The Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker legal saga, explained
Former WWE wrestler Hulk Hogan, formally known as Terry Gene Bollea, has been embroiled in lawsuits for more than three years since media outlet Gawker originally posted a sex tape of him from 2006 on its website. The 62-year-old Hogan, who won his first lawsuit against the media company in March, filed a second lawsuit against Gawker earlier this month.
Here's an overview of Hulk Hogan's legal saga with Gawker.
How it all began
In October 2012, Gawker posted an edited version of a sex tape featuring Hulk Hogan on its website, accompanied by a 1,400–word description of the tape’s contents. In the video, a fully-naked Hogan is shown having sex with Heather Clem, the then-wife of his former friend, radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge, whose real name is Todd Clem.
Later that month, Hogan sued Bubba and Heather Clem for conspiring to film the sex tape without him being aware of it. Hogan also sued Gawker, its founder Nick Denton and the author of the original post, A.J. Daulerio. Hogan sought $100 million in damages from Gawker, since he said he was unaware that he was being filmed. Gawker said it received the video from an anonymous source, and therefore that it should be protected under the First Amendment.
The lawsuits unfold
Soon after filing his suit against the Clems, Hogan reached a $5,000 settlement with Bubba Clem in October 2012. The radio host, who declined to testify in the case, said in a statement, “Hulk Hogan was unaware of the presence of the recording device in my bedroom.”
In December 2012, a district court sided with Gawker when it claimed the media company had protection under the First Amendment. The court decided that “...the balance between the First Amendment and copyright is preserved, in part, by the doctrine of fair use.”
In April 2013, however, Gawker was ordered to remove the sex tape and written commentary from its website by a circuit judge in a preliminary ruling. Gawker then removed the video after Hogan obtained a temporary injunction—the site declined to remove Daulerio's commentary—but an appeals court later reversed the injunction in January 2014.
Hogan's racist tirade leaks
In July 2015, the National Enquirer and RadarOnline.com leaked racist audio from a different Hogan sex tape, also with Heather Clem. In the tape, Hogan was recorded using the n-word while discussing his daughter Brooke’s boyfriend. The WWE was then prompted to terminate its contract with the Hall of Famer, while also erasing him from its history entirely.
“WWE terminated its contract with Terry Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan),” a WWE statement read. “WWE is committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide.”
Hogan took to ABC’s Good Morning America in August 2015 to ask his fans for forgiveness in the wake of his exile from the WWE.
“Oh, my gosh. Please forgive me. Please forgive me,” Hogan said. “I think if you look at the whole picture of who Hulk Hogan is, you can see over all the years that there’s not a racist bone in my body.”
In the segment, Hogan said that he used the racist slur because he was upset about a situation that had occurred between his daughter and her boyfriend. He said it occurred at a time when he was “at the lowest point of [his] life” and even said he felt suicidal.
Hogan took the stand in March in his invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker, maintaining a stance that he is no longer the character he portrayed as Hulk Hogan. A Florida jury ruled in favor of Hogan, and he was initially awarded $115 million in the lawsuit. The verdict granted him $55 million in economic injuries and $60 million for emotional distress.
Hogan was given an additional $25 million in punitive damages following his $115 million lawsuit victory. The ruling made the company responsible for $15 million in punitive damages, Denton for $10 million and Daulerio for $100,000.
In April, Gawker filed two motions in court appealing the decision of the jury to award Hogan $140 million in the lawsuit. Gawker continued to argue for protection under the First Amendment since Hogan’s sex life was of public interest because he openly discussed it in years prior to the tape’s publishing.
Hulk hits Gawker with a second lawsuit
Hogan sued Gawker for a second time in May. This time, however, the suit regarded the leaking of racist audio from his sex tape. While the National Enquirer was the first outlet to officially release the audio in July 2015, Hogan claims that Gawker was responsible for leaking the documents to the Enquirer.
“Gawker threatened Plaintiff repeatedly with the public release of a written transcript ... containing racially insensitive remarks,” the lawsuit says. The suit also posits that the site was not able to publish the transcript because of a protective order.
Hogan’s lawsuit also states that Denton wrote in an article just before the publishing of the Enquirer’s story that “Mr. Bollea’s ‘real secret’ would soon be revealed.”
The suit added, “Only 14 minutes after the Enquirer posted the court-protected confidential transcript... Daulerio sent a tweet to Plaintiff’s Twitter account stating: ‘XOXOXO’ and attaching a link to the Enquirer’s post.”
In a statement, Gawker denied leaking information to the Enquirer.
"This is getting ridiculous," Gawker's statement reads, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "Hulk Hogan is a litigious celebrity abusing the court system to control his public image and media coverage. It was absurd enough that Hulk Hogan claimed $100m for emotional distress and economic damage for a story about a sex life that he'd already made public. Now Hulk Hogan is blaming Gawker for racist remarks he made on another sex tape, which Gawker never had. As we've said before and are happy to say again: Gawker did not leak the information. It's time for Hulk Hogan to take responsibility for his own words, because the only person who got Hulk Hogan fired from the WWE is Hulk Hogan."
In addition to Gawker, Hogan is also reportedly going after a group of Florida residents for supposedly sending at least one of the sex tape recordings to Gawker. The lawsuit is for undisclosed monetary damages.
On May 24, Forbes revealed that billionaire Peter Thiel, the cofounder of PayPal and an early Facebook investor, has been funding Hogan’s lawsuits. Gawker Media’s founder, Nick Denton, told The New York Times a day earlier that he had “a personal hunch” that a Silicon Valley investor had been involved.
Thiel bankrolling the lawsuit is classified as “third-party litigation funding,” which is not illegal and actually is quite common. If the plaintiff wins, it is common to give the third party a portion of proceeds.
The only connection Thiel has to either party appears to be a 2007 Gawker article, which outed Thiel as gay before the Silicon Valley billionaire made his sexuality public.