Gawker founder forced to read from sex tape excerpts
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CNNMoney) — Attorneys for Hulk Hogan had another chance Tuesday to portray Gawker Media as both prurient and harmful.
Their target: Gawker founder Nick Denton, who took the stand in a St. Petersburg, Florida courtroom at the Hogan sex tape trial.
At issue is the site’s 2012 post featuring portions of Hogan’s sex tape. The former professional wrestler has filed a $100 million invasion of privacy lawsuit against Denton, former Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio and the flagship site’s parent company.
Appearing on the stand, Denton, 49, defended the site’s publication of the footage, saying that online users expect “proof of what the writer is saying.”
“People are doubtful until you show them,” Denton said. “You can’t just tell.”
Hogan attorney Kenneth Turkel scoffed at the notion that the publication of the sex tape excerpts represented a legitimate journalistic pursuit — a significant piece of Gawker’s First Amendment defense in the case.
“We’re not talking about a mayor smoking crack, are we, sir?” Turkel asked, alluding to Gawker’s memorable coverage of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
“We’re talking about a world famous celebrity,” Denton said.
“Yes, having sex in a private bedroom with a friend,” Turkel fired back, his voice booming throughout the courtroom.
Denton defended the post, which included a nearly two-minute highlight reel of the Hogan sex tape and a lengthy commentary by Daulerio.
“I think it stands the test of time,” Denton said.
In a taped deposition shown to jurors last week, Denton called the post “sweet” and “sympathetic.” Turkel, whose theatrical presentation runs in contrast to the other attorneys in the case, latched onto these descriptions, forcing Denton to read at length from the story.
“Read the next sweet, sympathetic paragraph,” Turkel demanded after Denton recited a passage about Hogan receiving a “slow, dutiful blowjob.”
Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, placed his head in his hands as Denton read from the story.
At times during the cross-examination, Turkel tried to paint the defendant as a hypocrite. The attorney pointed to Denton’s own wedding, where guests were asked to turn in their cell phones.
If Denton believes in a wide dissemination of information, Turkel wondered, then why didn’t he apply the same philosophy to the 2014 ceremony?
“We asked them. We didn’t sue people,” Denton replied, drawing laughter from his husband, Derrence Washington, who was on hand at the Pinellas County Judicial Building.
Turkel also brought up a 2010 article by the Gawker Media tech site Gizmodo, which reviewed the iPhone 4 before other publications. Gizmodo obtained the prototype for $5,000 after it had apparently been left behind at a bar. What Denton hailed as a scoop, Turkel said, was actually an article on “stolen property.”
In direct and redirect questioning, the defense tried to counter the narrative projected by Hogan’s team by showcasing Gawker’s breadth.
Gawker attorney Michael Sullivan invited Denton to talk about his company’s other popular stories published in 2012, most notably an emotional first-person essay written by a mother who feared that her son’s mental illness could lead to carnage.
It was Gawker’s third most popular post from the year, and Denton called it “profound.”
When attorneys for the plaintiff and defense were finished, Denton fielded several questions from jurors. One asked Denton if the sex tape would have still been protected by the First Amendment had it been “gratuitous” in his estimation.
“No,” Denton said.