Gawker has occasionally provided quality journalism and entertainment. That doesn't stop me from despising its amoral and repulsive ethos. Gawker's utter destruction produces a feeling of glee in my guts but disquiet in my heart. As I've written before, I'm not sure that the ruinous verdict against Gawker was just, I don't think that the amount of damages awarded was defensible, and I'm concerned that the result was a product of the brokenness of our legal system.
But observers seem eager to push the wrong message about that brokenness. The scary part of the story isn't that the occasional vengeful billionaire might break the system and overwhelm even a well-funded target with money. Such people exist, but getting sued by them is like getting hit by lightning. No, for most of us the scary part of the story is that our legal system is generally receptive to people abusing it to suppress speech. Money helps do that, but it's not necessary to do it. A hand-to-mouth lunatic with a dishonest contingency lawyer can ruin you and suppress your speech nearly as easily as a billionaire. Will you prevail against a malicious and frivolous defamation suit? Perhaps sooner if you're lucky enough to be in a state with a good anti-SLAPP statute. Or perhaps years later. Will you be one of the lucky handful who get pro bono help? Or will you be like almost everyone else, who has to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect your right to speak, or else abandon your right to speak because you can't afford to defend it?
The system isn't just broken for affluent publications targeted by billionaires. It's broken for everyone, and almost everyone else's speech is at much greater risk. Don't point to Peter Thiel as an exception. He's just a vivid and outlying expression of the rule.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- The Proud Boy And The Sockpuppet - July 21st, 2017
- Ted Rall Is Incensed That Anti-SLAPP Laws Protect Everyone - July 18th, 2017
- The Popehat Signal: Anti-SLAPP Help Needed in California - July 14th, 2017
- Texas Attorney Jason L. Van Dyke: Fraudulent Buffoon, Violence-Threatening Online-Tough-Guy, Vexatious Litigant, Proud Bigot, And All Around Human Dumpster Fire - July 9th, 2017
- CNN, Doxing, And A Few Ways In Which We Are Full of Shit As A Political Culture - July 5th, 2017