acquiring.”

In a statement the Gawker Media Editorial Union said: “Univision has said that it bought Gawker Media because it believed in the work that our publications do. That work, for well over a decade, was only possible because we knew that our company leadership would defend it if it came under frivolous legal attack.

“Univision’s first act on acquiring the company was to delete six true and accurate news stories from our archive, because those stories had been the targets of frivolous or malicious lawsuits. This decision undermines the foundation of the ability of Gawker Media’s employees to do our work. We have seen firsthand the damage that a targeted lawsuit campaign can do to companies and individual journalists, and the removal of these posts can only encourage such attempts in the future.

“We condemn this action by Univision’s executives in the strongest possible terms. It sets an alarming precedent both for our relationship with our new owners and for the business of journalism as a whole. It is unacceptable for a publisher to delete legitimate and true news stories for business reasons.

“We now face the task of trying to rebuild trust with Univision and find a resolution that will allow us all to once again do the work that we were all hired to do without fearing that our parent company might fail to support us when we need it most. We hope that Univision will take extremely seriously its responsibility to reach an agreement with this company’s writers and editors that will allow us to safely do our jobs here.”

Gizmodo has published a lengthy interview with Univision’s chief news officer Isaac Lee.

He said: “If you’re going into a bankruptcy proceeding in an auction to acquire an asset where the liabilities are worth more than the assets and the commitment that we had with the company was that we were not going to carry on any liabilities from the past so as long as those posts are considered liabilities we could not take them.”

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