Cash of the titans: Billionaire eBay founder and 'long-time enemy' of Peter Thiel steps into the ring to scupper Thiel's decade-long plot to take down Gawker

  • Pierre Omidyar's company, First Look, filed amicus support for Gawker
  • That could turn its appeal against Hulk Hogan into a First Amendment case
  • Hogan's $140m award for Gawker leaking his sex tape would hit it hard
  • PayPal co-founder Thiel has admitted he funded Hogan's suit
  • He said Gawker has a tendency to 'bully' people who are 'defenseless' 
  • But Omidyar said Thiel wants to 'muzzle' press that attacks government 
  • Their 'bad blood' may go back to 2002 when eBay bought PayPal 
  • Thiel's hatred for Gawker was piqued in 2007 when it outed him as gay  
  • Omidyar is worth about $7.7b and Thiel around $2.7b 

Gawker's legal tussle with Hulk Hogan turned into a battle of the billionaires this week when eBay founder Pierre Omidyar stepped in to help the site just after PayPal founder Peter Thiel admitted he has funded several anti-Gawker lawsuits.  

Omidyar, who owns news company First Look Media, is filing amicus support in favor of Gawker, ostensibly in protection of free speech - but possibly also as the result of 'bad blood.'

First Look had previously expressed support for Gawker in the lawsuit that ended with Hogan being awarded $140million in damages for the leak of his sex tape - but sources told the NY Post that his interest was renewed once Thiel was unmasked as Hogan's financial backer.  

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Pierre Omidyar, eBay founder, is backing Gawker with a support filing in their appeal against Hulk Hogan's $140m settlement

Billionaires: Pierre Omidyar (left), eBay founder, is backing Gawker with a support filing in their appeal against Hulk Hogan's $140m settlement. PayPal Founder Peter Thiel (right) funded Hogan's suit and many others

'Revenge': Gawker Media President Nick Denton believes Thiel's actions are 'revenge' after the site outed him as gay in 2007. Thiel funded multiple suits against Gawker, including Hogan's after the site leaked his sex tape

'Revenge': Gawker Media President Nick Denton believes Thiel's actions are 'revenge' after the site outed him as gay in 2007. Thiel funded multiple suits against Gawker, including Hogan's after the site leaked his sex tape

Complaint: Omidyar complained on Twitter that Thiel wanted to 'muzzle' the press, likening him to Donald Trump, whom Omidyar openly loathes

Complaint: Omidyar complained on Twitter that Thiel wanted to 'muzzle' the press, likening him to Donald Trump, whom Omidyar openly loathes

'First Look Media is looking into organizing amicus support for Gawker in its legal fight and appeal against Hulk Hogan,' Lynn Oberlander, First Look’s general counsel, told The Post.

That means the company is able to offer expert opinion on the court case - potentially swaying the court one way or another.

And by having First Look file the briefs, Omidyar, who is worth an estimated $7.7billion, could attract support from other news media outlets, many of which are also owned by billionaires.

That in turn could make Gawker's appeal against the $140million ruling - which is even more than Hogan, real name Terry Bollea, had even asked for - into a full-scale First Amendment battle.

And liberal-leaning Omidyar isn't hiding his opinions, openly calling out Thiel, a free-market libertarian who supports Donald Trump, on Twitter.

On Wednesday, he Tweeted: 'So Thiel agrees with Trump’s plan to muzzle press that criticizes government, obviously. That’s why he supports him?'

'Obviously there’s bad blood between Omidyar and Thiel,' an unnamed source told The Post.

Their history extends back to 2002, when eBay purchased Thiel's baby, PayPal, for $1.5billion.

Responding to the NY Post's report on Twitter, Omidyar said that 'to position amicus support and bankrolling a case as roughly equivalent' was 'a little disingenuous.'

Thiel, whose worth is estimated at $2.7billion, had bankrolled Hogan's invasion-of-privacy suit to the tune of around $10million. 

And he admitted to funding other anti-Gawker lawsuits - in what Nick Denton, Gawker's Media President, has characterized as 'revenge' for a 2007 story in which the site outed Thiel as gay.

