On Thursday night, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel made history by becoming the first speaker at a Republican National Convention to declare that he was “proud to be gay.” Thiel made headlines earlier this year when he confirmed to The New York Times that he personally spent $10 million to secretly fund a controversial lawsuit by wrestler Hulk Hogan against Gawker Media. Hogan sued the company for invasion of privacy after Gawker posted a sex tape, and in May a jury awarded the wrestler $140 million, forcing Gawker to declare bankruptcy. Thiel set his eyes on Gawker after the site published a 2007 article headlined “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.” We are joined by Sam Biddle, technology reporter at The Intercept, formerly at Gawker, who has followed Thiel closely.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Well, last night, the last night of the convention, PayPal co-founder and billionaire investor Peter Thiel made history by becoming the first speaker at a Republican National Convention to declare that he was proud to be gay.
PETER THIEL: When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union. And we won. Now we are told—now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares? Of course, every American has a unique identity. I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all, I am proud to be an American.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Peter Thiel speaking Thursday night. Earlier this year, Thiel made headlines when he confirmed to The New York Times he personally spent $10 million to secretly fund a controversial lawsuit by wrestler Hulk Hogan against Gawker Media. Hogan sued the company for invasion of privacy after Gawker posted a sex tape. In May, a jury awarded the wrestler $140 million. It was a decision that shocked many in the media. Gawker was forced to declare bankruptcy. In response, Wired ran an article titled “Gawker’s Bankruptcy is How a Free Press Dies.” Thiel set his eyes on Gawker after the site published a 2007 article headlined “Peter Thiel is Totally Gay, People.”
To talk more about Peter Thiel, we’re joined in New York by Sam Biddle, technology reporter at The Intercept. He is a former reporter at Gawker. One of his recent articles was headlined “Forget Trump: Peter Thiel is So Dangerous and Fascinating You Have to Watch Him Tonight”
Sam Biddle, welcome to Democracy Now!
SAM BIDDLE: Thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about who Sam—talk about who Peter Thiel is.
SAM BIDDLE: Well, Peter Thiel is known mostly for co-founding PayPal, as he trumpeted on stage last night, but also for being the first investor in Facebook. He also—so those are his business credentials. He’s now a pretty massive venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.
AMY GOODMAN: And tell us what happened. What is this—how did he take down Gawker?
SAM BIDDLE: Well, he spent a lot of his money to secretly fund lawsuits that would be ruinous for any organization. I mean, even frivolous lawsuits cost money to defend, and when you’re facing multiple suits, especially, it’s a pretty fail-safe way of destroying an organization.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about his speech, the history he made, coming out as gay at a Republican National Convention, the significance of this? And talk further about his background.
SAM BIDDLE: Sure. Well, his background, ideologically, is all over the place. He has stated that democracy and freedom are incompatible. He’s said that women should have never had the right to vote in the United States. He believes in the construction of man-made islands, where the U.S. government has no sovereignty. And now he’s a Trump delegate, which I think is really a natural progression in a series of fringe, silly, radical ideas.
You know, look, I think it’s great to see anyone saying they’re proud to be gay on a stage. I think that the choice of the Republican National Convention stage is a little puzzling. I mean, he is speaking before a crowd of people whose official platform is that men like himself should not have the same rights in American society. I mean, I guess you’d have to ask him how he’s able to reconcile that. But, you know, as nice as it was to see that moment and the applause that came with it, you have to remember the history and direction of the Republican Party. And then he followed that immediately by dismissing transgender rights as a distraction. So, I’m not really sure how progressive any of that really was.
AMY GOODMAN: In 2009, Peter Thiel suggested American democracy suffered when the right to vote was extended to women?
SAM BIDDLE: That’s—yes, that’s right. I mean—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain.
SAM BIDDLE: Well, I mean, what can you say? I mean, he is—I believe he said the last time he could speak optimistically—I’m paraphrasing here—about American politics was the 1920s. America was a very different and, in many ways, dramatically worse place for a lot of people. Women and any non-white group, Jews—it was a tough time in the United States. And, you know, civil rights didn’t really exist. There was no such movement. So, to harken back to that as a romantic period in American history, I think, shows you what kind of person Thiel is and what sort of values he holds, which are—it’s great to be a white billionaire.
AMY GOODMAN: Sam Biddle, what’s been the reaction in the media to Thiel’s funding of the Gawker lawsuit?
SAM BIDDLE: I think even people who are critical of Gawker—and there are many—are terrified. I mean, he has presented a blueprint for anyone with enough money to silence a critical voice, to silence the critical press. I mean, you can now, it’s been demonstrated, spend enough money to put a journalistic outlet out of business or, if not out of business, disrupt them. So, I mean, the reaction in the media that I’ve seen—and again, coming from people who have never liked Gawker—is, you know, we could be next. And they could be next. It could come from the left or the right.
AMY GOODMAN: What about Donald Trump’s attitude to a free press?
SAM BIDDLE: Well, that’s, of course, one area where Thiel and Trump are totally aligned. Trump has said he wants to “open up” libel laws to make it easier to sue media outlets for ruinous amounts of money. I mean, no one’s really sure what opening up libel laws even means. And, of course, public figures can sue for defamation under the current system. But, you know, Trump has made a villain out of the press. I mean, he has called for boos against reporters at his rallies. He has repeatedly, on Twitter, demonized CNN and The Washington Post, etc. Whenever he says something foolish or extreme, his first—his scapegoat is the press. I think he has done a lot to make things in this country even more hostile towards the media than they were ever.
AMY GOODMAN: Sam Biddle, we want to thank you for being with us, technology reporter at The Intercept—
SAM BIDDLE: My pleasure.
AMY GOODMAN: —former reporter at Gawker. That does it for our show. We are wrapping up here in Cleveland, and we are going to move on to Philadelphia. I’ll be doing a talk back from the conventions, two talks: Friday, July 29th, in Provincetown Town Hall, and the 30th in Martha’s Vineyard Old Whaling Church.