Gini Dietrich

The Gawker Removal Story Isn’t About Church and State

By: Gini Dietrich | July 21, 2015 | 

The Gawker Removal Story Isn't About Church and State

By Gini Dietrich

Nearly five years ago I wrote a blog post that, to this day, I regret writing.

You see, I forgot about the vision of Spin Sucks, which is to change the perception that most people have of the PR industry.

It is to provide the tips, tools, thoughts, ideas, and techniques to help our peers stay ahead of the ever-changing trends, and to do so ethically and with the long goal in mind.

I’ve also been a very strong proponent of attacking an idea, but not the person. I know what it’s like to be attacked personally because of something I stand for and I never want another human being to feel the way that makes you feel.


I got wrapped up in wanting to belong to the popular crowd. I got wrapped up in the social media dissent surrounding the ideas of another human being. I got wrapped up in using this very blog to bring another person down, just to make a point.

And I was wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.

Yes, the idea of this person was wrong—and I still believe that today—but the way I handled my criticism was equally wrong.

Robots We Are Not

I am reminded of this every time I see an organization trip over their feet or make a mistake that could have been avoided.

We all are human (which is unfortunate because I’d really like to be a robot!) and we all make mistakes. But we also all have the chance to think things alllllll the way through before making a decision.

I didn’t think through my blog post all those years ago and Gawker didn’t think through an article they posted last week.

I won’t go into detail about the article that outed a high-ranking executive at one of the largest media conglomerates in the world—you can read it here if you like—but we will discuss our obligation as content creators—”real” journalists or not.

Michael Arrington, the founder of TechCrunch is famous for saying:

Getting it right is expensive, getting it first is cheap.

And this is the premise of every start-up, insolent blog in the world that has focused—since 2002 or 2003—on generating clicks from the mass consumer, no matter what it takes.

Gawker Can No Longer Be Insolent

Gawker is known for it’s slogan: “We put truths on the Internet.” And, in the early days of the web, that would have been enough.

It’s why TechCrunch and Buzzfeed and Mashable and Gawker exist.

But one day after this particular tabloid story ran, that outed a man who is married and has three children in the name of “putting truths on the Internet,” the managing partnership of Gawker Media voted—four to two—to remove the story.

They did so because of the outrage of its readers…and because advertisers, such as Discover and BFGoodrich, reportedly said they would pull their advertising if the story remained.

Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker, wrote about the removed post:

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.

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.

I believe this public mood reflects a growing recognition that we all have secrets, and they are not all equally worthy of exposure.

And the story was removed from the site (what I linked to above is a web archive, which just goes to show nothing can ever be removed from the Interwebz).

Church and State Exist if a Story Deserves to Be Told

Yesterday, Tommy Craggs, executive editor, and Max Read, editor-in-chief, resigned from Gawker, stating a difference in opinion about the removal of the story.

The resignation letter to the staff from Craggs stated the reason he is resigning is because:

…the responsibility Nick (Denton) had vested in the executive editor is in fact meaningless, that true power over editorial resides in the whims of the four cringing members of the managing partnership’s Fear and Money Caucus.

It’s the old church and state argument. The advertisers—and fear of losing them—is making the decision of whether to remove a story for something other than “factual error or legal settlement.”

But, here’s the thing: They ran a story that was extortion at its finest. It is juicy because of who the extorted is—and his relationship to a person in power—but that’s it.

It provides no news value. It provides no “truths on the Internet.” It provides nothing more than click bait.

In Denton’s own words, “The media environment has changed, our readers have changed, and I have changed.”

Remember Who You Are and What You Stand For

It’s important to remember why you are blogging. It’s important to remember why you create content. It’s important to remember who you write for every day.

Your readers are the most important part of this whole Internet thing.

As my mom always says, “Remember who you are and what you stand for.”

If you do that, you’ll have success and never have to apologize for a mistake that could have easily been avoided.

image credit: Shutterstock

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Ike

    It would help if News in general had not abdicated its responsibility, and there is no clear beacon for Quality or Purpose anymore.

  • JamieNRutter

    Instead of touching the Gawker mess, I want to commend you for being so transparent. Once again you are leading by example! I think most people would never voluntarily bring up something like that, but you use it to teach. That is incredible.

  • I was wondering if you would touch this one. I have been thinking about it a lot. And I have a ton of issues about it. 

    I don’t feel this was gay shaming. I feel it was an infidelity story. 

    Why was this pulled and Anthony Weiner not or any other number of hetero infidelity stories where the culprit wasn’t a hypocrite. Meaning Ted Haggard being anti gay or Michael Huffington conservative right winger having gay sex is a story beyond infidelity.
    How many of these stories started as extortion then were leaked to the press? But this was different? I don’t think so.

