Univision Execs Have No Backbone: Pull A Bunch Of Gawker Stories Over Legal Disputes

from the no-credibility dept

People celebrating the "demise" of Gawker in being forced into bankruptcy by a questionable lawsuit and ruling from Hulk Hogan, financed by Peter Thiel, keep insisting that it has no real impact on the freedom of the press. And yet... things keep showing that's wrong. Gawker filed for bankruptcy and sold off its assets to media giant Univision, which agreed to close down the flagship Gawker site and redistribute some of the reporters to other sites. But late Friday, Univision management made another decision, and this one is horrific: they agreed to delete six stories on the site (with a seventh one being considered) because those stories were the subject of lawsuits against Gawker.

The reasoning given by Univision is that it only agreed to buy the assets of Gawker, not the liabilities, and keeping those stories posted gave it liability. First of all, this is wrong on the legal side of things. As Gawker's executive editor, John Cook (who fought this decision) notes, Univision doesn't take on the liability here:
Though the posts were published by Gawker Media, and therefore under the so-called “first publication rule” should only be the legal responsibility of the Gawker Media estate being left behind in the transaction, Unimoda’s legal analysis was that the continued publication of the posts under the new entitity would constitute the adoption of liability, and that Unimoda is therefore obligated to delete them.
But that's not the most disturbing thing here. The really problematic issue is that the stories that are being removed involve stories where the lawsuits are almost entirely completely bogus SLAPP suits designed to annoy Gawker, rather than with any serious legal basis -- for example, the two stories that Gawker published about Shiva Ayyadurai, the guy who keeps trying to convince the world that he invented email when he didn't. We've discussed Ayyadurai and his bogus claims many times, and also covered the lawsuit. There is no legitimate reason to take down those posts.

Perhaps even more incredible is that Univision also agreed to take down the story that nutty troll Chuck C. Johnson had filed a lawsuit against Gawker. That's a lawsuit that is so ridiculous it was laughed out of court in Missouri. And while Johnson filed a nearly identical lawsuit (including references to Missouri) in California, it was similarly going nowhere, and Johnson recently said that he'd dropped the case.

And yet Univision voted to delete the story anyway.

This is... bad. It's one thing to make a decision to pull a story once you've analyzed the situation and decided that the story has problems and should be pulled. But that's not what happened here. Univision execs flat out told Cook that this was solely about not taking on the liability. In other words, Univision has absolutely zero backbone to stand up for its journalists. That's shameful.

This move basically immediately does two things. First, it alerts anyone who wants a heckler's veto to threaten Univision with a lawsuit. Second, it should immediately cause any good journalist working for Univision or its properties (including Gawker and Fusion) to start looking for a new job elsewhere. If you can't have your publisher back you up on things like this, that's a dangerous place for a reporter to work. Kudos to Cook for trying to stand up to Univision, but if those execs wouldn't listen to him, the company's got really big problems.
I communicated to Felipe and Jay in the strongest terms that deleting these posts is a mistake, and that disappearing true posts about public figures simply because they have been targeted by a lawyer who conspired with a vindictive billionaire to destroy this company is an affront to the very editorial ethos that has made us successful enough to be worth acquiring. I told them that I am proud that this company refused to delete its accurate posts about Shiva Ayudurrai’s false claim to have invented the email system of communication, and that I am proud that our decision not to take down accurate posts about Mitch Williams’ meltdown at a children’s baseball game was vindicated by a federal judge, who ruled in our favor in his case against us. I am mortified to see them taken down now. We are at the center of an unprecedented assault on the ability of reporters and editors to challenge and critique public figures. While I believe that Univision is a company that values and defends aggressive, independent reporting, the decision to remove these posts is, in my view, at odds with its tradition of confronting bullies with honesty.
Univision just did a big thing badly. And it sullies the company's reputation and brand, and it makes all of the company's remaining journalistic staff look bad.

