One For Sale, Slightly Used

I’ve written twice about the Peter Thiel situation (in more than 140 characters, anyway), here and here, and I’m too burned out on the subject to really respond to this epic word salad of disingenuousness. But I wonder how many Silicon Valley people are now backing away from Thiel slowly. Barring some amazing act of philanthropy, this is going to be his legacy now. That and backing Donald Trump, a dangerous bigoted narcissist who thinks “public service” is a slur against his preferred mode of elitism.

But while we’re on the topic, I want to talk about Sam Biddle. I think people should be reminded that this doesn’t just hurt millionaire Nick Denton or some cartoonish institutional idea of Gawker that only consists of controversial blog posts. Even if you think Gawker should pay for their sins as dearly as possible, maybe even with their own extinction (a proposition I find ludicrous, by the way)… it’s still hard to see where suing Sam Biddle in an apparent attempt to make him now as homeless and bankrupt as AJ Daulerio (who I’d also argue doesn’t deserve either of those things, though I understand why AJ seems less sympathetic), can be justified on any front.

[Disclosure: I know Sam, but barely. We’ve met in person, like, twice. At big parties. Where we spoke for maybe two minutes. And we’ve Tweeted at each other, inasmuch as that means anything. Which it doesn’t!]

If you’re not following the case, Biddle is being sued personally for pointing out that a guy who claims to have invented email did not in fact invent email, and for reporting accurately on some behind the scenes craziness at Tinder . And it’s not clear how Sam is going to be able to finance his own defense in this case. (I’m fairly certain there aren’t a lot of 1st amendment lawyers employed by legal aid orgs.) That should give anyone who thinks this is just about Gawker’s so-called invasions of privacy pause. Clearly it isn’t just about that. Sam also covered tech for Valleywag. That he is a target is not a coincidence. So if you happen to be a journalist sitting around thinking, “this would never happen to me because I would never publish a clip from a sex tape,” or “I would never out someone” or “I’m not as obnoxious or snarky as anyone at Gawker,” ask yourself if you’d write this story.

  • ytzpzvgk

    Ya know, I get your point about stories like the one about email. But Gawker and Valleywag were real bullies. Their default mode was to demonize people and rarely did I see them bother to try to inject any balance into their work. They weren’t so much reporters collecting and passing along the truth as much as meanspirited hatemongers.

    Consider Sam Biddle’s last piece for Valleywag.

    A black engineer quits in disgust and suddenly Mr. Biddle calls the company “hopelessly white”, pretty much ignoring all of the Asians who work there. For the sake of argument, let’s assume Biddle is on the side of the angels. Why didn’t he link to any stats? Couldn’t he find someone else to quote? If there’s really a basis for calling it “hopelessly white”, he shouldn’t have any trouble finding some sheepish person who talks anonymously.

    There’s no evidence he even tried to contact the folks at Twitter. No boilerplate about how some spokesdroid didn’t return a phone call. No standard reporting blather.

    It’s all rather embarrassing. If he spent another few hours on the story, he might have something much more useful.

    I know the Internet can’t support real journalism. I know people like sensationalism. I know it’s important to report stories that no one wants published. But if they managed to do a good job with a few stories,it would be much easier to feel sympathy for them.

    • You don’t know that he didn’t call Twitter. Boilerplate “blah blah didn’t respond” isn’t standard at every media outlet. And if you look at the publicly available stats, Twitter is hopelessly white. So are you really going to argue that Sam should be bankrupted and rendered homeless b/c he didn’t link to stats? Seriously? Being unlikeable (to you) is not justification for that.

      • ytzpzvgk

        Sigh. You really don’t get it. The legal system was designed to solve disputes between people who don’t get along. Given that Gawker’s standard approach is to spew bile and hatred, it’s no surprise that there are many people who are ready to engage the legal system.

        Frankly Gawker should be happy that the legal system exists because the only other alternative is an angry mob with pitchforks and torches. I think it would be easy to find such a mob of people who’ve been wronged by Gawker.

        You speak about bankruptcy court as if it’s a bad thing. In reality it’s there to protect people like Mr. Biddle who’ve been writing checks they just can’t cash– in this case metaphorically. Now I agree that it’s impossible to put a dollar figure on just how much harm that Gawker caused but the courts have been dealing with nebulous numbers for some time. In the end, they protect the poor schmoe who owes more than he has. They often let people keep homes, cars and many things they need to survive.

        The deep problem for society is how to have some kind of check on errant journalism. You don’t want to have the government do it because that would lead to terrible regulation. So we’re stuck with the free market, which in this case is a legal system so full of checks and balances that the cost of adjudication is greater than the tort.

