NEW YORK – Nick Denton says he’s more sure than ever that his company, Gawker Media, will eventually prevail in its fight against Hulk Hogan.
Last Friday’s release of nearly a thousand pages of court documents “increased our level of confidence” that appeals courts will side with Gawker, Denton said in a telephone interview.
The next step is a judgment hearing in mid-to-late May. There, Gawker will argue that a jury’s $140 million award for Hogan was outlandishly high and should be reduced. The jury ruled that Gawker had violated Hogan’s privacy by publishing portions of a sex tape in a 2012 blog post.
The judge — the same one who presided over the trial and sided against Gawker at key points — may let the damages award stand.
The number was eye-popping. But in an interview on Tuesday, Denton simply called it “an indication of the strength of the jury’s feelings.”
No matter what the total amount was, “It’s going to be reversed, reduced radically, on appeal,” he said.
Denton declined to go into detail about how the company would afford such a steep financial judgment, if in fact the appeals courts side with Hogan.
Denton has previously said that few media companies could afford a $100 million judgment.
In a Gawker post on Tuesday afternoon, his first public comments since the trial concluded on Monday, he wrote, “A state appeals court and a federal judge have already held repeatedly that the 2012 commentary and short video excerpt, which joined an existing conversation and explored the public’s fascination with celebrity sex tapes, were newsworthy. We have had our day in trial court, and we lost. We will have our day back in appeals court, and we will be vindicated.”
In the meantime, Gawker’s web sites are operating and business operations are continuing.
The “ad climate is looking good in the first half,” Denton said.
He cited several recent examples of attention-getting stories by Gawker’s sites, saying that “Our stories may sometimes be controversial, but the reader interest is undeniable.”
One example was a Gawker story last week about a PBS “NewsHour” segment profiling a family supporting Donald Trump for president. One of the family members appeared to have white power tattoos on her body, but the segment made no mention of it. The Gawker story was viewed more than 700,000 times and prompted editor’s notes by the “NewsHour.”
While the $140 million judgment looms like a financial cloud over the company, there’s nothing Gawker can do about it for the time being.
Denton argued in his blog post that “the enormous size of the verdict is chilling to Gawker Media and other publishers with a tabloid streak, but it is also a flag to higher courts that this case went wildly off the rails.”
He asserted that “emotion was permitted to trump the law, and key evidence and witnesses were kept from the jury.”
And he detailed his belief, supported by the newly-released documents, that “the real, and actually embarrassing, reason Hogan sued Gawker to begin with was hidden from the jury, from the public, and from me.”
Denton said the suit was a convoluted attempt to cover up a separate tape, not showing sex but instead showing Hogan using racial slurs.
Evidence to that effect was not shared with the jury during the trial.
Denton’s remarks may seek to put Hogan on the defensive as he begins a celebratory round of broadcast interviews.
In a sit-down with ABC News on Tuesday, Hogan — whose real name is Terry Bollea — said he thought Gawker “was hoping that, financially, I wouldn’t be able to stay in the game with them, and I’d quit or tap out or something.”
When the verdict was read, “It was just so overwhelming when I knew that we had won and people believed me,” Hogan said. “It was just — gosh, it was a moment. It was a moment.”
Hogan’s interview will be shown on “Good Morning America” on Wednesday, and then he’ll appear live on another ABC program, “The View,” later in the day.
By Brian Stelter and Tom Kludt