Online blog Gawker has removed a post that outed the chief financial officer of media group Conde Nast, David Geithner, with Gawker founder Nick Denton saying he regretted the decision to publish it.
On Thursday evening last week (US time) Gawker published a post about Geithner which allegedly said he was texting a male escort, making plans to meet up, according to The Huffington Post. However when the escort found out who Geithner was Geithner allegedly cancelled the meeting, but still paid in full. The escort then went to Gawker and Gawker published the story.
On the removal of the post on Friday, Gawker’s Denton issued a statement, saying publishing the story was a “decision I regret”.
“It was an editorial call, a close call around which there were more internal disagreements than usual. And it is a decision I regret,” Denton wrote.
“The story involves extortion, illegality and reckless behavior, sufficient justification at least in tabloid news terms. The account was true and well-reported. It concerns a senior business executive at one of the most powerful media companies on the planet.
“In the early days of the internet, that would have been enough. ‘We put truths on the internet.’ That has been the longstanding position of Gawker journalists, some of the most uncompromising and uncompromised on the internet. I cannot blame our editors and writers for pursuing that original mission.
“But the media environment has changed, our readers have changed, and I have changed. Not only is criticism of yesterday’s piece from readers intense, but much of what they’ve said has resonated. Some of our own writers, proud to work at one of the only independent media companies, are equally appalled.”
Read Denton’s full statement here.
The media has been in uproar about the article and Gawker’s decision to publish it, with The Huffington Post claiming Gawker tried to gay-shame Geithner. The Huffington Post’s Gabriel Arana said there was a case for outing public figured who have actively protested LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender) rights.
“But Gawker outing Geithner serves no purpose other than to gay-shame someone who isn’t even a public figure – he’s a private person with a powerful brother,” wrote Arana. Geithner’s brother is the former Treasury secretary in the States, Tim Geithner.
“The piece evinces a subtle homophobia, since part of what the reader is expected to do is recoil in horror at the thought of a married man hiring a gay escort,” Arana continued.
“Beyond cruelly wrecking an innocent man’s life, the only thing Gawker and Sargent achieved was a temporary traffic boost. It’s a flagrant abuse of the incredible power those of us in the media have.”
The Washington Post also said the publishing of the piece was “an act of territorial boundary-peeing”, essentially telling New York no one is safe.
However, Gawker editorial staff condemned the decision from management to remove the post in an open letter to the site.
The staff write one of the core goals is to “protect the editorial independence of Gawker Media sites” and that the post removal was an “unprecedented breach of the firewall”.
“Our opinions on the post are not unanimous but we are united in objecting to editorial decisions being made by a majority of non-editorial managers. Disagreements about editorial judgment are matters to be resolved by editorial employees. We condemn the takedown in the strongest possible terms.”
Read the full letter here.
Gawker’s editor-in-chief Max Read took to Twitter to voice his opinion on the matter.
given the chance gawker will always report on married c-suite executives of major media companies fucking around on their wives
— max read (@max_read) July 17, 2015
US business news site CNBC questioned whether the removal of the post is setting a “dangerous precedent” for editorial independence, as the post was pulled by management, not editorial.
Media ethicist and vice president for academic programs at journalism organisation Poynter Institute, Kelly McBride, told CNBC, “you don’t want your business people making journalist decisions”.
While not agreeing with the decision to publish the post, CNBC reported McBride saying there needs to be boundaries on the business side.
She added the removal signalled two issues currently facing journalism; “the sliding scale of what is journalistic content and the weakening independence of editorial leadership.”