Code Conference

TMZ's Harvey Levin says that traditional media is hypocritical for gloating about Peter Thiel's attempt to destroy Gawker

Noah Kulwin
Harvey Levin speaking at the 2016 Code Conference.
Asa Mathat | Vox Media

Harvey Levin, TMZ founder and executive producer, says that he turned down the Hulk Hogan sex tape that became the basis for the Peter Thiel-funded lawsuit to put Gawker Media out of business.

But even if publishing the tape didn't meet TMZ's standards, he thinks "traditional media" should hold off before casting stones at Gawker.

"There's a certain amount of chest-pounding that I've seen in some traditional media that I find really hypocritical," Levin said onstage Wednesday at the Code Conference. He went on to share a story about actor David Hasselhoff that he thinks captures the doublespeak.

More from Recode:
Harvey Levin: TMZ reported that Nancy Reagan died before her own daughter found out
Sheryl Sandberg: Peter Thiel isn't using Facebook resources to destroy Gawker, so it's not our problem
Jeff Bezos on Gawker vs. Peter Thiel: 'Develop a thick skin.'

"I'm thinking back to David Hasselhoff — I'm sure you remember the hamburger video," Levin told Recode editors Peter Kafka and Kara Swisher. The tape that Levin is referring to was a 2007 video of Hasselhoff drunkenly eating a hamburger off the floor, and it later made the rounds on a number of TV outlets.

"That video went everywhere. Everyone ran that video. There was no second-guessing about it," Levin said. "This was video that was taken at the behest of an alcoholic who went to his daughter, and he made a pact that if he fell off the wagon, [she would video him and] he would get scared straight."

"Her ex-boyfriend stole the tape, and sold it. Nobody ever said boo about that," Levin continued. "Yet they're chest-pounding on this. To me it was as invasive as the Hulk Hogan tape."

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and Palantir.
This is the biggest problem with billionaire Thiel's Gawker attack, Swisher says
Gawker CEO Nick Denton
Gawker Media exploring options, including potential sale: DJ

That said, Levin doesn't think Thiel putting his billions to use by funding lawsuits against Gawker is all that shady or strange.

"I have to say maybe I'm missing something. I don't understand the story behind that," Levin said. "It's like okay, so Hulk Hogan got financial help from some guy. The only issue is, is that disclosed to Hulk Hogan? I'm assuming he absolutely knew. I don't see the story there. As a lawyer it happens all the time."

"Do you get sued by billionaires, secretly or publicly?" Peter Kafka asked.

"Not secretly, and I can't think of a billionaire that has beef with us," Levin replied.

By Noah Kulwin,

CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode's parent Vox, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.