    We already know Mashable prints anything. AdWeek publishes false stats. Bloggers lie all the time. And they never get in trouble. Politicians lie. Marketers lie. PR people lie. It is a horrible world we live in.

    I just find it weird that we stratify this. Fox News is no different than the National Enquirer other than platform and subject matter.

    Gawker publishing infidelity stories is different than the super market tabloids?

    If you are a liar or a cheater is there really levels for that? 

    And what about status. Over 50% of the United States have cheated on their partner at sometime. But we never hear about 99.99999999% when they get caught.

    Why did we read about the Tennessee shootings and not the 30 murders in Chicago of people who I guess don’t matter over the July 4th weekend?

    I agree with if you have a level of reputation be careful about what you publish and how you publish it.  But then that enabled Bill Cosby to rape untold number of women.

    So oh Goddess of All Knowledge….how do we fix this?

  • “It’s important to remember why you are blogging.” True. I’ve recently started using a plugin which tweets out old posts of mine. The goal is to “bring life” back to those old posts. When one of them tweeted the other day, a twitter friend replied “but how would I know?” I think he was kind of being a smart aleck but here’s the story. About three years ago, I did a monologue for acting. It’s just a one minute thing, which I picked precisely because it cracks fun at contact centers, and much of my time at my job involved overseeing contact center work, so choosing a monologue about contact centers made it easy to relate. There’s never any shortage of drama in the basic day of a contact center person. Little did I know that ANYONE watched what I put on Youtube, but someone at work (insert thankfulness here for people who explain what is going on) said that people at the office were abuzz because I was demeaning them. I guess they thought the piece was about them (it was extremely satirical about contact center employees). All of that chain of events led me to put an explanatory disclaimer on the youtube piece, to write an entire post about how “this is not about you” and to scratch my head at how assumptions get made and why the heck no one felt I was accessible enough for them to ask “was that about me?” // I have always said I started blogging to flex my writing muscle, but over time it has morphed a bit to encompass causes I love (among other things). I guess it’s a far different thing for a coworker to feel miffed than for a married father of three to be outed complete with screen grabs and photo evidence but somewhere between the two is a lesson about not making avoidable mistakes.

  • Ike That’s because everyone is more concerned about getting clicks so they can get advertisers. It’s sad, really.

  • dariasteigman

    Bingo. You nailed it. 

    Not every story is news. An affair may be news if the person having it is a moral hypocrite. But not “just because.”

    I think what is somewhat troubling, however, is the perception (and perhaps the reality) that this story came down b/c the person involved has clout — and not because of the genuinely defensible finding that this isn’t valid news.

  • Ike

    Howie Goldfarb  Oh, I disagree. This was all about titillation and clickbait, and I dare say that the attraction for the story would not have been there without the gay-shaming. That and the loose Geithner connection… but I feel that had either of those elements been removed, there would not have been the push to publish.

    Thoreau was right. “To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.” 

    Welcome to America, where it’s Tea Time 24/7.

  • danielschiller

    People’s personal lives are their personal lives. That’s as true now as it was in the days of the blue GAP dress.
    Gawker shouldn’t have published this for that reason — and — because they’d never be in the position of removing it. All the clicks are going to the stories about them removing it, and the need for editorial principles.
    Whatevs. As thoughtful people, can we make a distinction between this consensual behavior and Bill Cosby’s quaalude laced, date rapey, authority abusing, lecherous, and hypocritical escapades- ?

    Btw, I’ve been dying to incorporate “quaaludes” into a comment thread here. ‘ludes are part of every PR pro’s toolkit — right?

  • danielschiller

    Gawker could’ve found an Onion-esq angel around the plea to Ted Cruz’s office. Gays, porn, Republicans, and evictions — that’s click bait!

  • JamieNRutter Thanks! I still feel really awful about it…and it’s driven every content decision I’ve made since then.

  • Howie Goldfarb Well, as you know, this blog post isn’t about the story or about the infidelity. It’s about doing better as bloggers and as journalists. If we don’t hold ourselves to a higher standard, who will? And this wasn’t a story. The only reason they published it is because the escort tried to extort the guy and, when he wouldn’t comply, he went to the most obnoxious site he could find. It’s pretty bad.

  • biggreenpen Whenever I have dinner with my friends, they always say, “Is this going to end up in a blog post?!” But, to your point, there is a HUGE difference between making a satirical comment on an industry and outing a guy for no real reason.

  • dariasteigman An affair is news if it’s Bill Clinton and an intern. It’s not news when some escort feels jilted because a “date” won’t help him with a legal problem before even meeting him. Methinks someone isn’t going to be employed in that line of work for very long.

