An audio tape in which Hulk Hogan uses vile language to describe black men is bad news for the wrestling star, who on Friday lost a three-decade contract with World Wrestling Entertainment. But it may bring good news for Gawker Media.
The embattled gossip site is facing a $100 million privacy lawsuit from Hogan over a sex tape and, last week, incurred widespread condemnation over a separate story involving an unnamed male escort trying to blackmail an executive at a major media company. The decision to publish and then remove the article prompted an internal meltdown at Gawker and also led some to suggest it would hurt the company’s chances with a jury in the Hogan case.
Now, the racist rant could help support Gawker’s defense: First, that Hogan is a public figure. Second, that the website had a First Amendment right to publish a short clip of the sex tape to prove its existence, and because Hogan’s behavior—including his having sex with the then-wife of a minor celebrity—is newsworthy. The woman in the tape is Heather Clem, who was at time married to Hogan’s friend, a Florida DJ known as Bubba the Love Sponge.
Now, it turns out the newly-unearthed audio tape involves Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, speaking to Clem in vulgar language about his daughter dating black men, including:
“I mean, I’d rather if she was going to f*** some n*****, I’d rather have her marry an eight-foot-tall n***** worth a hundred million dollars! Like a basketball player! I guess we’re all a little racist. Fucking n*****.”
The veracity of the audio tape, released by the National Enquirer, has been confirmed by several sources and by Hogan himself. On Friday, Hogan apologized and, shortly before the tape came out, tweeted a cryptic message that was quickly retweeted by Gawker owner Nick Denton:
In the storm I release control,God and his Universe will sail me where he wants me to be,one love. HH
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) July 24, 2015
All the controversy will boost Gawker’s public interest defense over the sex tape, as will a recent court order that forces the FBI to release still other tapes related to the Hogan circus.
This does not, of course, mean Gawker will prevail at the jury trial, which is scheduled for October. The case will be tried in Florida state court near Hogan’s hometown and the local jurors may side against New York-based Gawker, no matter what Hogan does or says.
But for now the release of the Hogan outburst is an unexpected boost for Gawker in one of its darkest hours.
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