Gawker was just handed another loss in court this afternoon, when a Florida state court judge upheld the jury verdict rendered two months ago in the lawsuit from Hulk Hogan.
During a court hearing this morning in St. Petersburg, Fla., judge Pamela Campbell denied motion for a new trial, meaning that Gawker Media, CEO Nick Denton and former editor in chief A.J. Daulerio are still on the hook for the more than $140 million awarded to Hogan. Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, sued Gawker for $100 million for defamation, loss of privacy and emotional pain. In 2012, the blog published a snippet of a 2007 sex tape involving Bollea and the wife of local radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge, aka Todd Clem.
Gawker had attempted to get the verdict either reduced or removed entirely, and now will appeal the ruling in Florida's Second District Court.
While this case is far from over, it caps a dizzying 24 hours filled with the kind of juicy details that Gawker would normally be frothing at the mouth to cover, if they themselves weren't caught in the crossfire.
First, Denton was quoted in the New York Times on Tuesday as wondering if Hogan and his attorney Charles Harder had a secret, third-party benefactor that was funding Hogan's case, which had been speculated throughout the original trial due to the likely high legal fees.
"My own personal hunch is that it's linked to Silicon Valley, but that's nothing really more than a hunch," Denton said to the Times. "If you're a billionaire and you don't like the coverage of you, and you don't particularly want to embroil yourself any further in a public scandal, it's a pretty smart, rational thing to fund other legal cases."
Then late Tuesday night, the other shoe dropped and Denton's suspicions appeared to be confirmed, when Forbes reported that Hogan's case was being funded by a third party: PayPal co-founder and Facebook board member Peter Thiel.
Gawker's attorney Seth Berlin brought up Thiel's name during today's court proceedings, and asked the judge for the opportunity to conduct discovery about who is funding Hogan. Campbell seemed unaware of the reports, telling Berlin she tries not to read too much of that stuff. Hogan attorney Shane Vogt responded that litigation funding "happens all the time" and is governed by the Florida legal ethics.
Thiel has not commented on any of these allegations, but Gawker responded to the reports in a statement, as well as a post written on Gawker.com. "According to these reports, a board member of Facebook and a major funder of The Committee to Protect Journalists has been secretly funding a legal campaign against our journalists," read the Gawker statement. "We trust the appeals court will correct the outsized Florida jury verdict and reaffirm the law that protects a free and critical press, which is more embattled and important than ever."
Thiel has been a target of Gawker's coverage in recent years, which has reported on the eccentric billionaire's business failings, views on women voters and his sexuality. Thiel, who was once quoted calling Gawker's former Valleywag blog the "Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda," openly supports Donald Trump, who himself has made it clear he wants to "open up" libel laws to make it easier to sue publications that write things he doesn't like.
Thiel's position on Facebook's board of directors isn't a good look for the social media company either, which has come under fire from conservatives for suppressing right-wing news.