Fox News, I owe you an apology. It turns out you’re not even close to the worst large media company today.


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

47 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    Gawker, and all its sites, are a weird amalgam. Sort of news, sort of gossip, naughty edgy attitude and a desire to maximize clicks with takes you won’t see other places. Deadspin makes a point of being the anti-espn and going after the behemoths like the nfl. Many of the subblogs have interesting stuff that has a solid single focus like on health or military matters.

    Gawker, the main site, has always published sketchy stories focusing on prurient interest. In many many ways they are an Internet National Enquirer that wants to be taken seriously.Report

  2. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    IMHO, media sites run by Professionals* are the exception, not the rule.

    *adults who exemplify a mature ethic, as opposed to those who have a degree in X &/or work in the field.Report

  3. The drill-down details of this story aren’t german to this post,

    Achtung! Abteilung, kehrt!Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    IIRC, Gawker’s original mission was to be a gossip site for the media. They somehow broadened to get a wide audience and also start or pick-up contingent sites like Jezebel, Deadspin, etc.

    But their motto is still “today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news” and that is really all you need to say about them. They have real journalism like Nolan’s Letters from the Unemployed and Death Row series. They also did important exposes into 4chan and revealing the identity of ViolentAcrez. But they are also early learners that income on the web revolves around eyeballs and you attract more eyeballs with a snarky, gossipy tone and take no prisoners attitude. Gawker was an early learner of “being on the Internet means never having to say you are sorry.” Gawker helped give us the Internet’s rhetoric of “I can’t even” when someone disagrees with you on policy.*

    So this style including the resignations and the tone taken are very much part of their brand. There are no secrets at Gawker including in-house disputes. Would another media organization publish their two top editorial staffers resignation letters? This seems to me a way for Gawker to reclaim their no snark barred cred.Report

  5. The victim is indeed a private citizen. But he’s also a sibling of a very public figure, and I suspect it’s his very recognizable last name that made this story clickbaitish enough to have been published in the first place. Which is is no way an excuse for it, but this stuff happens all the time. Is it news that two underage college students have fake IDs to buy beer? What if their father is the President?Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Yeah, this is one (of many) areas where I think this is not quite so clear-cut as some people make it out to be. Especially if MY kid’s name makes the news for trying to buy beer with a fake ID, but YOUR kid’s name doesn’t make the news for a similar infraction, and people start to wonder whether it’s BECAUSE your kid is the [kid of high-powered media executive or brother of public figure].

      Other areas: while I don’t approve of outing per se (more generally: I’d like people’s private lives, particularly as regards their sexuality, to be private), IMO the only reason that “outing” has any power to outrage or harm, is because we all collectively agree to pretend that it freaking matters that it was a male escort involved here. Being “outed” as gay shouldn’t really matter, since being *gay* shouldn’t really matter. This has always seemed odd to me (that we empower a threat that should be nonsensical, and if we all collectively shrugged there would be no threat), and it seems even odder in 2015 (it’s the reason one particular subplot of True Detective S2 makes little sense to me).

      In this case, it seems like part of why people are so upset is because the CFO was outed as (possibly) gay/bisexual, which makes me wonder if it had been a female escort involved, this whole story would just have been seen as business as usual (other “what-ifs” – what if the CFO worked for Fox News Corporation instead, or his related public figure had served under a Republican administration? Anyone want to take bets as to whether the people outraged about the outing now, would have been quite so outraged then? I suspect we would have seen quite a bit of “good, Fox/Republican-associated hypocrite gets theirs. Serves ’em right.”)

      And this is from Gawker’s wiki entry:

      It promotes itself as “the source for daily Manhattan media news and gossip.” It focuses on celebrities and the media industry.

      This is from the wiki on the CFO’s company:

      a mass media company headquartered at One World Trade Center in New York City.

      I don’t particularly like gossip in general, but we can’t really say “CFO of major Manhattan media company gets a blackmail attempt, trying to leverage his powerful family connections” isn’t in Gawker’s self-declared wheelhouse.

      OTOH, by running the story, Gawker actually becomes the *instrument* of executing the blackmailer’s threat, which seems…less-than-ideal.

      Also, I’m not up on all of it, but IIRC Gawker has a long-running feud with Reddit, who are a subsidiary of said media company. I don’t doubt they saw an opportunity to stick it to their rivals here.