And, of course, this is the internet, where trying to make stuff disappear never works. I went over to archive.is soon after the announcement came out (and before the stories had been taken down) and every single one had been re-archived (many had been previously archived) within the previous hour. So if you're curious what was in the stories too hot for Univision's backboneless execs, here they are: This is why we need publications that don't back down in the face of SLAPP suits. This is why we need stronger anti-SLAPP laws (and a federal anti-SLAPP law). This is why we express concerns about billionaires ganging up to sue publications out of existence in a vengeance play. Publications are vulnerable, but they're supposed to stand up to bogus threats, not cave in out of fear.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2016 @ 6:48am

    People are foolish and corrtup.

    Everyone supporting the take-down of Gawker in the way it went down are Anti-American and have no standing to complain about the loss of their other liberties.

    The Gawker case is a perfect example of how to get sheeple to willingly give up their rights. Challenge them in the face of a dirt bag and watch people become unwilling to stand up for themselves out of fear of being associated with a lunatic. If you will not protect EVERYONE's rights, you deserve none because you have forfeited your own! You must protect a criminals rights so that the innocent will have them as well!

    America, land of intellect free, home of the mindless zombie slave!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2016 @ 8:04am

      Re: People are foolish and corrtup.

      Money is speech.
      Gawker ran out of speech.
      A picture is worth a thousand words. A video is worth...millions upon millions.


      Maybe money shouldn't equal speech?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Wendy Cockcroft, 13 Sep 2016 @ 5:53am

        Re: Re: People are foolish and corrupt

        Damn straight! I'm uncomfortable with publishing sex tapes, etc., but taking down a media outlet because it annoys you is flat out wrong.

        At no point and in now way am I defending Gawker's rather shady practices, but I'm not defending Thiel either. That Gawker might still be around if it hadn't published the Hogan tape is a moot point; Thiel would have pulled it down sooner or later, the idea was to keep suing until one of the suits won.

        This is scary. Think of any of the news blogs we like to read every day: HuffPo (not my thing but it's popular), Ars Technica, Wired... any of those could be taken down if they fall foul of a vindictive jerk and a judge who doesn't understand what the First Amendment really means. Defending our own rights often means defending the indefensible. I've never fully appreciated it until now.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nate (profile), 12 Sep 2016 @ 7:11am

    silence

    So basically I could silence all Gawker sites simply by writing a bot which threatened a lawsuit over each and every post?

    That's scary.

    P.S. It occurs to me that I wouldn't even need to code a bot; I think I could pull this off using only IFTTT.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 12 Sep 2016 @ 7:16am

    While this is scary and will inject moral into the thin skinned out there (Erdogan must be warming his cannons in the US eh?) I do think the 'market' will balance things out. As you said, any serious journalist will probably jump ship which will gradually lower the quality of the reporting and eventually attach Univision outfits the status of tabloids. Sure there will be some gullible people that will still think they are serious (see Fox News, Daily Mail and others) but it will be a general loss to Univision.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    kallethen, 12 Sep 2016 @ 7:23am

    And now Gawker is truly dead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2016 @ 7:31am

    I personally still think the concern over hulks case and thiels backing is overstated. Gawker danced on the edge of the law and morals for years and eventually got shot down - due in large part to their own disastrous statements and behaviour during the trial.

    However it's a real shame that legitimate cases can influence a lot of "ooh i can do that too" annoyance cases, and even more so that the new owners don't realise they could stand up against those ones.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2016 @ 8:13am

      Re:

      due in large part to their own disastrous statements and behaviour during the trial.

      That is damnable thinking right there.

      This is an excuse to ignore a greater wrong that was done, greater than the wrong that was "being corrected"... like using napalm to put out a brush fire!

      This is a poison that has seeped into the American Culture, and it is eating the Nation alive.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2016 @ 7:42am

    It sucks, but I might have made the same decision if I were running Univision. Expensive legal fights are often not what shareholders want.

