Gawker Rats Out Adversary's Attempt to Find Whistleblower In Its Ranks

Suing Gawker after being labeled "the web's worst journalist," Chuck Johnson allegedly attempted to pay for internal documents that reveal how the site circumvents defamation laws.
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Gawker founder Nick Denton

Gawker's feud with Chuck Johnson is reaching nasty new heights.

On December 9, 2014, Gawker published a story entitled "What is Chuck Johnson, and Why? The Web's Worst Journalist, Explained," which included embedded tweets from others complaining about Johnson and describing him as "well-known for publishing stories that fall apart under the slightest scrutiny."

Johnson, the owner of a site called Gotnews.com, responded by filing a defamation lawsuit in Missouri. The plaintiff defended his political reporting and alleged that the Gawker story was "false, misleading, injurious, and intrinsically malicious and defamatory."

Gawker has responded with an anti-SLAPP motion, speaking about its First Amendment rights and how Johnson's "provocative journalism" — accusing a New York Times reporter of posing for Playgirl, accusing a New Jersey senator of paying for prostitutes, publishing the home addresses of journalists covering events in Ferguson — has "attracted an avalanche of criticism, with respect to the quality of his reporting and his character, long before the first Gawker piece was published."

Basically, the Nick Denton news site says Johnson can't prevail in his defamation lawsuit and so it should be tossed sooner rather than later.

Johnson has requested extensions of time to file a response, but on Tuesday, Gawker had enough.

"It fully appears Plaintiff Johnson was actually using the additional time to attempt to gather evidence for his responses using clearly improper means," states Gawker's legal brief.

Gawker says its antagonist has attempted to contact former Gawker employees with compensation offers for internal documents. One of those said to be contacted is Adam Weinstein, who wrote about his break from Gawker after the controversial outing of a Conde Nast executive. (Weinstein responded, "lol hey bud remember when u were gonna sue me last summer.")

According to an exhibit attached to Gawker's filing, Johnson was willing to pay for "a memo on circumventing defamation laws." Johnson explained, "I believe that a general counsel or other lawyer has drafted a memo for Gawker, detailing the fundamentals of defamation law, and outlining ways in which Gawker writers can circumvent defamation liability. Possible examples might include the inclusion of disclaimers in the article ... wording article titles as questions ... and possibly the level of protections that ANTI-SLAPP laws offer ... "

Gawker says that Johnson looked to pry privileged information, plus insider info about its business, and "when a former employee was not forthcoming, it appears that Mr. Johnson threatened to join him in this lawsuit to try to elicit his cooperation." 

A Facebook post by Johnson was also cited. There, he stated, "Don't worry, guys. We are going to crush Gawker. My lawyer and I both decided that it would make more sense to get it right so we've filed for an extension. There are whistleblowers coming out to talk about how Gawker has built a business out of defamation."

Johnson has filed his own reply to Gawker's.

"There is no conspiracy here," his attorney tells the judge. "Defendants are in essence asking the Court to penalize Plaintiffs for lacking the resources to hire two large law firms with multiple support staff."

The plaintiff assures the court that no past or present employees of Gawker have been interviewed in preparation for the response to the anti-SLAPP motion. There's no mention of attempts to pay for Gawker whistleblowers.

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