      Last, I think some of the kerfuffle is not so much over Gawker’s “retracting” the article, but their attempting to sort of “memory-hole” it. I am generally of the opinion that in the internet-words-live-forever age, the better approach – once it’s decided that it was a bad idea to run something – is not to take the article down, but to append corrections/apologies/explanations of the journalistic or ethical (terms used loosely in relation to Gawker and this story) failures to the original piece, so they can live alongside it.

      But like the last point, I haven’t followed the whole thing closely, so I could be wrong about this, plus maybe there are times when it’s better to take the whole thing down, I haven’t really thought too deeply about all the possible scenarios here.Report

      • As you point out, it’s impossible to really memory hole it, so taking it down isn’t an attempt to hide the facts — it’s a strong statement that it should never have been posted in the first place. Which is arguably true , even if it is odd to see Gawker developing a conscience at this late date. It’s certainly not an attack on freedom of the press for the owners to say “Hey, guys, this is scummy, even for us.” And quitting with an open letter saying “No, we’re at least that scummy, and proud of it” is a pretty farcical example of a principled resignation.Report

        • Avatar Glyph says:

          Oh, I’m not calling it an “attack on the freedom of the press”. It’s their site, they can put up or take down articles as they wish.

          I just think it’s the better approach to leave it up, with explanations/apologies etc. It’s better for us, because it remains clearly-associated to them for us to judge their later behavior by; it’s better for them, because it reminds them of what not to do in the future, as well as makes them look like they “own” their mistakes and don’t try to burnish their reputation by trying to “hide” their failures.

          Heck, in a purely-self-interested way, it seems better for them since it still allows them a small degree of control over the historical narrative and how the event will be remembered. If it’s going to be available forever anyway, might as well host the version of it that contains your own words, both original and appended.Report

  6. Avatar Barry says:

    Gawker has occasionally done scummy things. Fox News occasionally does non-scummy things.Report

  7. Avatar Will Truman says:

    Juxtaposing this with the Ashley Madison hack is interesting. Not sure what to make of it, though.Report

  8. Avatar Vikram Bath says:

    I have some random questions!

    1. Is the CFO of a major media organization actually not a public figure?

    It’s not at all obvious to me that they are not. If a CFO has a heart attack, it is typically reported to shareholders and perhaps also through the media depending on the size and perceived importance of the corporation.

    2. What if it had been a schoolteacher? Teachers are not public figures.

    3. What we also change the nature of the crime. Say it’s a schoolteacher doing drugs. Is it OK to report on such a thing?

    4. What about a schoolteacher dealing drugs?

    It seems obvious to me that #4 is a reportable story, but almost wholly because there is good reason to think a drug dealer would not be someone who should be teaching.

    But how about this…

    5. What if the CFO of a major media corporation was running a dog-fighting ring? Is it OK to report on that? There is no particular reason to think that would interfere with a CFO’s job responsibilities, right?

    Someone might object that dog-fighting rings have victims, while prostitution doesn’t.

    But should editorial departments decide what crimes are worth reporting and what aren’t? Like it or not, this sort of thing is illegal in the US. There are plenty of people who think selling guns and selling drugs are victimless crimes.
    Disclaimer: I didn’t read the original article. From what I gather about it overall, I probably wouldn’t have published it if I were them, but it didn’t sound at all out of the ordinary for Gawker, whose main competitive advantage is their willingness to publish whatever.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        It does, but it doesn’t really explain why the author thinks that. I find it at least moderately convincing.Report

        • If he was a public figure before Gawker, he was one nobody had ever heard of.Report

        • Avatar Glyph says:

          It’s a tough call. With any company that big, are its execs sort of automatically public figures? Like, could the Walton clan be considered public figures, even if they never inserted themselves into politics or public controversies?

          There also seems something weird about asserting that execs of huge media companies (whose main job it is to write about everybody else) can claim a degree of shielding or anonymity from being written about themselves.Report

          • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

            The Koch brothers come to mind.

            Also this:

            President Bush downplayed his own drinking problem and hid a DUI. Now his daughters are making news for underage drinking. Is there a connection?

            In the case with the Bush daughters, there was an attempt to make it relate to a public figure, but the actual behavior was about someone who would be a private figure but for having been daughter of someone who was a public figure. Are relatives of public figures public figures themselves? Was Clinton’s brother a public figure?Report

            • Avatar Glyph says:

              The Kochs have explicit political components though. As does Trump, now.

              I am speculating about someone “non-political” who is (or executive-manages a company that is) crazy wealthy/powerful (and therefore has a lot of political and cultural influence/clout) – isn’t someone operating at that rarefied level a “public figure” almost by default? Was Steve Jobs a public figure? Is Bill Gates?Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Yup. you ought to have them penciled into the back of your notebook.

