Gawkward Answers

The second week of the Hulk Hogan sex tape trial has seen the defendants – New York gossip blog, Gawker – attempt to justify publishing uncensored footage of Hulk Hogan having sex. So what exactly do they have to say for themselves?

If you want to read our coverage of Week One of this trial, you can catch up here.

Gossip is not always the easiest thing to defend. By its very nature, it involves publishing things that certain people are going to take exception to and Gawker Media currently find themselves in the invidious position of trying to justify their right to publish a video which shows Terry Bollea (the man known better to the world as Hulk Hogan) dipping his wick in his (former-)best friend’s wife.

After a week of hearing Hulk Hogan and friends put forward their case, Gawker has now been called upon to answer for its actions. To defend the public’s potential right to see Hulk Hogan’s pecker doing what it does best.

How do you make that defence? Here’s how the main players have made their own attempts this last week.

A.J. Daulerio

The Rogue Reporter

As both the Editor-in-Chief of gawker.com at the time, and the bylined author of the contentious article, A.J. Daulerio was perhaps the person best positioned to justify Gawker’s decision to run the Hulk Hogan sex tape story.

Or you’d have thought so, at least.

As we mentioned previously, Daulerio was more than a little reminiscent of Paul McMullan when giving evidence.

If you don’t remember Paul McMullan, he was the reporter who kept appearing everywhere as soon as the phone hacking scandal broke. You know, the one who held himself like a Dickensian caricature of a hack journalist. The permanently crumpled one, who looked as if he had been sleeping on a sofa, using his balled-up suit for a pillow. The one who accidentally-on-purpose managed to flash a picture of the French First Lady Carla Bruni’s tits on the stand while giving evidence. The one who famously declared that “Privacy is for paedos!” and used his entire testimony as a way to buzzmarket his pub in Dover – a move that even the most seasoned self-promoter would consider a touch gauche.

Remember?

Well, that was A.J. Daulerio. He was the one you may have heard was making jokes about child pornography in his deposition. The one who said – under oath, in front of both his and Hulk Hogan’s lawyers – that Gawker would only consider pulling a sex tape story if one of the participants was under the age of four.

You don’t need to have graduated magna cum laude from Harvard to appreciate that making cracks in a deposition about how happily you would post child pornography is a bad idea.

Unsurprisingly, it went down like a cold cup of sick in the courtroom too.

Correcting this little faux pas must have been the major reason Gawker called him to testify on the stand, because his answers for everything else weren’t particularly helpful.

Nick Denton (Gawker’s founder and CEO) had already branded Daulerio “a buccaneering fellow” (which struck us a polite way of saying “a fucking hand-grenade”) and Hulk Hogan’s legal team did their best to try to paint him as a reckless chancer, a loose cannon with scant regard for the law.

Given that this is exactly the sort of reputation that Daulerio has relished in cultivating, he played right into their hands.

During the course of his testimony and cross-examination, Daulerio not only failed to make a convincing case for the need to publish the video, he also confessed that:

– He had never really been a fan of Hulk Hogan, preferring to cheer for Rowdy Roddy Piper in the 1985 WrestleMania (making it look like this whole thing has been a grudge nearly thirty years in the making)

– He deliberately made sure that people could see Hulk Hogan’s penis in their edit of the sex tape (not having learned his lesson about being glib under oath, he told the jury he did so “because that’s sometimes what happens when two people have sex. There are body parts involved.”)

– He received a $2,000 bonus for the spike in traffic the story generated (despite Gawker’s insistence that spikes in traffic have no real financial benefit to the company)

– He didn’t give any thought to Hulk Hogan’s feelings and how it might affect him upon publication (despite the fact that one of the charges Hogan is bringing against Gawker is the negligent infliction of emotional distress)

Thankfully for him, his colleagues were able to put forward a slightly more sympathetic case…

Emma Carmichael

The Conflicted Editor

Emma Carmichael was the Managing Editor of gawker.com at the time the Hulk Hogan sex tape story was published; A.J. Daulerio’s #2.

Though she was less actively responsible for the publication, Carmichael was one of the few people who saw the tape and the article before publication and feasibly had the necessary authority to spike the story before it went live. So why didn’t she?

