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Thursday, May 26, 2016

A couple of comments about Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel. (Creative Commons photo by Dan Taylor). 

I have written other blog posts about Peter Thiel, noting that the Silicon Valley zillionaire has funded a number of causes that were advocated by Robert Anton Wilson, such as life extension, space exploration and free speech; see for example my blog posting here.  Thiel has been much in the news lately, so I'll comment on his latest mentions in the press.

It was reported a few weeks ago that Thiel is a Donald Trump delegate. This is disappointing and surprising news in what has been a disappointing political year. Maybe in the next few weeks, everyone else I like will become a Donald Trump supporter, too, and I'll be the last holdout. I don't think my wife or Arthur Hlavaty or Jesse Walker will endorse Trump, but it's become harder and harder to be surprised by anything this year.

Then news came that Thiel secretly funded the Hulk Hogan lawsuit against Gawker.  That didn't bother me.

I think a useful way to think about this is to compare two quotes from the New York Times story about Thiel's involvement. Here's Thiel:

“I can defend myself. Most of the people they attack are not people in my category. They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can’t defend themselves.” He said that “even someone like Terry Bollea who is a millionaire and famous and a successful person didn’t quite have the resources to do this alone.”

And here is Gawker publisher Nick Denton:

“Just because Peter Thiel is a Silicon Valley billionaire, his opinion does not trump our millions of readers who know us for routinely driving big news stories including Hillary Clinton’s secret email account, Bill Cosby’s history with women, the mayor of Toronto as a crack smoker, Tom Cruise’s role within Scientology, the N.F.L. cover-up of domestic abuse by players and just this month the hidden power of Facebook to determine the news you see.”

(The whole Times article is worth reading). 

Can anyone doubt that Thiel is speaking honestly and from the heart, and that Nick Denton is giving us spin and deception? The Hogan case has nothing to do with Facebook. It has nothing to do with any of the stories Denton mentioned, which all strike me as legitimate news stories. It is not, for me, a freedom of the press issue.

It has everything to do with publishing a sex tape to make money, or outing someone as gay who doesn't want to be outed to make money.  Or the "outing" story on Gawker last year that inspired widespread criticism. I don't want to get too specific because doing so would compound what Gawker did, but if you follow news about Gawker you know what I mean. I'm sure Nick Denton does.

Tyler Cowen weighs in.