                I do know someone who does that, actually (He’s good with faces!)…Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                When I talk about the Rothschild family, suddenly *I* am the crazy one?Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Look, if I ever become, through some weird confluence of events, crazy rich, a good chunk of that fortune will be devoted to trying to keep my privacy. Like if I won the lottery, my first stop would be to find a lawyer and PR person who could help me figure out how to keep the lowest possible public profile.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      Is the CFO of a major media organization actually not a public figure?

      Officers with fiduciary responsibility are public figures, in so much as they are the people accountable for the organization and its actions in a legal sense; so a CFO of a major media organization is a ‘public person.’ Normally, one would assume the CFO’s public role would relate to finances of the organization; and not editorial policies, etc.; but the wall between the business office and the newsroom is quite thin these days.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      The answer is whether a CFO of a major media organization is a public figure is that it depends. Determining who is and who is not a public figure is an art not a science. Most people on the street would not know who [redacted] was or connect him to his slightly more famous sibling if they were asked who the CFO of Conde Nast was before the Gawker story. However, the person on the street test is not the end all of who counts as a public figure.

      [MikeS: Edited]Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      @vikram-bath What crime did the CFO commit?Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        I don’t actually know. I had thought one of the editors did argue that this was a reason it was fair game.

        contacted a male escort with the intention of engaging him.

        Is there a law against this even if it isn’t followed through on? I would guess there is, but IANAL.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      @vikram-bath I have some random questions!

      I have some random answers!

      1. Is the CFO of a major media organization actually not a public figure? … If a CFO has a heart attack, it is typically reported to shareholders and perhaps also through the media depending on the size and perceived importance of the corporation.

      Does that make someone a “public figure?”

      Consider: If you don’t live in a very rural area of the United States, odds are that your area has a “Business Journal.” (More than likely, it’s owned ACBJ Media, but it might not be.) Go find your local business journal. (Seriously, do it now! I’ll wait to you get back.) You will notice that somewhere in the journal there is a section that lists a tremendous number of “people on the move.” These are essentially re-published press releases from employers in your city, and the show new hires. Sometimes these new hires are CEOs and CFOs. More often, however, they are new entry-level sales reps, bank loan officers, customer service reps, etc.

      Are these entry-level sales reps and bank loan officers public figures? If we were to find out one of them was a closeted homosexual, would it be “news?”

      2. What if it had been a schoolteacher? Teachers are not public figures.

      Schoolteachers are public employees, which for good or ill (ill, I believe) we hold to a different standard in terms of privacy.

      Regardless, however, a school teacher being discovered as a closeted homosexual is not, I would strongly argue, “news.”

      3. What we also change the nature of the crime. Say it’s a schoolteacher doing drugs. Is it OK to report on such a thing?

      Sure. And if the CFO had been caught embezzling, it would indeed be news. If the CFO had been arrested soliciting, it would also be news. But as he committed no crime…

      4. What about a schoolteacher dealing drugs?

      See my answer above.

      5. What if the CFO of a major media corporation was running a dog-fighting ring? Is it OK to report on that? There is no particular reason to think that would interfere with a CFO’s job responsibilities, right?

      Again, dogfighting is a crime. Being a closeted homosexual, and briefly considering hiring a male escort but deciding at the last minute against it, is not.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        briefly considering hiring a male escort but deciding at the last minute against it, is not.

        If I contact and then pay a prostitute (which you said he did, in full) but don’t get a chance to “close the deal”, as it were – for whatever reason – haven’t I still committed the crime of solicitation? All the TV I’ve watched (and it’s a LOT, so I think I am pretty much a legal expert here;-) seems to indicate that once we’ve even agreed on a price or the money has come out of my wallet, the cops can go ahead and nab me as a “john”, even before anybody’s zippers go down. Is it the legal figleaf of “escort” we are talking about here (hey, maybe he was just going to accompany the CFO somewhere)?*

        I’m also trying to think through this the other way – blackmail (or attempted blackmail) is itself also a crime, and therefore a news-worthy thing, no?

        Let’s say they didn’t report on this – won’t the blackmailer just move on to his next victim and keep trying to get someone, anyone to resolve his housing deal?

        *Note that I don’t think prostitution should be a crime, at all. But in this world, it still is, and crime is newsworthy almost by definition.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          You do kinda have to be able to establish that the guy was actually paying for sex (as opposed to hiring sex workers for talk therapy, which totally happens… okay, often after the sex).