Carmichael maintains – and has always maintained – that the story is newsworthy. Hulk Hogan is a public figure who has traded on the secret details of his sex life when it suited him, so his private life is now of legitimate public interest. She says she has no regrets about publishing it, and has claimed – in both her deposition and her testimony – that, were history to repeat itself, she would publish the story all over again.

Here’s where she came unstuck though.

In the years since the Hulk Hogan story was published, Carmichael has taken on a new job within the Gawker Media empire. In June 2014, she became Editor-in-Chief of the Gawker Media site, Jezebel.

Jezebel is Gawker Media’s female-focused imprint – a site with the strapline “Celebrity, Sex and Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing.”  Among the many stories and topics that Jezebel has covered, they have written and published a number of pieces which have been very critical both of revenge porn and the great celebrity nude photo leak of 2014 – many of which were published under Carmichael’s reign.

Hogan’s lawyers didn’t need to do much to make this little discrepancy in her ideology clear.

Carmichael’s credibility as the Editor-in-Chief of Jezebel depends on her being vocally and vehemently anti-revenge porn. However, Gawker’s future depends on her insisting that publishing Hulk Hogan’s illicitly-obtained sex tape is justifiable journalism.

It’s a rather unenviable tightrope to have to walk. On one hand, Gawker’s staff has been forced to admit they made absolutely no effort to check the source of this tape, or the motives of the mole who sent it to them. We know for a fact that the tape was recorded by Bubba The Love Sponge – who is the ex-partner of Heather Cole (the woman depicted in the tape). It bears all the hallmarks of a revenge porn story, yet Carmichael is having to avoid acknowledging this.

Given the circumstances, she managed to manoeuvre her way out of this spot about as deftly as was possible – but it may have all been for nothing, as when the jury were given the opportunity to put questions to her, one juror thought it was pertinent to ask if she had ever slept with either of her bosses: A.J. Daulerio or Nick Denton.

Again, this puts Carmichael in a difficult spot. The question could be seen as being a totally inappropriate and wildly sexist thing to ask a female witness, if you are not asking the same questions of your male witnesses. On the other, she can’t kick up too much of a fuss about it – as you can’t very well claim that such personal information is not in anyone’s interest when you yourself are trying to defend publishing video footage of Hulk Hogan balls deep in his best friend’s wife.

So far, not a great showing for Gawker. Maybe their founder and CEO is the man to turn things around?

Nick Denton

The Money Maker

Presumably Hogan’s lawyers knew that Nick Denton, the company’s CEO, was going to be a cooler customer than his colleagues. That’s why they sent in their big bruiser to cross-examine him: Ken Turkel.

Up to this point, most of the questioning on both sides had been fairly measured and calm. Ken Turkel, however, went in with both big, hammy fists swinging.

If it was an attempt to intimidate Denton, it didn’t work. In fact, Denton was so comfortable in the hot seat, he occasionally found himself leaning back so far that his microphone ceased to pick him up.

Turkel’s main angle seemed to be to paint Denton as a cavalier, profiteering pornographer. A man who earns his crust from a media empire which habitually posts lascivious and licentious material. A man who once ran a blog which dealt exclusively in pornography (Fleshbot). A man who has made so much money from filth, he has wads of the stuff to burn on his friend’s side-projects and start-ups – all funds acquired from immoral means.

It didn’t really wash though.

Partly this was because Turkel tried so hard to sound incensed about the most minor details of the case, that he came across as being rather unreasonable, while Denton managed to maintain a sense of composure and perspective.

Largely though, it fell apart because of Turkel’s big set piece.

Turkel’s grand finale was to have Denton read out long, filthy passages of the original Hulk Hogan article.

The goal, clearly, was to humiliate him. To have Denton first swear under oath that he thought the story was actually “sweet” and “humanising” – and then have him describe, at length, Heather Clem spitting on Hulk Hogan’s dick.

Now, Denton wasn’t responsible for writing the piece. He didn’t give sign-off. He wasn’t the one to click ‘Publish’. The only involvement Denton had was that he ultimately bankrolled it. Yet here he was having to read out long sections of it like it was some sort of X-rated Jackanory.

