MEDIA

Gawker Removes Controversial Post After Huge Backlash

"We all have secrets, and they are not all equally worthy of exposure."

Gawker on Friday removed a controversial story about a media executive soliciting a male escort who later attempted to extort him, after the decision to post the piece received widespread condemnation on social media.

Nick Denton, the site's founder and chief of Gawker Media, wrote in a post that he regretted publishing the story, which ran on Thursday evening, but maintained that its allegations were true. 

"The story involves extortion, illegality and reckless behavior, sufficient justification at least in tabloid news terms," Denton wrote. "The account was true and well-reported. It concerns a senior business executive at one of the most powerful media companies on the planet."

It's true that Condé Nast, which publishes magazines like Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair, is a powerful company. But the overwhelming opinion of those who registered blistering attacks against Gawker was that David Geithner, the company's chief financial officer and brother of former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, did nothing to warrant such a gross invasion of his private life. 

Gawker granted anonymity to a male escort who had allegedly planned a sexual encounter with Geithner. Though the meet-up never happened, Geithner allegedly still paid the escort. But the escort, who apparently believed Geithner could help him in a landlord dispute because of his brother's connections, provided Gawker with their correspondence in order to draw attention to his case. 

The Gawker story, written by Jordan Sargent, caused an immediate backlash on Twitter given that there seemed to be no journalistic justification for publishing private details of a little-known person's life. Gawker wasn't exposing a hypocrite, as it would be in the case of a closeted gay lawmaker pushing anti-gay legislation. Rather, it was potentially destroying the life of a man and his family for no apparent reason other than pure salaciousness. 

Defending the piece shortly after it was published Thursday night, Gawker editor Max Read claimed the site would not hesitate to reveal a married media executive cheating on his wife, an odd justification for a site that has never seemed intent on preaching morality. 

HuffPost's Gabriel Arana wrote that Gawker was gay-shaming Geithner by publicizing the claims from the male escort, whom the site also described as a "gay porn star."

The company's managing partnership voted  4-2 to remove the post. Executive Editor Tommy Craggs and chief legal counsel Heather Dietrick dissented.

After Denton made the announcement, investigations editor John Cook tweeted that he thought the decision was a mistake. However, in his Friday post, Denton said that some of the site's "own writers, proud to work at one of the only independent media companies, are equally appalled."

Still, Denton signaled that Gawker, which is currently fighting a $100 million lawsuit for publishing a sex tape involving the wrestler Hulk Hogan, would continue to report on the private lives of famous figures.  

"I believe this public mood reflects a growing recognition that we all have secrets, and they are not all equally worthy of exposure," Denton wrote. "I can’t defend yesterday’s story as I can our coverage of Bill O’Reilly, Hillary Clinton or Hulk Hogan."
 
He acknowledged that a "former Treasury Secretary’s brother does not rise to the level that our flagship site should be publishing."
 
"The point of this story was not in my view sufficient to offset the embarrassment to the subject and his family," Denton wrote. "Accordingly, I have had the post taken down. It is the first time we have removed a significant news story for any reason other than factual error or legal settlement."
 
UPDATE: On Friday evening, Gawker Media editorial staff issued a statement condemning the decision to take down the post:
 
Today’s unprecedented breach of the firewall, in which business executives deleted an editorial post over the objections of the entire executive editorial staff, demonstrated exactly why we seek greater protection. Our opinions on the post are not unanimous but we are united in objecting to editorial decisions being made by a majority of non-editorial managers. Disagreements about editorial judgment are matters to be resolved by editorial employees.
 

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to show that the Gawker management vote was 4-2. An earlier vote count was based on Gawker's account of taking down its story, which has since been corrected.

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