Journalists, Before You Mourn and Defend Gawker …

Look guys, I get it. You have perfectly good reasons to be outraged and concerned about a douchebag millionaire’s muckraking, ego-punching, click-baiting, shame-porning gossip site getting quashed by a douchebag billionaire’s thin skin and deep pockets.

You’re outraged and concerned because this shows the rich and powerful can use their wealth and clout to effectively put other, worthier journalism operations (like, say, yours) out of business just for doing their jobs, or scare them into silence. This is bad, very bad. This is why I want anti-SLAPP legislation as much as you do.

You’re outraged and concerned because for all its faults, Gawker was a groundbreaking pioneer in online journalism and was fearless in taking on the tech and media elites. I can acknowledge that as well.

BUT …

Before you join the chorus mourning the death of Gawker, ask yourselves:

  • Could Gawker have done all the good things it did without repeatedly engaging in the blatantly unethical, borderline-questionable, or just flat-out mean things that it did — the kind of crap that ultimately sowed the seed for its downfall?
  • If the billionaire who decided to use his money to fund the Gawker-busting lawsuit was actually the plaintiff and not some nefarious third party, would you feel any differently about this?
  • If a media company does commit a proven transgression that causes grave harm to the subject of a story, can the victim be justified in using their means to punish the media company through legal means, including pushing it into bankruptcy?
  • If instead of suing a media company into bankruptcy, someone with a bone to pick uses their clout to choke off that company’s advertising revenue and force it out of business that way, would you feel any differently?
  • Many other professionals — say, doctors and lawyers — who commit breaches of professional ethics not only can be sued by the victims of their malpractice, but can also be punished by their professions by being banned from practicing their trade. Aside from the court system, what mechanisms does the journalism profession have for upholding its ethics? When a Gawker thumbs its nose in the face of good taste and basic journalistic decency, what can the profession do, aside from churning out a news cycle’s worth of finger-wagging hot takes, thinkpieces, and Tweetstorms? And what good do all those do if the offending party just says, “F*ck you all!” and goes about its business, because its business is built in part on flaunting your code of ethics?
  • If a doctor or a lawyer commits repeated breaches of their profession’s code of ethics, would you flock to their defense by citing all the illnesses they’ve treated, the lives they’ve saved, the innocents they’ve exonerated, or the underdogs they’ve fought for? Or would you be demanding swift and severe punishments, up to and including being barred from their professions, for the sake of accountability?