Gawker retracted a story on Friday in which it accused a married male C-suite executive of having solicited a male prostitute. The move comes after a backlash against the site for outing the executive and for effectively participating in an apparent blackmail scheme by the prostitute.
The story, which was published on Thursday evening and had garnered nearly half a million page views before being taken down on Friday, was replaced with a note linking to Gawker CEO Nick Denton’s explanation for the retraction.
“The point of this story was not in my view sufficient to offset the embarrassment to the subject and his family,” Denton wrote. “Accordingly, I have had the post taken down. It is the first time we have removed a significant news story for any reason other than factual error or legal settlement.”
A post on Gawker by media reporter J.K. Trotter described how the site’s managing board had voted 4–2 to take the story down, with executive editor Tommy Craggs—who helped edit the post—as one of two dissenters.* Craggs appeared to be the only board member who worked primarily as a journalist.
Gawker editor-in-chief Max Read, who on Thursday evening had attempted to justify the decision to publish the piece with a post on Twitter, “strenuously protested removing the post,” according to Trotter’s account.
Not long after the story was reported to be coming down, Read sent out this one-word tweet.
Gawker had received heavy criticism for its decision to publish the story, as Denton mentioned in his takedown notice.
“Not only is criticism of yesterday’s piece from readers intense, but much of what they’ve said has resonated,” Denton wrote. “Some of our own writers, proud to work at one of the only independent media companies, are equally appalled.”
Senior writer Adam Weinstein tweeted on Thursday night, “I had no part in this. I would not have chosen to run it as is.”
In a personal blog post on Friday, Weinstein explained that he had actually been fired from the site the month before and would now be leaving the site before his transition period was up.
Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone collected some of the negative reactions, which included a scathing criticism from Lena Dunham.
Others pointed to the site’s apparent hypocrisy after having published a thoughtful 2014 Jezebel column that criticized Grantland for its role in threatening to out, and eventually outing, a transgender woman who ultimately committed suicide.
“Don’t out someone who doesn’t want to be out. The end,” author Tracy Moore wrote. “Everyone has a right to privacy when it comes to their gender identity or sexual orientation.”
The story also comes in the midst of Gawker’s legal battle with Hulk Hogan, who is suing the site over its publication of the wrestler’s sex tape. Denton defended the Hogan sex tape in his takedown notice, writing, “I believe this public mood reflects a growing recognition that we all have secrets, and they are not all equally worthy of exposure. I can’t defend yesterday’s story as I can our coverage of Bill O’Reilly, Hillary Clinton or Hulk Hogan.”
The Daily Caller had reported earlier on Friday the identity of the escort at the center of the story, who had been granted anonymity by Gawker. The escort was apparently attempting to blackmail the executive in order to use his connections to help in an unrelated housing dispute.
The site also uncovered some of the subject’s bizarre personal views and conspiracy theories. Among other things, he had posted that he believed Russia was responsible for 9/11, that a random overhead flight he saw provided evidence that the government was testing a nuclear ballistic shield, and a theory about Barack Obama’s connection to the numbers 6-6-6 based on Illinois lottery drawings.
The Daily Caller also uncovered that the subject had been arrested multiple times, including twice for assault and once in a family violence case.
Update, 9:45 p.m.: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Gawker corrected an earlier version of its story that miscounted the board vote on whether or not to take down the story. Heather Dietrick, the President and chief legal counsel of Gawker Media, joined Craggs in voting to keep it up.