Billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has secretly funded former wrestler Hulk Hogan’s successful lawsuit against Gawker Media, Forbes reported Wednesday, answering lingering questions around the legal case that threatens to bankrupt the irreverent gossip and news site.
It wouldn't be the first brush between Gawker and Thiel, who is serving as a California delegate for Donald Trump. Gawker earned Thiel's enmity in 2007 when it published a story outing Thiel as gay before the venture capitalist had openly identified his sexuality. Thiel would later liken Valleywag, a site owned by Gawker, to al Qaeda.
At the time, Gawker Publisher Nick Denton shared concerns over running the story. “When I was looking into the story a year ago, I got a series of messages relaying the destruction that would rain down on me, and various innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, if a story ever ran,” Denton wrote in a comment under the 2007 article.
Nine years and a $140 million lawsuit later, Denton speculated to the New York Times that a wealthy benefactor might be supporting the lawsuit of Terry Bollea, otherwise known as Hulk Hogan, over a sex tape featuring him that Gawker published.
“My own personal hunch is that it’s linked to Silicon Valley, but that’s nothing really more than a hunch,” Denton told the newspaper this week. “If you’re a billionaire and you don’t like the coverage of you, and you don’t particularly want to embroil yourself any further in a public scandal, it’s a pretty smart, rational thing to fund other legal cases.”
Forbes, citing sources close to the matter, confirmed the hunch, though representatives for Thiel did not comment. Charles Harder, one of the attorneys representing Bollea, told the Times, “I do not discuss the finances of my clients, including any financial arrangements they have with my firm.”
Thiel, who earned a fortune from an early Facebook investment, has long been an outsize character in Silicon Valley. A founder of private intelligence firm Palantir Technologies, Thiel launched a fellowship in 2011 that provides $100,000 to high school graduates for independent study in lieu of college.
Thiel has also embraced libertarian and conservative political efforts, donating to causes including marijuana legalization, Ron Paul’s presidential campaign and a controversial undercover video by conservative sting artist James O’Keefe that led to the downfall of liberal group Acorn in 2009.
The same lawyer leading the Hulk Hogan lawsuit is also involved in two other defamation cases against Gawker, though it is unknown whether those have any outside funding. Gawker has appealed the Hulk Hogan lawsuit.