A billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur was outed as being gay by a media organization. His friends suffered at the hands of the same gossip site. Nearly a decade later, the entrepreneur secretly financed a lawsuit to try to put the media company out of business.
That is the bizarre and astounding back story to a legal case that had already grabbed headlines: The wrestler Hulk Hogan sued Gawker Media for invasion of privacy after it published a sex tape, and a Florida jury recently awarded the wrestler, whose real name is Terry Gene Bollea, $140 million.
What the jury did not know — nor the public — was that Mr. Hogan had a secret benefactor paying for the lawsuit, to the tune of about $10 million: Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and one of the earliest investors in Facebook.
A 2007 article published by Gawker, "Peter Thiel is totally gay, people," and a series of articles about his friends and others that he said "ruined people's lives for no reason" drove Mr. Thiel to mount a clandestine war against Gawker, funding a team of lawyers to find and help "victims" of the company's coverage to mount cases against Gawker.
"It's less about revenge and more about specific deterrence," he said in his first interview since his identity was revealed. "I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest."
Mr. Thiel said that Gawker published articles that were "very painful and paralyzing for people who were targeted." He said, "I thought it was worth fighting back."
Mr. Thiel added: "I can defend myself. Most of the people they attack are not people in my category. They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can't defend themselves. He said that "even someone like Terry Bollea who is a millionaire and famous and a successful person didn't quite have the resources to do this alone."