The drama between investor Peter Thiel and gossip website Gawker may have split the tech world, but the media is, as far as I can tell, unanimously against him. Even WaPo owner Jeff Bezos told Thiel that he should be spending his time in more contstructive ways.
There’s good reason for that reaction; of course no media company wants to be on the receiving end of a protracted lawsuit from a billionaire, just because they wrote something about him that he didn’t like. It could have a chilling effect on who, and what, gets written about.
If you look hard enough, though, you’ll usually find an outlier or two, who are willing to take up the opposite viewpoint. In this case it is L. Gordon Crovitz, former publisher of The Wall Street Journal and former executive vice-president of Dow Jones. While he didn’t seem to be in favor of Thiel, he did find the silver lining in what he had done.
Namely, that Thiel had accidentally exposed corruption in the legal system to a press that had long been ignoring them.
“Why did it take so long for journalists to discover abuses of the legal system that torment every other industry?” wrote Crovitz over the weekend, before detailing how a lawsuit like Thiel’s would have actually been illegal before the laws were changed in the mid 20th century.
Basically, there was a thing called “maintenance,” something that dated all the way back to the time of feudal lords, which stopped them from meddling in lawsuits they weren’t involved in. That changed in the 1960s when, as Crovitz puts it “lawyers persuaded policy makers that funding to encourage more litigation was good for society.”
As a result, the number of lawsuits exploded, and lawyers started making a lot of money, “funding everything from mass tort claims by plaintiff lawyers to endless lawsuits by patent trolls against technology companies.”
Another part of the problem that Thiel exposed is the way the American justice system is set up. I honestly didn’t even know this, but, apparently, in many other countries, whoever loses the suit has to pay the legal bills of those who won. Not so in the U.S., meaning that Gawker, even if it won, still would have had to pay enormous legal fees. Thiel didn’t even have to win to potentially drive them out of business. That’s a scary thought.
So why hasn’t the press covered all of these potential problems and abuses within the legal system? According to Crovitz, it’s because the press doesn’t typically have to deal with these kinds of issues.
“The Constitution usually shields journalists from litigation, but that immunity too often blinds the news industry to abuses in the legal system,” he said.
“The Gawker case’s lesson for journalists isn’t that they deserve protections beyond the First Amendment, but that they should do a better job reporting the abuses committed through a legal system that makes it so easy to achieve injustice.”
I suppose that, whether you agree with Thiel’s actions against Gawker, and especially if you don’t, you still have to thank him for inadvertantly doing a public service and finally exposing some potential corruptions of the legal process.
The question now is, since these things have come to light, will we actually do anything to stop them?
(Image source: inc.com)