At 2:30 Friday afternoon, Gawker Media owner Nick Denton signaled via a memo on his company’s Web site that he removed a story published on its site about the alleged sexual escapades of Condé Nast’s chief financial officer David Geithner. It took about ten minutes before Gawker removed the story, which was hit by an avalanche of criticism on social media as out-of-bounds and lowbrow.
Denton said the item, which was published Thursday night at 8:26 p.m., was “a close call.” It was a“decision I regret” even though the account was “true and well-reported,” he wrote.
The “account,” as Denton called it, concerned a private citizen—the cfo of Condé Nast and his alleged solicitation of a gay porn actor. Geithner is the brother of Timothy Geithner, the former Secretary of the Treasury.
“The story involves extortion, illegality and reckless behavior, sufficient justification at least in tabloid news terms,” Denton wrote. “The account was true and well-reported. It concerns a senior business executive at one of the most powerful media companies on the planet. In the early days of the internet, that would have been enough.”
The item also included alleged text messages, intimate photos, email exchanges and personal information about the married executive.
In the story, Gawker quoted Geithner as stating: “I don’t know who this individual is. This is a shakedown. I have never had a text exchange with this individual. He clearly has an ulterior motive that has nothing to do with me.”
As part of his explanation for pulling the post down, Denton noted that the “media environment has changed,” and that Gawker’s readers have “changed,” and he has “changed.”
He continued: “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. I can’t defend yesterday’s story as I can our coverage of Bill O’Reilly, Hillary Clinton or Hulk Hogan.”
Gawker is currently embroiled in a $100 million legal battle with the wrestler known as Hulk Hogan, after the site posted a video clip of the entertainer having sex. Could the potentially devastating effect of losing the Hogan embroglio have chilled Gawker, or has Denton and his site matured into something new?
Denton stands by the Hogan story while noting that Gawker is “no longer the insolent blog that began in 2003. It does important and interesting journalism about politicians, celebrities and other major public figures. This story about the former Treasury Secretary’s brother does not rise to the level that our flagship site should be publishing.”
Denton said that taking down the post “will not turn back the clock” on Geithner’s “embarrassment,” but it will provide his Web site with a “clear standard for future stories.”
Condé Nast did not return calls seeking comment.