This Hulk Hogan business has been going on for a long time, and I have avoided comment because every aspect of it is sleazy. But it just continues and continues, so I'm taking a couple whacks at it.
Here we go:
The former WWF star was offended that the Gawker website released a tape of him having sex with the wife of a friend. The tape was made by the friend, who encouraged the wrestler to have sex with the friend's wife.
Hogan asked his friend whether he would be videotaping the act, and the friend most likely said no. (Advice you can use: If you are not very, very sure that a "friend" will not film you in a sex act, then it is probably a good idea not to take the risk.)
It appears the friend sent the 30-minute tape to Gawker, which released an edited version that tastefully limited exposure of Hogan's penis to a brief eight or nine seconds.
1. Earlier, Hogan had appeared several times on the same friend's radio show, and Howard Stern's radio show, making vulgar references to the large size of his penis, to his very active sex life and to his inability to remember the how many or which women he had bedded because there were so many of them.
2. The released sex tape included a conversation in which Hulk said he regretted that his daughter was dating an African American man. Hogan said that if she was going to date a black guy, he (Hogan) would prefer for her to date an NBA player.
These impolitic comments caused the wrestling federation to deplore Hogan's violation of its diversity principles and to cancel his $250,000 annual retainer.
This seems to have been the only financial loss the Gawker incident caused Hogan.
3. Hogan's lawsuit contended that his personal privacy had been invaded by Gawker's publication of the sex tape. He admitted at trial that anytime he stepped out his front door, he effectively became Hulk Hogan -- the result of more than 30 years of cultivating public attention under that name.
On the other hand, he sued as private citizen Terry Bollea, his given name. The claim was that Gawker's publication invaded the privacy of Terry Bollea.
Hogan/Bollea did not appear in court in a neon-colored bandanna or in sunglasses or wearing a feather boa or wearing a tee shirt he had torn. He presented himself as a jumble of his two identities -- wearing Hogan's large signature crucifix, a signature bandanna in a muted tone of black and a regular business suit.
4. At the time Hogan filed suit, his net worth, once estimated between $30 million and $40 million, had dwindled to less than $10 million, which he attributed to a financially punishing divorce.
There appears to have been another reason: Hogan's 17-year-old son, driving drunk in a family car, struck a palm tree during a drag race. The crash resulted in severe and permanent brain damage to his passenger, a former marine who will require round-the-clock care for the rest of his life. (It was reported that Hogan/Bollea family members said the marine was partially at fault because he had not worn a seatbelt.)
The injured man's family sued, and the case was settled before trial; the settlement no doubt cost Hogan a good chunk of change -- maybe $10 million or so, topped up perhaps by payouts on insurance policies held by Hogan.
A Florida jury was outraged by Gawker's treatment of Terry Bollea. Jurors awarded him $115 million in damages, more than the $100 million he had claimed, and it assessed another $25 million in punitive damages against Gawker.
I get the outrage, but I don't get the amount. Let's try some thought experiments:
-- Imagine if Gawker had released a sex tape of a minor celebrity, say a legislator, or a woman
who had been filmed in flagrante delicto with a rock star, or a little guy named John Smith.
Would that person's distress be worth $140 million?
-- Imagine if Gawker had released a sex tape of a wrestling star who played the bad guy in
staged matches and who cultivated a menacing public image instead that of a gee-shucks,
amiable Hogan-style character. Would his private distress be worth $140 million?
-- Imagine if Hogan's son's case had gone to court. Would the criminal conduct that caused
a man's permanent incapacity be worth $140 million?
I'm guessing no in all three cases.
Before the Hogan award, another public figure, a female sports broadcaster, won a $55 million award against a hotel operator.
What happened to her was also outrageous. A stalker figured out her room number when she was staying at a Nashville hotel. He used mechanical means to do something to her room's door handle, allowing him to spy on her and take pictures of her as she was dressing. Then he posted the pictures on social media.
The stalker was identified, caught and sent to prison for several years. The sportscaster, horrified, went to some lengths to track down and remove the internet images he had posted.
In a perverse and ironic result of the incident's notoriety, the sportscaster's career achieved more prominence, and she was able either to arrange better employment terms or get a better job based on the increase in her name familiarity.
She also sued the hotel operator for negligence because it failed to protect her. A chief complaint was that a hotel employee shared her room number with the pervert, perhaps because he identified himself as a relative or colleague or friend. Hence she was awarded $55 million.
Another thought experiment:
Imagine if this had happened to a nice-looking but not famous woman. Imagine that a pervert followed her from the airport to her hotel, obtained her room number and then filmed her through the keyhole of her hotel room door.
Would the story of her plight go national, or even local, after he posted images online?
Would the police track down the offending man so that he could be prosecuted and sent to prison?
Would a jury find the hotel company negligent and charge the company $55 million for her distress?
Again, I'm guessing no.
Juries and Justice
We now have a lot of people who aren't particularly thoughtful, and some of them end up on juries. These people have unrealistic ideas about how much money people like Hulk Hogan and websites like Gawker have available to them. They are devoted to "fairness." In prominent cases they want to "send messages."
They respond emotionally to celebrity victims whose public images are familiar. It is true that celebrities get more attention than most people, and they may be more likely to be targets of bad people. On the other hand, it's hard not to suspect that celebrities have better access to legal redress as well.
Later: Gawker and the Media