          Blackmail’s definitely a crime,and ought to be reported as such.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        Tod Kelly: as he committed no crime

        If there’s no crime than it’s more of a slam dunk not to publish.Report

      • Avatar FridayNext says:

        I don’t know if this matters, but Conde Nast is part of Advance Publications which is a privately held corporation owned by members of the Newhouse family. There are no shareholders to report to.

        Not sure if that is completely decisive, but it would seem to me to put a few weights on the “not public” side of the balance.Report

  9. Avatar Notm says:

    The moral of this story is that he should have used a better class of male escorts.Report

  10. Avatar Patrick says:

    “But I have yet to come across anyone who treats the content of the Craggs memo as anything but ordinary fare. The vibe I’m getting is that while the exit was eyebrow raising, the memo is just a memo, like people in media companies get all the time. And that is something that truly makes me despair.”

    I think you’re looking at this as “Gawker is a New Media Company, and this seems unusual and bad and really disturbing if it is the new norm for a Media Company”.

    Think of it instead as “Gawker is a former ‘New Tech Darling’, that was focused on New Media.” Now go look at other astonishingly unprofessional activity fostered by folks in the tech industry, particularly in the Darlings group.

    I mean, not that this excuses it.

    But demonstrating to the world that you have (in no particular order) terrible optics, questionable judgment under pressure, a track record of regrettable tantrums, a tendency to burning bridges in particularly public ways, and really crappy management skills is… uh… actually something of a marketable package in the tech industry. It’s one of the reasons why the tech industry is so terrible.Report

  11. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The closest example that I can think of is the Ted Haggard scandal.

    When that came to light, I admit to snickering. One of the big reasons, of course, was Haggard’s involvement in the “protect marriage!” phenomenon that was such a big deal back around 2004.

    There was a morality play angle there. Heck, it probably would have made the news if some religious leaders from a local church happened to do the male escort thing. I probably would have laughed at that too.

    I imagine that that is because, at the time, I saw those religious types as being On The Other Side. So one was caught doing something shameful? Ell-Oh-Ell!

    And that’s what I think was also at play here. They saw the story as being funny and relevant because it was happening to someone who was On The Other Side.

    And those of us out here in the middle of flyover country are reading this story and we’re saying “what the hell? How is this news?”

    There’s no morality play going on here. It’s just one group of people being awful to someone.

    It’s hard to not have sympathy for someone who you don’t see as being On The Other Side.

    And since I have sympathy for this guy, suddenly Gawker is On The Other Side.

    How dare they?

    HOW DARE THEY???Report

  12. Avatar Sam says:

    A couple of entirely unimportant points:

    1. I’m struggling to put the husband in the same category as the wife/children. He knowingly sought to cheat on his wife. (The fact that he sought to cheat with another man seems entirely unimportant.) It’s 2015 though. Things like this have a way of getting out. It is part of the territory. Perhaps the argument ought to be, “Isn’t this man entitled to cheat on his wife in private?” but I’m not sure I find that particularly convincing.

    2. This strikes me as Gawker’s greatest sin. Maybe there are others that I’m forgetting about – I’m firmly in the “Publish whatever about Hulk Hogan…” camp – but when compared to the nightmarish coverage we’re routinely offered by traditional outlets, I’ll take Gawker’s occasional, and seemingly small time, sins.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      When Anthony Weiner’s, erm, “hobbies” came to light, one of the arguments that I saw trotted out was “we don’t know what kind of arrangement that he and his wife have.”

      Does that argument apply here?Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        This is maybe the strongest argument against publishing stuff like this. Not the gay angle, which, it’s 2015, who cares. But the angle of “this is a couple’s business and theirs only, they may have an arrangement or understanding, and if they do, then publishing this serves only to embarrass their kids.”

        I’m still not sure though, if the crime(s) warrant reporting (at the very least, I think the blackmail attempt was a crime; and possibly the solicitation too, if contracting with then paying an escort in full counts as such).

        I’m also curious about the ethics of a media organ serving as the executor of a blackmailer’s threat.

        If Gawker found out about the blackmail attempt independently, or from the victim, that seems like one thing; but as I understand it, the blackmailer contacted Gawker, so as to make good on his threat, and they ran it, carrying the threat out.

        At that point, aren’t they sort of colluding in the crime in a way?Report

  13. Avatar Roland Dodds says:

    I agree @tod-kelly, Gawker (and its subsidiaries) are the absolute worst. Its like the Huffington Post on click-bait crack, and it is sadly where most online media is headed.Report