Gawker Gaffe Reveals a Brand At War With Itself

The battle for the soul of Gawker is underway. Presuming the publication has one, that is.

On one side is the management team that decided to pull down an article outing a Conde Nast executive less than 24 hours after it was published and roundly criticized. On the other is a group of reporters and editors who objected to being overruled by bean counters who seem to have a better grasp of journalistic ethics than they do.

The man in the middle is CEO Nick Denton, who voted to take down the article but spoke out of both sides of his mouth in a memo that swore to continue Gawker’s maverick ways even as he gave lip service to becoming a more “evolved” company.

That kind of schizophrenia might be expected from someone who bred Gawker to be an attack dog only to watch it bite him back. But defining the future of the publication will require Denton to impose a clearer sense of standards or risk the consequences of letting his staff continue to operate as if there aren’t any.

That’s the kind of environment that produces an article essentially aiding a porn actor attempting to blackmail an individual who isn’t a public figure nor has any other remote claim to newsworthiness. Not helping matters is un-publishing that article, a meaningless gesture on the Internet given the ease with which this content already spread virally and can still be retrieved outside of Gawker.com.

What exactly Gawker editors were thinking still isn’t entirely clear. In lieu of an explanation of their position, they released a statement objecting to the business side of the publication yanking the article. But principled stands generally benefit from an articulation of actual principles.

Perhaps the closest thing to an actual rationale came in the form of a tweet issued by Gawker editor Max Read: “given the chance gawker will always report on married c-suite executives of major media companies f**king around on their wives.”


Eloquent as that is pithy, it’s not exactly convincing unless Read is trying to put Gawker in the dubious position of being some kind of morality watchdog. Other editors, like John Cook, tweeted their own dissension without justification.

Maybe it was Natasha Vargas-Cooper, a senior reporter at Gawker sister site Jezebel who said it best when she tweeted this explanation: “I’m EXTREMELY suspicious of those who do not want press to have an antagonistic relationship to people in power.”


Taken together with Read’s classification of “c-suite executives,” a pattern starts to emerge that may have to suffice in the absence of a defense of Gawker’s decision to publish. These comments suggest there’s little rationale here beyond some kind of free-floating hostility toward anyone a few tax brackets higher than the ones they occupy.

Good journalism has always been energized by a “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” sensibility but this takes that notion to a ridiculous extreme.

Upper-class resentment doesn’t explain Gawker’s story entirely. It’s a toxic stew filled with other ingredients including an obsession with denigrating its rivals (Conde Nast owns longtime Gawker antagonist Reddit) and a preoccupation with outing people in the closet.  Then there’s Denton’s own glib litmus test for what constitutes a story being newsworthy–“it is true and it is interesting”–and you understand how a publication leaves the door wide open to this kind of ineptitude.

In Gawker’s legal standoff with Hulk Hogan, there’s at least some semblance of an argument to be made for publishing excerpts of the wrestler’s sex tape. But in the instance of the Conde Nast executive Gawker maligned, the article is so completely devoid of any journalistic justification that it should be mandatory reading for every aspiring reporter, a cautionary tale of what not to do.

Now if Denton could just absorb that lesson as well, perhaps he can begin to figure out the path forward for Gawker.

More Biz

  • Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018

    Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018 Compensation Soar to $129.4 Million

    Discovery Inc. president-CEO David Zaslav is once again making headlines for an enormous compensation package. Zaslav’s 2018 compensation soared to $129.44 million in 2018, fueled by stock options and grants awarded as the longtime Discovery chief signed a new employment contract last July that takes him through 2023 at the cable programming group. Zaslav received [...]

  • Jonathan Lamy RIAA

    Jonathan Lamy Stepping Down From RIAA

    Jonathan Lamy, the Recording Industry Association of America’s longtime executive VP of communications and marketing, is stepping down from his post after 17 years, he announced today. As he put it in an email to Variety, “I started back in 2002, which means it’s been 17+ years, four different RIAA CEOs, three format changes and [...]

  • Fox Layoffs

    Disney-21st Fox Layoffs: TV Divisions Brace for Deep Cuts

    A second day of layoffs has begun on the Fox lot in the wake of Disney completing its acquisition of 21st Century Fox on Wednesday. Longtime 20th Century Fox Television Distribution president Mark Kaner is among the senior executives who were formally notified with severance details on Friday morning. 21st Century Fox’s international TV sales [...]

  • anthony pellicano

    Hollywood Fixer Anthony Pellicano Released From Federal Prison

    Anthony Pellicano, the Hollywood private eye whose wiretapping case riveted the industry a decade ago, was released from a federal prison on Friday, a prison spokeswoman confirmed. Pellicano was sentenced in 2008 to 15 years, following his conviction on 78 charges of wiretapping, racketeering, conspiracy and wire fraud. He had been in custody since 2003, [...]

  • This image taken from the Twitter

    HBO’s Reaction to Trump’s ‘Game of Thrones’ Campaign

    Everyone wants a piece of the “Game of Thrones” lemon cake. From Bud Light to Red Bull the world of Westeros is open to a lot of brand partnerships, unless you’re using that iconic typeface to push a political agenda. In November of 2018 President Donald Trump unveiled a “Thrones” inspired poster with the words [...]

  • Leaving Neverland HBO

    'Leaving Neverland' Lawsuit Proves to Be a Judicial Hot Potato

    The Michael Jackson estate sued HBO last month for airing the documentary “Leaving Neverland,” which accuses the late King of Pop of serial child sexual abuse. Since then, the case has had a difficult time finding a judge to handle it. Three federal judges have recused themselves in the last week, citing potential financial conflicts [...]

  • Members of the public mourn at

    Guy Oseary’s New Zealand Fundraiser Nears $150,000, Continues Raising Money

    In the wake of the horrific shootings at New Zealand mosques last week that killed some 49 people, Maverick chief Guy Oseary launched a GoFundMe campaign to “support those affected by this tragedy at this very difficult time,” and began it with an $18,000 donation. Boosted by donations from many celebrities — including Amy Schumer, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content