Univision, which acquired six Gawker sites last month for $135 million, said Saturday that the decision “was based on a desire to have a clean slate” as it attempts to grow the acquired websites. Univision did not to describe the litigation related to the posts.
The guild, which negotiated a contract for Gawker staffers that was ratified in March by an 88-2 vote, said it was “deeply troubled” by the action in a five-sentence statement.
“The WGAE learned late Friday that UniModa had decided to remove several posts from Jezebel, Deadspin, and Gizmodo based on concerns that the posts, all the subject of ongoing litigation, would put UniModa in the position of assuming liabilities that could result from the lawsuits,” the statement said. “The Guild and its members at the former Gawker Media sites are deeply troubled by this. Though UniModa has offered assurances that it is committed to robust, fearless journalism, this move seems to belie that claim.”
“We hope to continue the productive relationship we established with management at Gawker Media, but the decision to remove these posts casts a significant pall over Unimoda’s claimed commitment to the core values of our members employed by UniModa,” the statement also said. “Union members will be meeting early next week to discuss an appropriate response to the company’s decision.”
John Cook, Gawker’s executive editor, objected to the decision and said in a memo to the staff the deleting these posts is a “mistake.” Felipe Holguin, interim chief executive of Gawker Media, and Jay Grant, interim general counsel, voted to remove the posts.
“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,” Cook wrote.
Univision’s acquisition of Gawker Media assets did not include Gawker.com, which ceased publishing on Aug. 22 although the website remains accessible. That was the culmination of long battles with wrestler Hulk Hogan and Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel. Hogan had won a $140 million judgment in March against Gawker Media, its founder Nick Denton, and one of its editors over Gawker’s publication of a sex tape featuring Hogan, whose suit was funded by Thiel.
The six articles that Univision removed — which have garnered more than 1.1 million views in aggregate — are: Gizmodo’s “The Inventor of Email Did Not Invent Email?” and “Corruption, Lies, and Death Threats: The Crazy Story of the Man Who Pretended To Invent”; Deadspin’s “Wait, Did Clowntroll Blogger Chuck Johnson Shit On The Floor One Time?,” “Mitch Williams Ejected from Child’s Baseball Game for Arguing, Cursing,” and “Mitch Williams Called Child ‘A Pussy,’ Ordered Beanball”; and Jezebel’s “Man Acquitted of Sexual Assault Sues Blog for Calling Him Serial Rapist.”
“This story is no longer available as it is the subject of pending litigation against the prior owners of this site,” reads the text on each of the pulled articles. The article pages have removed the headlines and body copy; they continue to serve ads and include reader comments.
In a memo Saturday to Gawker Media staff, Isaac Lee, Univision’s chief news, entertainment and digital officer, said the decision to remove the posts “does not reflect an editorial judgment about their content” and that it was not a “precedent for the future.”
“When Univision acquired the assets of Gawker Media Group, it did so with the understanding that it would not inherit any risk of liability for pending cases. That was a necessary condition for the deal that allowed us to acquire Gizmodo, Jezebel, Deadspin, Jalopnik, Kotaku, and Lifehacker,” Lee wrote in the memo.
Lee added that he is a board member of the Committee to Protect Journalists and the journalism advisory board of not-for-profit news org ProPublica, “and I believe that my track record proves how deeply committed I am to the freedom of the press and how seriously I take the journalistic mission to provide news and information to the public.”