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Gawker’s New Owner Deletes Six Posts Involved in Lawsuits

Nick Denton
David Orrell | CNBC
Nick Denton

Executives at Univision, which bought Gawker Media last month for $135 million, voted on Friday to remove six posts previously published by Gawker Media sites. The posts, which were taken down on Saturday, are involved incontinuing legal action.

In a memo to the staff, John Cook, executive editor of Gawker Media, wrote that two Univision executives, Felipe Holguin and Jay Grant, explained that they had proposed deleting seven posts, which appeared on the Gawker sites Deadspin, Gizmodo or Jezebel, because they were "under active litigation against Gawker Media and that Unimoda had been authorized only to purchase the assets, and not the liabilities, of the company." (Unimoda is a subsidiary of Univision.)

"Unimoda's legal analysis was that the continued publication of the posts under the new entity would constitute the adoption of liability, and that Unimoda is therefore obligated to delete them," Mr. Cook added.

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The Univision executives voted to remove six posts, while Mr. Cook voted to keep all seven online, he said. One of the seven posts, which contains a photo that is the subject of a copyright complaint, will remain online for now. A decision on whether to remove that post has been postponed pending further legal analysis.

In a statement, Univision said, "At this time of transition, the decision was based on a desire to have a clean slate as we look to support and grow the editorial missions of the acquired brands."

The decision to remove the posts was reported earlier by Gizmodo.

Univision's decision to delete the posts was a clear signal that the company does not want to deal with any of the legal baggage that comes with owning Gawker Media.

In March, a Florida jury ruled against Gawker Media in an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit by the former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, whose real name is Terry G. Bollea, and awarded him $140 million. Not long after the trial, Peter Thiel, a billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur, revealed in an interview with The New York Times that he had secretly funded Mr. Bollea's case and others against Gawker Media, though he did not say which ones. The judgment, and the threat that Mr. Thiel could keep bankrolling legal actions, proved to be too much for Gawker, and in June, the company filed for bankruptcy and put itself up for sale.

Univision won an auction for Gawker Media in August but decided it wouldnot continue to operate Gawker.com, Gawker Media's flagship site, which had faced perhaps the most criticism of any Gawker Media property.

The deleted posts include two that were published by Gizmodo in 2012 about the claim by a man named Shiva Ayyadurai that he had invented email. Mr. Ayyadurai filed a lawsuit this year against Gawker; Nick Denton, the company's founder; and two Gawker journalists, Mr. Cook and Sam Biddle, contending that articles that cast doubt on Mr. Ayyadurai's claims were defamatory. Charles J. Harder, who represented Mr. Bollea in the lawsuit against Gawker, is representing Mr. Ayyadurai in the lawsuit. It is not clear if Mr. Thiel is providing financial support for the case. (Mr. Harder is also representing Roger Ailes, the former chairman of Fox News, in potential litigation against New York magazine, and Melania Trump, the wife of the Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, in a libel lawsuit against The Daily Mail.)

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Source: Gawker

Other Gawker Media posts that have been removed include two about Mitch Williams, a baseball analyst and former major league pitcher; one about a conservative blogger; and another that called a man acquitted of sexual assault charges a rapist.

In place of the posts, a note reads, "This story is no longer available as it is the subject of pending litigation against the prior owners of this site." The comments about the original post remain.

In his memo, Mr. Cook wrote that the posts would be removed under a provision in Gawker's collective bargaining agreement that states: "Once a story has been posted, it can only be removed by a majority vote of the executive editor, the C.E.O. and the general counsel, unless required by law." The provision was written into the contract between Writers Guild of America, East, and Gawker Media when Gawker Media's editorial employees unionized, before Gawker put itself up for sale.

Mr. Cook also wrote that Mr. Holguin, the chief operating officer of the Fusion Media Group, a division of Univision, had been appointed interim chief executive of Gawker Media, and Mr. Grant, the general counsel of Fusion Media, had been named the company's interim general counsel.

The decision to delete the posts was met with anger and indignation on social media by current and former Gawker employees. "This," Mr. Cook wrote on Twitter shortly after midnight on Saturday, "would have been a good Gawker post."