'Impressed': Nick Denton compared Peter Thiel's revenge plot against Gawker to the Count of Monte Cristo in an interview on CNBC Friday morning, saying he was 'slightly impressed'

'Impressed': Nick Denton compared Peter Thiel's revenge plot against Gawker to the Count of Monte Cristo in an interview on CNBC Friday morning, saying he was 'slightly impressed'

'I'm slightly impressed. It's kind of like a 'Count of Monte Cristo' revenge fantasy for billionaires,' Denton said sarcastically of Thiel's revenge plot, as he appeared on CNBC

Denton said that he was surprised by Thiel's dedication to destroying Gawker, but that he's glad the billionaire is 'finally out in the open' about the lawsuits so that he and the public at large can see their 'true interests'.

[Billionaires] are exercising their power from behind the scenes. I think it's more important than ever that there be an independent media to hold them to account. 
Nick Denton 

Thiel's participation in the lawsuits proves that it's exceptionally important now to continue protecting the rights of the press, including Gawker, Denton said. 

'It becomes a story about the power of the billionaire class, particularly the power of the billionaire class in Silicon Valley. They have money. They have wealth. They have anonymity. They have special purpose vehicles. They have offshore accounts. 

'They are exercising their power from behind the scenes. I think it's more important than ever that there be an independent media to hold them to account,' he said.  

Denton's interview comes one day after he penned an open letter to Thiel, accusing him of misusing his fortune by covertly funding Hulk Hogan's pursuit of Gawker, as well as two other cases which are pending against the website.   

'This vindictive decade-long campaign is quite out of proportion to the hurt you claim,' Denton wrote in an open letter. 'Your plaintiff's lawyer, Charles Harder, has sued not just the company, but individual journalists.' 

It comes as reports claim Denton may soon sell his stake in Gawker Media - which he founded - and allegedly already has a potential buyer willing to pay up to $70 million for it.    

Denton's open letter lists the financial and personal impacts on the individual writers that were involved in the Hulk Hogan lawsuit.

Then he adds: 'Peter, this is twisted. Even were you to succeed in bankrupting Gawker Media, the writers you dislike, and me, just think what it will mean.'

The British-born entrepreneur takes aim at Thiel and Silicon Valley, contrasting the lucrative industry with Gawker, which he describes as a 'small media company'.

Hulk smash: Hulk Hogan (pictured), real name Terry Bollea, won $140m after suing Gawker - more than he asked for. Omidya's amicus support filing could escalate Gawker's appeal into a First Amendment case

Hulk smash: Hulk Hogan (pictured), real name Terry Bollea, won $140m after suing Gawker - more than he asked for. Omidya's amicus support filing could escalate Gawker's appeal into a First Amendment case

'The world is already uncomfortable with the unaccountable power of the billionaire class, the accumulation of wealth in Silicon Valley, and technology's influence over the media,' he says.

'You are a board member of Facebook (...) Now you show yourself as a thin-skinned billionaire who, despite all the success and public recognition that a person could dream of, seethes over criticism and plots behind the scenes to tie up his opponents in litigation he can afford better than they.'

The letter concludes with Denton appealing to Thiel to debate his concerns in an open forum, as opposed to further legal cases.  

'I'm going to suggest an alternative approach,' he writes.

'The best regulation for speech, in a free society, is more speech. We each claim to respect independent journalism, and liberty. 

'We each have criticisms of the other's methods and objectives. Now you have revealed yourself, let us have an open and public debate.' 

The letter came a day after Thiel, the billionaire PayPal co-founder, told the New York Times he considers the website to be a 'bully'. 

They publicly outed him several years ago in a 2007 post that ran with the headline: 'Peter Thiel is totally gay, people'.

In reaction, Thiel gave Hulk Hogan backing to sue Gawker for publishing his sex tape. Hogan's legal costs have reached $10 million.

Thiel, 48, told the Times that he believes many of the people Gawker writes about are defenseless and unable to fight back.  

'It's less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,' explained Thiel.

'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.'

Thiel, who is worth $2.7billion, then said that he was lucky when the website wrote about his sexuality because he was in a position to defend himself.

'Most of the people they attack are not people in my category. They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can't defend themselves,' explained Thiel.

He also said in his interview that it was actually a friend who gave him the idea to fund Hogan's case. 

Thiel explained that he had been waiting for several years to find a way to take on Gawker and that this case seemed like a perfect example of what he believes is wrong with the site.

