The decision by a Florida jury to grant $140 million in damages for a story on about a Hulk Hogan sex tape was extraordinary.The number is far larger than even the plaintiff himself had asked for in relief.
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.Moreover, the basis of his claim that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy during his sexual encounters with Heather Cole, then Bubba’s wife, was that Hogan didn’t know he was being filmed.From the documents released by the appellate court, it is now clear that this is contradicted by multiple statements Bubba made to FBI agents asserting that Hogan knew full well that Bubba had wired his bedroom for video and was filming.We were barred from presenting that crucial evidence to the jury, or asking Bubba how much his most intimate friend knew about the couple’s sexual practices.The plaintiff’s lawyers, with the occasional assist from our witnesses, successfully painted Gawker as representative of an untrammeled internet that good and decent people should find frightening and distasteful.Emotion was permitted to trump the law, and key evidence and witnesses were kept from the jury.
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 will have our day back in appeals court, and we will be vindicated.
Hogan did not sue us, as he has claimed, to recover damages from the emotional distress he purportedly experienced upon our revelation in 2012 of a sexual encounter with his best friend’s wife, Heather Cole (then Heather Clem).
It turns out this case was never about the sex on the tape Gawker received, but about racist language on another, unpublished tape that threatened Hogan’s reputation and career.
As our lawyers argued in legal briefs that were kept secret by the trial judge from the public—and even from me—until an appeals court unsealed them on Friday, Hogan filed the claim because he was terrified that one of the other tapes, which memorialized his rant about his daughter dating “fucking niggers,” might emerge.
As I have come to learn, Hogan himself put it in a text message to his best friend, the radio shock-jock Bubba Clem, days after we published our story: “We know there’s more than one tape out there and a one that has several racist slurs were told.
I have a [pay-per-view special] and I am not waiting for anymore surprises….” I had suspicions, but it is now clear that Hogan’s lawsuit was a calculated attempt to prevent Gawker, or anyone else who might obtain evidence of his racism, from publishing a truth more interesting and more damaging than a revelation about his sex life.