Sunday, July 3, 2016

Why haven’t tabloids been sued out of business?

Dear Cecil:
I'm curious why tabloids haven't been sued out of existence. I do recall Carol Burnett getting a bit of remuneration for the heartache they caused her some years back, but surely there can't be so much apathy that celebrities will permit almost anything to be said about their lives. Maybe it's a subtle form of blackmail: “At least if they say I'm in rehab, they aren't exposing my extramarital affairs.”
Cecil replies:
There are good reasons celebrities encounter difficulty getting a libel case against the press to stick, but let’s note at the outset that currently the real action is in privacy violation. Silicon Valley, as we’ve recently discovered, is innovating the hell out of this arena. You probably saw the news that the media organization Gawker declared bankruptcy after fighting a series of lawsuits secretly funded by Peter Thiel, a tech gazillionaire with a grudge, his goal no less than to put Gawker out of business. After the knockout punch, a privacy suit over a Hulk Hogan sex tape resulting in a $140 million judgement, observers fretted that Thiel had single-handedly opened up a new front against the free press: If you’ve got enough money, you don’t need to prove libel or privacy violation in your own case (Thiel objected to being quasi-outed as gay in a 2007 Gawker piece). You just have to spend eight or nine years burying your nemesis in other people’s cases until you find one with enough merit to put ’em out of their misery.

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