    Anti-SLAPP laws are a great start. The bigger problem though, is that reporting news often isn't very profitable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2016 @ 8:26am

      Re:

      Lawyers need to be outlawed, that is the cure.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        TechDescartes (profile), 12 Sep 2016 @ 8:29am

        Re: Re:

        Yes, but then only outlaws will have lawyers.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Roger Strong (profile), 12 Sep 2016 @ 9:35am

        Re: Re:

        "Lawyers are just like any other people. There are good people and bad people. The people who come out the strongest against 'trial lawyers' are the big corporations' PR departments. They want the 'common folk' to think ill of lawyers, because the law -- as imperfect as it is -- is the only equalizer left. And it's being eroded rapidly. And people dissing lawyers all the time helps that process."
        - Lawyer on Slashdot


        Of course in the 15 years since that quote, here in Canada a least, things have changed. Lawyers are priced out of reach for much of the middle class. Self-representation is becoming the standard rather than the exception, against corporations and the wealthy who can afford them. The "equalizer" claim is no longer valid.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 12 Sep 2016 @ 7:48am

    Yeesh

    Nice to see that Mitch Williams is now "Wild Thing 2.0". What a great example for the kids.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2016 @ 8:08am

    I really cannot believe they took down the contested email inventor story. That really denotes univision as a spineless journalism rag

    But on the plus side, I'm sure the execs are breaking their hands patting each other on the back for acquiring this millennial news site. Way to capture those young eyeballs

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whatever(parody), 12 Sep 2016 @ 8:21am

    Techdirt has no backbone ... tries to defend Google for being so evil in fear of getting their secret funding pulled.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 12 Sep 2016 @ 9:29am

    here's a question I propose to everyone.

    What's the difference between reporting on shenanigans by Hulk Hogan, and shenanigans by Bill Clinton?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 12 Sep 2016 @ 9:49am

      Re:

      National importance.

      Clinton getting a BJ was declared to be of vital national importance by the Republicans. They did everything but demand that he get re-blown on the Senate floor. ("We must know exactly what happened!!!) Everything had to be done in public and under oath, and every word published.

      Contrast that with something NOT of national importance. 9/11 for example, and the investigation into what warnings the President received.

      The White House wanted to limit any appearance by the president to just one hour spent with two of the commissioners. Bush II did eventually meet with the Commission, but only under stringent conditions: Bush had to have Dick Cheney at his side, testifying at the same time; testimony was given in private and NOT UNDER OATH; no press coverage was allowed; and no recordings or transcripts were made of what they said.

      Hope This Helps!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2016 @ 9:37am

    Everyone can bitch all they want but they are now the owners of Gawker and all of its assets. They have the right to remove any content that Gawker created. SO STOP BITCHING ABOUT IT.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      kallethen, 12 Sep 2016 @ 10:00am

      Re:

      Yes, Univision does indeed have the right to remove those articles. But that doesn't mean we don't have the right to shame them for doing so.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 12 Sep 2016 @ 2:21pm

      Re:

      Just because the have the ability to remove the posts does not mean they have the ability to be free from criticism for doing so.

      I have the right to smash my hand with a hammer, that doesn't mean I have the right not to be called an idiot for doing so. Similarly they have the right to remove the stories, that doesn't mean they have the right not to be called out as spineless for doing so.

      Or put another way...

      TD has the right to write articles covering the spineless and legally baseless actions of the new owners of Gawker. SO STOP BITCHING ABOUT IT.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 12 Sep 2016 @ 5:34pm

      Re:

      Of course they have that right, but why should anyone stop bitching about it? Why would people not talk about such a stupid and dangerous move? Your suggestion is completely nonsensical.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 12 Sep 2016 @ 7:49pm

    Univisions lawyers figured out the basic concept that if they left the posts up, they would become liable too.

    See, Univision bought the properties but not the liabilities including the legal ones. Those people suing are going after Gawker Media, which is now effectively an empty shell. Univision is NOT part of those lawsuits.

    Removing a small number of stories (7, if I understand correctly) from the Univision sites means that they cannot be held liable for them. It's not about giving into people filing lawsuits, it's about getting away from a losing battle that they don't have to be part of.

    It's just logical, and has nothing to do with caving in or backing down, just being smart.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 13 Sep 2016 @ 5:51pm

      Re:

      Great job repeating a bunch of points made perfectly clear in the argument, while completely missing the actual issue of truthful articles being disappeared due to legal threats, i.e. SLAPP. It may be smart if you're a shortsighted lawyer type, but not if you have any concern for journalism.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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