So if you haven’t heard, last week Gawker decided to publish an article attempting to out the CFO of Condé Nast as a gay guy looking to have sex with a male porn star, or as Ace put it: “Gawker Staff Smears Feces On Itself, Boards a Schoolbus Loaded With Gasoline and Napalm, Then Intentionally Drives That Schoolbus Into a Cargo Train Transporting Toxic Waste and Retarded Clowns”
Realizing that trying to smear a guy who has zero newsworthy value not only infuriated some of their progressive audience but also put them in more financial peril, the managing partnership voted to remove the post over the objection of the entire editorial staff. As a result, the editor-in-chief of Gawker.com, Max Read, and the executive editor of Gawker Media, Tommy Craggs, decided to resign:
In letters sent today, Craggs and Read informed staff members that the managing partnership’s vote to remove a controversial post about the CFO of Condé Nast—a unprecedented act endorsed by zero editorial employees—represented an indefensible breach of the notoriously strong firewall between Gawker’s business interests and the independence of its editorial staff. Under those conditions, Craggs and Read wrote, they could not possibly guarantee Gawker’s editorial integrity.
Yes Gawker’s “editorial integrity” is legendary, and wouldn’t it just be unconscionable if the editorial staff were unable to guarantee more thrilling exposés like Hulk Hogan’s sex tape and Quentin Tarantino’s scripts. By breaching that firewall, management may even have made it impossible for the editors to ensure the names and addresses of evil disgusting gun owners get published again in the future.
Craggs explains further:
On Friday, I told my fellow managing partners—Nick Denton, founder and CEO; Heather Dietrick, president; Andrew Gorenstein, president of advertising and partnerships; Scott Kidder, chief operating officer; and Erin Pettigrew, chief strategy officer—I would have to resign if they voted to remove a story I’d edited and approved. The article, about the Condé Nast CFO’s futile effort to secure a remote assignation with a pricey escort, had become radioactive. Advertisers such as Discover and BFGoodrich were either putting holds on their campaigns or pulling out entirely.
(This isn’t the place to debate the merits of that story, other than to say that I stand by the post. Whatever faults it might have belong to me, and all the public opprobrium being directed at Jordan Sargent, a terrific reporter, should come my way instead.)
He also goes on at length about how this happened without his input. Strange that nobody would bother getting the opinion of the guy who so strongly believes in that post that he’s willing to resign if it they take it down.
The one surprising thing to come out of his statement is that Gawker still has major advertisers like Discover and BFGoodrich left after #GamerGate systematically drove them away from Gawker to the tune of $1 million+ last year. That was due in large part to the conduct of Max Read, who also fully supports this hit piece and is thoroughly disgusted with management’s unwillingness to set the building on fire with everyone in it:
On Friday a post was deleted from Gawker over the strenuous objections of Tommy and myself, as well as the entire staff of executive editors. That this post was deleted at all is an absolute surrender of Gawker’s claim to “radical transparency”; that non-editorial business executives were given a vote in the decision to remove it is an unacceptable and unprecedented breach of the editorial firewall, and turns Gawker’s claim to be the world’s largest independent media company into, essentially, a joke.
I am able to do this job to the extent that I can believe that the people in charge are able, when faced with difficult decisions, to back up their stated commitments to transparency, fearlessness, and editorial independence. In the wake of Friday’s decision and Tommy’s resignation I can no longer sustain that belief. I find myself forced to resign, effective immediately.
This was not an easy decision. I hope the partnership group recognizes the degree to which it has betrayed the trust of editorial, and takes steps to materially reinforce its independence.
They probably recognize it to the same degree that editorial recognizes it has betrayed the trust of everyone in the company who wants to remain employed.
What Craggs and Read fail to accept is that this is not an editorial board with a scoop of monumental importance who are being shut down by some squeamish money managers because the story rubs certain powerful interests the wrong way. They are defending a gutter trash post that would never have been written, much less put up, if the site had any integrity of any kind, editorial or otherwise, and if they actually did care about the writing staff and their fellow editors as they claim, they wouldn’t want to put the future of the entire company at risk by leaving it up there to be Exhibit B in Hogan’s lawsuit.
And in his response to the resignations, founder and CEO Nick Denton explained as much:
This Geithner story was legal, but it could not be justified to colleagues, family members and people we respect. Nor was there any way to explain it to journalists and opinion-makers who decide whether we deserve the great privilege of the profession, the First Amendment that protects our most controversial work. The episode had the potential to do lasting damage to our reputation as a company, and each of our own personal reputations.
The insistence the post remain up despite our own second thoughts: that represents an extreme interpretation of editorial freedom. It’s an abuse of the privilege. And it was my responsibility to step in to save Gawker from itself, supported by the majority of the Managing Partners.
Unfortunately for Denton, that lack of justification is the problem, not the potential legality, which is a bit of disclaimer no doubt thrown in there as a desperate attempt to mitigate some kind of liability for this thing if Geithner decides to sue them into the ground for it. And he should.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, it probably won’t bring down Gawker once and for all, even if there are rumblings among the #GamerGate crowd about taking another bite out of Gawker’s ad revenue by having a chat with its remaining advertisers, but maybe it’ll at least make it a little less profitable for them to peddle in this kind of garbage.
If you’d like to hear more from me, tune in to Their Finest Hour on Vigilant Liberty Radio tonight at 10 pm ET where I’ll be guest hosting for Allan Bourdius. We’ll be talking Ant-Man and other movies, and you’ll be able to interact with the show via the live chat. You can also follow me on Twitter @crankytrex or check out my other writing at buzzpo.com.