The Gawker lawsuit, financed in secret by by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, is the latest example of the rich using wealth and influence to get back at journalists who report critically on them. The Koch brothers hired private investigators to dig up dirt on a journalist who was writing a book about them. Another wealthy person founded a his own news site for the purpose of going after journalists who criticized him.
Targets of media have always sought to retaliate, but the means of fighting back has reached mass scale. An entire industry has been created, some of it underground, some of it wide open, all of it aimed at discrediting a journalist’s critical take. Companies and interest groups, often coached by aggressive PR firms, are investing in bare-knuckled strategies to give their media rebuttals more teeth and a wider audience. They launch negative online ad campaigns against particular journalists and master the art of ensuring their stories reach Google’s top rankings. In some cases, the goal is as explicit as ruining a journalist’s reputation, so that when someone types the writer’s name into a Google search, a page full of humiliating, defamatory content appears.
[Damaris Colhoun/Columbia Journalism Review]