“Infamous” may overstate it. Gawker, which is now shuttered, wasn’t always famous. When I began reading it, not long after it was founded in 2003, the site — edited by Elizabeth Spiers — still felt like an New York media in-joke. What was funny to a newsroom may have not meant a thing to the outside world.
So, when I say infamous, I don’t mean Owen Thomas outing Peter Thiel or A.J. Daulerio on Hulk Hogan’s sex tape. By now, everyone has read about those stories – since they also contributed to its demise. The choices below are, for the most part, some deep cuts.
Laurel Touby’s JDate Profile (2004)
12 years ago, Touby, the founder of MediaBistro, married Jon Fine, now executive editor of Inc. Gawker’s then-editor, Jessica Coen, marked the occasion by getting ahold of Touby’s JDate profile. “We’re not going to draw attention to the following because we’re petty,” wrote Coen. “It’s really because we think Mediabistro founder Laurel Touby needs to update her profile.” (Touby had gotten married two months earlier and had forgotten to close her account.)
Alex Balk Accused of Antisemitism (2007)
Two years before he cofounded the Awl, Balk was editing Gawker and wrote a lyrical, heartfelt appreciation of one of the Jewish High Holy Days:
“Happy Rosh Hashanah, Jews! It’s time to celebrate the new year, eat apples and honey, blow the shofar, and, if you’re lucky, blow some cute single guy you hook up with in temple! Apparently, these holy days are the genesis of a two-week fuckfest amongst desperate single Jews who want to get their nagging mothers off their backs.”
This did not please the parasitic media watchdog NewBusters, which speculated that “Balk himself is probably Jewish.” Because, one supposes, he’s in the media? It’s an odd assumption!
Gawker Stalker Maps and Emily Gould (2006-08)
Gawker Stalker, a wonderful recurring item, was introduced in 2006. The purpose was straightforward — “we try visually pinpoint the location of every stalkworthy celebrity as soon as they’re spotted.” Well, that year Gawker asked: “When Isn’t Jimmy Kimmel Visibly Intoxicated?” A few months later, Kimmel berated Gould, who hadn’t written the item, live on Larry King.
Gawker vs. Scientology (2008)
That January, Denton posted a Scientology video in which Tom Cruise intoned, “We are the authorities on getting people off drugs. We are the authorities on the mind. … We are the way to happiness.” Pretty weird! “This video’s been passed around privately by reporters and writers investigating Cruise’s ties with Scientology,” Denton wrote. “Most reporters have been wary of taking on the Scientologists, because they have a history of both litigation, and the harassment of critics.” Well, Gawker was not wary. The Church sent its lawyers after the site, claiming copyright infringement, and were, more or less, ignored.
Gawker vs. Sarah Palin (2010)
Maureen O’Connor posted excerpts of Palin’s execrable book, America By Heart. The former half-term governor of Alaska was not pleased. “The publishing world is LEAKING out-of-context excerpts of my book w/out my permission?” she tweeted. “Isn’t that illegal?’
HarperCollins, Palin’s publisher, sued Gawker, and the pages were removed.
Christine O’Donnell’s One-Night Stand (2010)
O’Donnell, now all but forgotten, was a Tea Partier who quixotically attempted to unseat Joe Biden. Gawker published an anonymous account by “a 25-year-old Philadelphian” who claimed to have had spent a night with O’Donnell. “When her underwear came off,” he wrote, “I immediately noticed that the waxing trend had completely passed her by.”
The story was thrashed from all sides: David Carr, who loved Gawker, said it was “skeevy”; Amanda Hess called it “degrading” and “misogynist”; and Andrew Sullivan, who probably didn’t have a leg to stand on, called it a “cowardly, brutal and misogynist invasion of privacy.”
Bill O’Reilly’s Personal Police Force (2011)
Gawker was for a years a glorious thorn in the side of Fox News, particularly its star anchor, Bill O’Reilly. My favorite bombshell was this one, authored by John Cook:
“Last summer, Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly came to believe that his wife was romantically involved with another man. Not just any man, but a police detective in the Long Island community they call home. So O’Reilly did what any concerned husband would do: He pulled strings to get the police department’s internal affairs unit to investigate one of their own for messing with the wrong man’s lady.”
Fox seemed to anticipate the story, and the week before it was published the wildly successful morning show-for-the-feebleminded, Fox and Friends, attacked the site, claiming erroneously that Gawker’s traffic was down.
The Death of Andrew Breitbart, Celebrated (2012)
If you believe, as I do, that Andrew Breitbart and his approach to journalism was an unmitigated negative force, Gawker’s obituary for Breitbart, written by Jeb Lund and Dan O’Sullivan, was a breath of fresh air:
“Provocateur, website founder and collector of America’s largest wads of spittle Andrew Breitbart died last Thursday morning, when some sentient shred of his cardiac organ kamikazed out of an exhausted sense of justice.”
Few writers were so honest and withering, so this piece did not escape notice. The most amusing response came from Breitbart lackey Lee Stranahan, who called Lund and O’Sullivan “race-baiting liars” and challenged the pair to a debate. Even now, it’s not clear what race Stranahan meant or who, exactly, was being baited.
Rob Ford and Crack Cocaine (2013)
Gawker nailed this story. John Cook traveled to Toronto and watched a video of the city’s mayor smoking crack cocaine. The tape, however, was believed to have disappeared, so Gawker donated the money they’d raised to several charities.
The punchline: Ford died in March, but the video finally surfaced.
The Not-Chris Christie Porn (2014)
This one seemed like a longshot. Cook, again, reported on the existence of Sloppy Seconds Vol. V, which starred a man who, to a creepy degree, resembled Trump gofer Chris Christie. Sadly, concluded Gawker, this wasn’t the actual New Jersey governor. The tape, however, was not without value: “This is what it would look like if Chris Christie ever got into the porn business.”
Bristol Palin and Abortion (2015)
Oh boy, conservatives did not like this one. “Bristol Palin, who shocked America by showing up 16-and-pregnant to the Republican National Convention in 2008, is pregnant again,” wrote Allie Jones. She noticed something curious about Palin’s birth announcement: the “extreme dread at the thought of having another child,” and rightfully suggested that Palin had made a choice to deliver the child. Or, as the headline had it, “Bristol Palin Makes Great Argument for Abortion in Baby Announcement.”
Breitbart News, which has served as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s hagiographer, tore into Gawker, and gleefully made an ass of itself.