        If there’s no threat of a libel suit and damages, then places like Gawker would go crazy. You’re really clutching at straws when you point out that I don’t know whether Biddle really did call Twitter. Of course I don’t know. That’s why I wrote the sentence the way I did. But that’s my larger point. Their journalism doesn’t conform to the lowest common denominator of the industry. It’s rather laughable for you to suggest that maybe Gawker doesn’t have an official policy about reaching out for comment as if that makes it all okay.

        My larger point is that the one article I pointed to is far from the only example. There might be some decent journalism in his past, but it’s hard to find among the race-card-playing dreck. He’s constantly using the word “white” as if it’s a pejorative. If you scroll back further in time, he’s using other verbal boxcutters.

        It’s rather sad for you to follow in his steps and restate his claim. When I look at statistics, I see a company that has a lower percentage of white people than the general population. (59% v 62%.) If you look at the percentages of college educated– a good proxy for the kind of people Twitter needs to hire– their embrace of non-European workers is even more stark. (Non-hispanic whites earned 72.9% bachelors between 2009-2010).

        It took me all of 2 minutes to look up these numbers. You could have done the same. But I’m afraid that you’re falling into the same shoot-first, aim-never trap as Mr. Biddle. It’s so easy to toss out the latest hip pejorative like a blast from a sawed-off shotgun.

        My feeling is that bad reporting makes the world a worse place. When people spew hatred like a Gatling Gun, it coarsens the world. When they toss around untrue accusations without making any attempt to verify them, it makes it harder for all of us to converge on the truth. At the very least, bad reporting gets in the way and wastes the time of the reader, a time on earth that is all too short.

        I’m very sorry that Mr. Biddle is stuck in a legal vise, but he and Mr. Denton made it for themselves.

        • hahvM

          But the issue is that _you_ don’t get it. If you did, you wouldn’t be following this issue. Because if Sam were so obviously incorrect, you wouldn’t have bothered writing all of this. The debate isn’t about percentages, obviously.

          You clearly live in San Francisco and don’t have necessary intuition for hyperbole (let alone probably Culture), its suggestive capacity, and how mere suggestion can carry truths and falsehoods simultaneously and still be valid.

          *This* is why SF is so unsophisticated. You guys only operate in binary (quite literally), even though the world you wish to be a part of is exactly the opposite.

          • ytzpzvgk

            Uh, no. Ask any Title IX warrior and you’ll hear that percentages matter. The articles about race always include percentages like the number of race X who was arrested as compared to the number race X who live in the area.

            Ms. Spiers should be truly embarrassed to repeat untruths about a company. That’s not what journalists do. They check things out. And you should be embarrassed to say that it’s okay to claim X when the basic science shows that not X is true. I realize that you may enjoy imagining that Twitter is hopelessly white because it helps you fill up your two minutes of 1984-grade daily hate but that doesn’t make it factually correct.

            What is even sadder is that Ms. Spiers doesn’t even consider the financial implications of being hit by the Gawker’s hate ray. She’s quite willing to say that Mr. Biddle doesn’t deserve to lose his savings over writing journalism but she doesn’t even imagine that the targets of journalism also pay the price.

            Hate sites like Gawker destroy careers. Sometimes they do it immediately to people that everyone feels deserves it, but often they do it slowly by corroding the social capital of the targets. Colleagues stop returning calls. People distance themselves. Does Ms. Spiers believe that outing someone doesn’t have financial implications? Oh sure, Peter Thiel can take it, but what about other people?

            The fact is that Gawker has probably destroyed more income through its hatemongering than it will lose in this lawsuit.

          • hahvM

            omg u r a troll i knew it. gawker has a “hate ray” that can “destroy careers”?

            if ur career is so fragile that a ny blogger can take u down then u need to re-evaluate.

          • ytzpzvgk

            Nope. You misjudge the shallowness of people and the fear people have of public ridicule. A boss will fire a worker for some made up reason if they’re ridiculed on Gawker. Or maybe they’ll just fire them.





            Those are just the few that I found in a minute of searching.

            Elizabeth– You care so much about Sam Biddle’s wallet. How do you feel about the people who’ve had their careers destroyed by Gawker?

  • All of the other examples you give are real and concerning. However, publishing a sex tape recording is merely prurient and invasive and doesn’t actually serve any real public interest whatsoever. It isn’t a “mistake” like Dan Rather convincing himself of the authenticity of some evidence. They knew what they were doing. Outing people for being gay is also a form of public nuisance and bullying. Again, if they were adults they knew what they were doing. It isn’t really defensible and it is disingenuous to equate it with any of the other examples that you gave.

  • ytzpzvgk

    And for those who care about the finances of Club Gawker, read on about their wonderful attitude toward paying taxes.