July 17, 2015

The Gawker story about a top magazine official’s recent attempt to hire a porn star for $2,500 for a few hours of sex is a classic case of invasion of privacy with absolutely no redeeming social value.

From Gawker’s story, we see the executive being mature and even considerate of his would-be sexual partner. We see Gawker’s source reneging on the deal when his powerful customer refuses to help settle a landlord-tenant dispute. What we don’t see is any journalistic justification on Gawker’s part.

The best explanation we get from Gawker came from a Max Read tweet:

If that’s the justification, Gawker would have to know that the executive and his wife didn’t have an understanding that permits affairs.

It seems more likely that Gawker’s interests were ignited not by the sanctity of marriage, but by the fact that a source provided them with a digital trail to the conversation. Stories are so much more sensational if you have the actual text messages.

Gawker’s decision to protect the source’s identity suggests this is more about outing a powerful man’s sexual proclivities.

Jezebel’s Natasha Vargus-Cooper’s suggestion that the truth is what matters here also rings hollow.

Journalists are always balancing the public good served by the truths they publish against the harm they cause. This is a case of lots of harm and no identifiable good.

That’s a risky move for a news organization whose very viability is currently threatened by an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit for publishing video of Hulk Hogan having sex with another man’s wife. Gawker didn’t catch much flak in that case because Hogan’s a reality TV star who has put lots of his personal life into the public eye.

In this case, Gawker’s decision seems motivated by the texts, the money, the involvement of a porn star and the satisfaction of calling out an industry executive with a recognizable family name. But there’s nothing journalistic and nothing defensible about it.

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Kelly McBride is a journalist, consultant and one of the country’s leading voices on media ethics and democracy. She is senior vice president and chair…
Kelly McBride

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