Turkel picked out the juiciest passages too. In them,  Nick Denton had to say “slow, dutiful blowjob”. He had to say “Your dick feels so good inside me”. He had to say “a condom full of Hulk jizz”.

(If you’re in the mood to hear this for yourself, fill your boots.)

Turkel even goaded Denton into reading it in “his most humanising tones”, thinking that it wouldn’t be possible for Denton to pull it off. But, actually, despite the whole thing being undeniably awkward, he kind of managed it.

Had Denton had the voice of A.J. Daulerio – a tough, meaty American accent – Turkel’s tactic may have worked wonders. Daulerio may have made the text sound seedy and sleazy. However, in Denton’s crisp British lilt, it sounded borderline refined.

But, arguably, Denton’s most successful moment was getting a point across that neither Daulerio nor Carmichael could quite manage effectively. Daulerio was too brutish to do it, Carmichael was too compromised, but Denton was just right.

When asked about whether he considered the embarrassment the story might have caused Hulk Hogan, Denton said: “I think doing the job of a journalist would be unbearable if one was to always put oneself in the shoes of a subject.”

Heather Cole

The Forgotten Woman

It’s honestly quite astonishing how little Heather Cole (formerly Heather Clem; ex-wife of Bubba The Love Sponge, and Hulk Hogan’s co-star in the video) has been mentioned in this case.

If you dozed off for a minute when the tape was explained at the outset of the hearing, you might well think that the video under discussion was of Hulk Hogan having sex with a ghost – such is the lack of attention paid to her.

Legally speaking, it does make a certain sort of sense that she’s been overlooked. The suit is between Terry Bollea [Hulk Hogan] and Gawker Media. It doesn’t really concern Heather Clem. Had she chosen to sue Gawker Media, she’d no doubt have been mentioned a lot more. As she hasn’t, both sides in Bollea v Gawker Media have been in a slight stand-off, knowing that any attempt by either side to invoke her name to further their argument would doubtless get shouted down with a barrage of objections.

But here’s what’s interesting. Heather Clem’s deposition has been entered as evidence in the case by Gawker. Although she talks in detail in her deposition about how she had no idea the tape was being made, how she had no idea that the taped had been leaked, and how angry, upset and ashamed she was when she found out about the video’s existence – looking every bit the victim of a serious breach of privacy – Gawker still feels that her heartbreaking testimony bolsters their case.

What’s even more interesting is they might actually be right.

So much of the case up until this point had been focused on the nature of online journalism. Heather Clem’s deposition has shown that the wider story surrounding the sex tape, its recording and its eventual leak is incredibly strange. This is not just the simple tale of a video made between two consenting adults which was intended for private use that got leaked.  There is something weird going on – and the full picture is being obscured.

Bubba The Love Sponge is refusing to testify. There is a cache of documents that Hogan wanted sealed, but that the presiding judge has been ordered (by Florida’s Second Distrcit Court of Appeals) to unseal. Hogan’s legal team are trying to bar their release, but it’s not clear why.

This is proving Nick Denton’s earlier point about all of the things that are kept away from the public. The secret locked doors; the elite access. A huge mass of information that is possibly pertinent to the case is being kept from view. Gawker made it its mission statement to bust open these sorts of secrets to the best of their ability. To stop to the rich and the powerful from hiding what they want hidden.

The jury is now starting to see, firsthand, this machine in action.

Cole’s video evidence is not an easy watch. She sounds vulnerable and on the verge of tears for most of it. This all has clearly taken a horrendous toll on her. But what it shows is that there is more to this story than just LOOK AT HULK HOGAN’S DICK GOING IN AND OUT OF SOMEONE! There is something deeply unusual about everything involved in this. The more that gets discussed, the more newsworthy the story appears to become.

Gawker may have waded into this with all the sensitivity and subtlety of a sledgehammer, but Heather Cole’s evidence is showing that they may well have been on to something.

Does that still excuse Gawker from publishing the sexually explicit segments from it?

The jury will soon decide.

The case continues…