  • danielschiller The blue GAP dress. LOL! I just made that comment below. #greatminds

  • danielschiller

    ginidietrich biggreenpen – I’m left feeling for “David.” Because — for whatever reason — he can’t live openly AND he didn’t get the date I feel he’s earned.

  • danielschiller

    ginidietrich Howie Goldfarb – In which the *journalists* advocate for the terrorists.

  • danielschiller biggreenpen He DEFINITELY earned that date. It sucks that we’re still “outing” people in 2015. But that’s a whole different conversation.

  • Jason Mollica

    This story reminds me, in some ways, of Sen. McCarthy’s “Red Scare” tactics in the 50s. I’m not saying Gawker is McCarthy-esque, but the slander side of things mirrors it. 

    What Gawker did was basically, the same thing McCarthy did… Scare tactics. Here’s a quote from McCarthy from his infamous hearings: “I have here in my hand a list of two hundred and five people that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.” 
    He scared individuals into admitting wrongdoing, when they did no wrong. Their private lives were violated. Fast forward to 2015, the same thing happened.

    I’ve always been staunchly against these “outed” stories. It’s infotainment, not journalism. That’s why I agree with Gini that we, as bloggers, can do better and should continue to improve. Heck, journalism needs to be much, much better. 

    Edward R. Murrow, someone I’ve studied for years, said something very true during this time- “No one man can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices.”

  • I am so busy beachside making satirical comments and evaluations on my human peers swimwear or lack thereof that I can’t take precious time away to comment. Please note my clicks of likes as to where I sit in the sand on their miscalculated yet salacious defamation as they cast out their bait trying to hook a whale when they are only polluting the ocean.

  • ginidietrich biggreenpen Yeah, I *may* have uttered “wow that would make a good blog” a time or two. I also *may* have put a “how would this play on the blog?” filter onto many choices I make. Now that I’ve rounded up to two readers, I have the masses to think about and all.

  • Jason Mollica Which reminds me that we all hate the Kardashians, but we continue to gawk. Methinks they wouldn’t be famous without all of us.

  • annelizhannan I am going to die. HAHAHAHAAHAH!!!

  • Jason Mollica not sure i fully agree with you Jason. It all depends on the reason Gawker published. Was it to extort or was it because someone brought them a story? We don’t know the reason.

    To me if the head of a major company is cheating (BTW Most do. Trust me on that and not just the men in power). Yes why choose Geithner. 

    But this happens all the time. People hook up with powerful people or famous people to get a pay out all the time with this exact threat of going to the press.

    My view is whether you are rich, powerful or famous you are just as stupid as the rest of us. I see it all the time in the press. And to be honest maybe we just have the wrong incentives. Think of how many women wouldn’t of been raped if charges had been pressed early on against Bill Cosby. What about the 2002 deposition that came out recently where he made a big pay out to not be charged. What about the women Tiger Woods were with who tried to make money off of his shaming. The list of this stuff is huge. It is very rare a Monica Lewinsky type actually protects the person who got caught. Maybe we shouldnt allow payouts when something is actually criminal.

    But as I mentioned in my comment below that if you are famous…like Jim Rome like to tell sports stars…you are a target do don’t stupid things.

  • Ike Howie Goldfarb but isnt everything about titilation and click bait. Go to the supermarket and see all the lies in those magazines at checkout. Are you elevating Gawker (I am not). They are not the NY Times. They are Gawker.

  • ginidietrich Howie Goldfarb I agree with you 100%. But why is gawker different than all the rest. That is my question. And that was also my point when I said how many of these same stories never make it to press or aren’t news worthy. How many of Tiger Woods Mistresses only came out for a payout from the press?

    I agree we have to be better but in our hypocritical puritanical country where the same people in power slamming the Taliban for oppression support the same oppression in the name of Christ instead of Allah has created a situation where the people want this. In France….this would never be a story ever even with the extortion because the people don’t care.

    I blame the US people as much as Gawker.

  • ginidietrich Howie Goldfarb ok now that I have coffee and toast….

    We have no idea how many news orgs refused the story. I doubt they went to gawker first.

    If Gawker doesn’t publish the Enquirer or similar will. I see the most horrible stuff printed in tabloids at check out. We already have a whole cottage industry of this.

    I have never read Gawker. Always felt it was way below me to.

    So yes if you care about having  a reputation and aren’t just selling out for money….refuse the story. (Your main point) But you maybe hold humanity in the US to a much higher regard than I do (or your hopes and dreams for us are higher). We have only one God in the US and it;s name is Money.  And to me humanity is just a bunch of animals who still act like animals more often than not.