He also said that he views Hogan as one of the many people who are defenseless to Gawker's attacks.

The Silicon Valley entrepreneur revealed that he is currently funding a team of lawyers who look for individuals that have been victimized by Gawker's coverage and help them take on the company.

'The way I've thought about this is that Gawker has been a singularly terrible bully,' he explained.

Thiel, who is a Donald Trump supporter, then made it clear that he was not trying to attack all media outlets or silence journalists by adding: 'In a way, if I didn't think Gawker was unique, I wouldn't have done any of this. If the entire media was more or less like this, this would be like trying to boil the ocean.'

He also spoke about his decision to help Hogan with CNN on Thursday, saying: 'Gawker, the defendant, built its business on humiliating people for sport. 

'They routinely relied on an assumption that victims would be too intimidated or disgusted to even attempt redress for clear wrongs. Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to publish sex tapes without consent. I don't think anybody but Gawker would argue otherwise.'

Gawker meanwhile has hired an investment banker to explore possible future options in the wake of the massive $140 million judgment against them following the Hogan trial, with one of those options being to sell the company.

The company has said however that they still believe they will prevail in their appeal of the Hogan verdict.

Before publishing his open letter, Nick Denton responded to the news that Thiel was Hogan's mystery benefactor with a brief statement.

'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, Bill Cosby's history with women, the mayor of Toronto as a crack smoker, Tom Cruise's role within Scientology, the N.F.L. cover-up of domestic abuse by players and just this month the hidden power of Facebook to determine the news you see.'

Denton was named as a defendant in Hogan's suit, which ended with a Florida jury awarding him a staggering $140million in damages.

The wrestler was awarded $115million in economic injuries and emotional distress and then an additional $25million in punitive damages.

Those punitive damages were a considerable blow to Denton too because he was ordered to pay $10million of the total award out of his own pocket.

The jury's decision came just hours after Judge Pamela Campbell informed the four women and two men deciding the case that Denton is worth $121million while the site is valued at $83million.

Judge Campbell also informed the jury that the former editor of the site who posted the video and was also named as a defendant in the suit, AJ Daulerio, had no assets and owes $27,000 in student loans.

Hit hard: Former Gawker editor AJ Daulerio (above in March during the trial) was then hit even harder than Denton by the punitive damages verdict with the jury ordering him to pay $100,000 of his own money despite being told about his financial status

Hit hard: Former Gawker editor AJ Daulerio (above in March during the trial) was then hit even harder than Denton by the punitive damages verdict with the jury ordering him to pay $100,000 of his own money despite being told about his financial status

Daulerio was then hit even harder than Denton by the punitive damages verdict with the jury ordering him to pay $100,000 of his own money despite being told about his financial status.

Gawker general counsel Heather Dietrick released a statement shortly after the jury returned with their $25million decision stating how confident she was that the site would win the case on appeal.

She said an appeals court could overturn the case because the jury was prohibited from knowing about 'prior court rulings in favor of Gawker, prohibited from seeing critical evidence gathered by the FBI and prohibited from hearing from the most important witness, Bubba Clem.'

She then added; 'We are confident we will win this case ultimately based on not only on the law but also on the truth.' 

Thiel said in his interview that he never planned to keep the fact that he was funding Hogan's case a secret, believing it would come out at some point.

He went on to say that giving Hogan that $10million was 'one of [his] greater philanthropic things that [he's] done'

Thiel also said that he has other cases against Gawker he is currently funding, and that while he hopes his work will deter the company from writing stories like the one outing him or publishing Hogan's sex tape, he realizes it is out of his hands.

'If America rallies around Gawker and decides we want more people to be outed and more sex tapes to be posted without consent, then they will find a way to save Gawker, and I can't stop it,' said Thiel. 

The site has made some changes to their coverage in recent years, most notably in their decision to stop outing people.

In addition to Thiel, the site also revealed that Apple CEO Tim Cook was gay and then last year published a story about a Conde Nast executive allegedly hiring a male prostitute.

That story was later taken down after much public outcry, largely fueled by the fact that the man was relatively unknown outside the media world and was married with children. 

Denton meanwhile stated shortly after the Hogan trial that he has no regrets, or remorse, about posting a clip of the wrestler's sex tape. 

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