Don't say you weren't warned this was coming.
Last night, executives at Univision held a vote and when it was over six separate posts across the Gawker Media spectrum were ordered taken down. The reason: each was the target of some form of litigation. According to Gizmodo, itself a site under the Gawker Media banner and one that was hit hard by the vote, reports this morning that the decision was made just before Univision closed on its purchase of Gawker Media. It was carried out under an existing provision that allowed any story already posted to be removed only by "a majority vote of the Executive Editor, the CEO, and the General Counsel, unless required by law.”
Gizmodo explains that John Cook, the executive editor of Gawker Media, fought hard to preserve all six of the stories but he was overruled by Felipe Holguin and Jay Grant, both of Univision’s Fusion Media Group. "I communicated to Felipe and Jay in the strongest terms that deleting these posts is a mistake,” Cook wrote in a memo to Gawker Media staff, "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.”
Alas, that argument went nowhere. Because Univision seems to have decided that it's simply not worth it to continue facing down the wrath of asshole Silicon Valley plutocrat Peter Thiel and his handpicked team of attorneys, or anyone else threatening legal action against Gawker Media. It apparently figures the best way to stop the hemorrhaging here is by cutting off the affected limb entirely. What's more, there's a good chance Univision is conceding not only to Thiel's lawyers but to really anyone threatening a legal bloodletting.
Which brings us to hack blogger, internet proto-troll and furry ginger muppet Chuck Johnson. Because one of the six removed pieces is a now-legendary bit of hilarious table-turning published two years ago at Deadspin and aimed squarely at Johnson and his entirely misplaced arrogance. The piece in question, titled "Wait, Did Clowntroll Blogger Chuck Johnson Shit On The Floor One Time" was nothing more than an exercise provocation -- in giving Johnson a taste of his own medicine -- in that it was a collection of rumors and half-truths put out into the ether with the goal of embarrassing someone.
The idea of the piece was more important than the "facts" offered within -- and the willingness to go out on a limb for that idea, by the way, was what made Gawker a sometimes invaluable media outlet -- but at the very least the piece did offer first-person accounts of Johnson's time at Claremont McKenna College and the stories that circulated about an incident (never confirmed) in which he supposedly passed out on the floor and subsequently shit himself. The original post has already been removed at Deadspin, but, amusingly, a story about the floor-shitting story still exists within the Gawker archives.
And so, in the interest of due diligence in covering the news -- because now that the post has been taken down (guess what?) the story of why it would need to be removed is news -- let's just repost, in its entirety, what Gawker wrote about the incident:
This rumor, first noted (but not confirmed) by Deadspin’s Greg Howard, alleges that Johnson defecated on a dormitory floor when he attended Claremont McKenna College in suburban Los Angeles. Last week, two of Johnson’s college classmates, using Gawker burner accounts, filled in the details of the shitting story.
The first classmate:
Hilariously, he graduated being best known for pooping on the (I think I’m remembering the floor right) 7th floor of Stark (a dorm). I’m sad this idiot is getting any attention at all, but I hope this guy becomes famous for the same reasons he was in college, his public pooping problems.
I started two years after him, so I wasn’t there since he did it as a freshman or sophomore. But the upperclassman talked about it regularly and it was an undisputed fact that he did it. Multiple people talked about it in great detail [confirmed by another commenter] on the school’s paper/website thecmcforum.com and I bet many instances of people talking about it can be seen in the comment archives from 2008-2011.
However, in a subsequent comment the first classmate clarified that the shitting rumor was in fact an “apocryphal origin story”:
I have heart-breaking news, team, there was never any proof that he actually was the one who pooped on the floor. Someone did poop on the floor and just to sort of troll the Mountain King himself people started posting that he pooped. It was one of those things no one could prove or disprove. It started as a joke but has sort of morphed into apocryphal origin story. And there is a sort of poetic justice in tarring the biggest shit on campus with that fecal crime...but alas it’s not *really* true.
Furthermore, Johnson has explicitly denied the shitting story on Twitter:
It's interesting that the same media that accuses me of making shit up is making shit up about me me shitting on the floor. Irony. Funny.
— Charles C. Johnson (@ChuckCJohnson) December 10, 2014
So, as you can see, there's no definitive proof that Chuck Johnson shit on the floor one time when he was in college. There are stories that he shit on the floor one time when he was in college, but they may be nothing more than salacious rumors which gained traction a couple of years ago only because Johnson grew to be every bit the worthless turd he apparently seemed to be in college. (Calling him a turd, by the way, is a figure of speech, not intended in any way to imply that he actually did shit on the floor one time when he was in college, since that very well may not have happened and survives only as conjecture.)
Deadspin's original story needless to say raised the hackles of Johnson, who took time out of his busy schedule filled with publishing malicious, fact-free horseshit and getting permanently banned by Twitter to threaten Gawker Media with a $66 million dollar lawsuit. He filed and it was quickly slapped down in one state and is currently going nowhere in another. There's a pretty good chance Peter Thiel's lawyer Charles Harder, who was tasked by the billionaire years ago with trawling for aggrieved parties who would like to have their cases against Gawker funded indefinitely, has nothing to do with Johnson's lawsuit. Even Thiel, who's a piece of shit, probably wants nothing to do with Johnson, who's a piece of shit the size of Jupiter. (Although anything's possible.)
But here's the thing: What this means, if Thiel has nothing to do with Johnson's suit, is that Univision is ceding the argument to even the most frivolous of dead-end lawsuits. (Either that or it aims to maintain some kind of high-minded bullshit "standard," but if that's the case why buy Gawker Media in the first place?) The other five pieces removed, including two involving Shiva Ayyadurai -- who claims to have "invented" e-mail and who Thiel's lawyer Charles Harder represented in a $35 million libel suit -- and two involving Phillies broadcaster Mitch Williams, seem to be getting the ax in an effort to remove any and all liabilities as Univision takes over Gawker Media. That's the company's decision, obviously. But it's bad news for journalism, particularly journalism that takes chances and pulls no punches against the powerful and the simply full-of-shit.
It's important to remember that the outlets under fire here aren't the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Gawker mothership. That site's already been sued into collapse. It's history. We're talking here about the supposedly decent Gawker Media sites like Deadspin and Gizmodo -- the sites that regularly crank out really high-quality material with, you know, "journalistic value" as Peter Thiel might pompously decree. So what we're seeing now is the very beginning of the natural fallout from Gawker's shuttering at the hands of a vindictive billionaire, just as John Cook said. Univision probably figures the smart thing to do is cut its losses -- or any future losses -- and just cave. And that's a terrifyingly spineless way to look at journalism.
There's always going to be someone out there who wants to sue you when you're a journalist. There's always going to be somebody with deep pockets who can drag out a fight indefinitely and try to bankrupt you out of spite. And against those odds the Constitution and the courts can't always protect you, not against the reality of the financial bottom line. Univision likely doesn't want the trouble of keeping those six posts in place. That's the attitude, unfortunately, that creates more lawsuits because that's exactly the reason the powerful -- or in the case of Chuck Johnson, the attention-starved -- sue those who say or write things about them they don't like: to make an example of them.
Gawker is dead. Gawker Media has been defanged and brought to heel. The only question now, after this emboldening victory for those opposed to a free and fearless press, is -- who's next?