Peter Thiel, whose early stakes in companies like PayPal Holdings Inc. and Facebook Inc. made him a billionaire, has reason to hate online media company Gawker.
Thiel compared Gawker's sardonic tech blog Valleywag to the terrorist group Al Qaeda in 2009. Valleywag had taken every opportunity to bash tech companies, including Facebook, for privacy, security and cultural issues. It also published a story describing Peter Thiel as gay before he had publicly discussed his sexuality.
Now, it turns out, Thiel may have found a way to get back at the media company. Thiel at least partially funded a lawsuit against Gawker that could cost the New York company $140 million, Forbes reported Tuesday, citing anonymous sources. Thiel did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
The case involves former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, who said he was stricken and humiliated when Gawker published a sex tape showing him in bed with a friend's wife. In March, a Florida jury sided with Hogan and awarded the damages. Gawker is challenging the ruling.
On Monday, Gawker founder Nick Denton told the New York Times that he suspected a bigwig in Silicon Valley had bankrolled Hogan's case, but he did not name Thiel.
"If you're a billionaire and you don't like the coverage of you, and you don't particularly want to embroil yourself any further in a public scandal, it's a pretty smart, rational thing to fund other legal cases," Denton said.
Denton said the suspicions grew out of the fact that Hogan's legal team dropped a claim that would have enabled their client to get damages from Gawker's insurer. The decisions are expected to lead to a smaller payout to Hogan, but one bankrolled entirely by Gawker. This tactic suggested to Denton that money wasn't the only thing Hogan's team was after.
Since the verdict, Hogan, whose given name is Terry Bollea also has sued Gawker for releasing sealed court documents in which he is quoted making racist remarks. Hogan's Los Angeles-based lawyer, Charles Harder, didn't respond to requests to comment.
Thiel is far from the only person who might consider Gawker an enemy. Information leaked to Gawker has helped its family of websites take shots at politicians and corporate executives. Denton himself has acknowledged that Gawker's confrontational approach and snarky tone have at times gone too far; last year he pledged to make the company's flagship site "20% nicer."