It's been a long few years for Hulk Hogan, who has been at war with Gawker Media after the website released his sex tape. But the retired wrestler came out victorious this week.
A Florida jury agreed on Friday that Gawker violated the entertainer's privacy by publishing a sex tape in 2012 that showed him having sex with a friend's wife. As a result, Hogan was awarded $115 million in damages.
The 62-year-old, whose real name is Terry Bollea, was filmed without his knowledge after meeting with and having sex with Heather Clem, the wife of radio host Bubba "The Love Sponge" Clem, who reportedly made the video. When Gawker got its hands on a copy, it released the two-minute clip on its website and, despite it showing only nine seconds of actual sex between Hogan and the woman (the rest of the time the two are just chatting), Hogan sued Gawker for violating his privacy. A jury of four women and two men agreed that was exactly what had happened.
Gawker founder Nick Denton and former editor A.J. Daulerio argued that their decision to post the video was backed by the First Amendment and that they've already started making preparations to appeal the decision. In a 2013 interview, Denton defended his choices by saying he thought, "invasion of privacy has incredibly positive effects on society." Denton and Daulerio's defense team claim they still have critical evidence to back up their defense that has not been allowed to be heard in court.
Meanwhile, Hogan was awarded $55 million for economic damages and $60 million for emotional distress — an unbelievable amount of money that could bankrupt Gawker. And there may even be more where that came from: Jurors will reconvene next week to decide whether he's entitled to additional punitive damages.
For now, Hogan seems satisfied with the outcome. After the verdict was announced, his lawyer released the following statement: "Mr. Bollea is exceptionally happy. This is not only his victory today, but also anyone else's who has been victimized by tabloid journalism."
Gawker has been providing a daily update on the Hogan trial and maintains that the wrestler's private life is as newsworthy as his public persona because he has always chosen to put himself out there for public consumption.
But Hogan, an almost-mythical figure amongst children, argues that his professional career, which now includes making appearances at wrestling events, was rocked by the scandal because it hurt his family-friendly image. You could argue Hogan's use of racist slurs is equally to blame for that (he has since apologized for using the N-word). But you could also argue that racist slurs and a stolen sex tape he didn't even know about are apples and oranges.
As for Gawker's fate, that remains to be seen. But its loss could mean a much stricter and less laissez-faire approach to online journalism — something that fills me with remorse. If only the issue at the center of it all wasn't the private sex life of a man who didn't deserve to be dragged into all of this.
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