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Peter Thiel says journalism will be just fine, since he’ll decide what’s good journalism

Edmund Lee
Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, delivers a speech during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
Getty Images

Peter Thiel is a billionaire who decided he didn't like Gawker Media after it outed him as gay. So he funded Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against the company, and they won. Now Gawker is selling itself in a bankruptcy auction.

On the same day that bids for Gawker are due, Thiel published an op-ed in the New York Times as a sort of victory lap, but also to muster votes for a bill wending its way through Congress known as the Intimate Privacy Protection Act. More commonly known as the revenge-porn bill, it would make it illegal to transmit private images and messages.

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Thiel cleverly referred to it by a lesser-known nickname, the Gawker Bill.

But the most interesting part of Thiel's editorial is what he says about the need for a free press:

A free press is vital for public debate. Since sensitive information can sometimes be publicly relevant, exercising judgment is always part of the journalist's profession. It's not for me to draw the line, but journalists should condemn those who willfully cross it. The press is too important to let its role be undermined by those who would search for clicks at the cost of the profession's reputation.

The thing is, he has drawn a line.

By funding Hogan's lawsuit (as well as anyone else willing to take Gawker on), he crafted his own mechanism for deciding what is and isn't fair journalism.

He also says he's proud of his role in funding suits against Gawker and ominously states he'd happy to continue to do so:

For my part, I am proud to have contributed financial support to his case. I will support him until his final victory — Gawker said it intends to appeal — and I would gladly support someone else in the same position.

Thiel feels his privacy was invaded, and he's free to file a lawsuit — but, tellingly, he hasn't.

Instead, Thiel decided to determine what should and shouldn't qualify as journalism itself — it's the classic Silicon Valley pretension to attempt to own the definition, to write its own narrative, devoid of context or skepticism.

Smart publishers will react to Thiel's call to arms in a similar vein to the closing words of his editorial: He can't do it, if we don't let him.

Gawker should have new owners by tomorrow.

By Edmund Lee,

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