By Roman Temkin, New York-based Entrepreneur
The jury is back, and it looks like Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea will receive a massive windfall in his lawsuit against tabloid website Gawker. The judgment, more than $110 MILLION dollars, raised eyebrows but had fans of Hogan “hulking out” for their hero. But they may be celebrating too early, while the legal system could be lurking just outside the ring to launch a sneak attack and send Hogan down for the count.
The suit stems from an incident in which the site published an infamous sex tape featuring Hogan without his permission or consent. Since that video was published, Hogan lost a lucrative contract with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) over comments made in what he thought was a private encounter. The incident even incited a radio war in Hogan’s hometown of Tampa, FL … a battle that eventually included two major broadcast networks and two big name radio personalities.
At the core of the case is an argument of how much privacy a celebrity is entitled to. Hogan says the posting of the video violated his privacy. Gawker says it’s a journalism outfit publishing materials of significant public interest.
Hogan’s attorneys said their client didn’t consent to the video and Gawker never tried to contact anyone in the video or ever in possession of the video. They just ran with it. Gawker fought back, saying they weren’t the source to originally break the news about the tape and that Hogan had, himself, gone on various news outlets to discuss the contents.
The judge and jury sided with Gawker, awarding a massive punitive judgment against the website. Gawker has already said it would appeal, that could be bad for Hogan. The judge in the first case was very favorable to Hogan’s side of things, reportedly making decisions to allow or block evidence that routinely favored Hogan’s counsel. With that in mind, Hogan would be wise not to cash any checks or borrow against this windfall just yet.
And, regardless of who wins this case, both parties have difficult public relations issues to sort out. Hogan’s image was irreparably scarred. Where he was once an all-American icon to tens of millions, his name has become a national punchline…and he has been tarred and feathered as a racist due to comments that were released in the wake of all the media associated with this case.
As Kristen Sanne, a marketer observed, “Gawker, one of many tabloid news sites trying to be seen as real and respected journalism outlets took a major step backward regarding this situation. Sure, they got a lot of hits, but no one will mistake them for an actual news source anytime soon. If they want to be the Weekly World News, gaining lots of readers but few who take them seriously, then this was exactly the right move. However, if they want to land the big interviews that bring in the huge numbers – and cash along with it – they need to be seen as a more legitimate agency.”
For both brands, the jury’s verdict is not the end.