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Having been posed as the big, bad news organization that skirts privacy rights by posting scandalous material that steps over the line of human decency, Gawker is now presenting its defense in Hulk Hogan’s $100 million trial in Florida.
Last week, Hogan’s attorneys trotted out taped depositions from Gawker staffers faced with questions about crude jokes made and a lack of consideration about the plaintiff’s feelings in the October 2012 publishing of Hogan’s sex tape. That included A.J. Daulerio, the former Gawker editor-in-chief who wrote the essay that accompanied the controversial sex tape. Daulerio said during his own deposition he would only draw the line on running sex tapes for those featuring children under the age of 4. The flippant remark garnered enough media buzz that Hogan’s lawyers showed it to the jury twice.
On Monday, Daulerio was the first person called to the witness stand by Gawker in a seeming effort to establish that great care was taken before posting the video. He was also asked about his young children remark. Daulerio says he wasn’t being serious. “[The deposition] was a very long day,” he said. “Yes, 100 percent [Hogan’s attorneys knew I was being sarcastic]. That’s not my view.”
Facing blistering questions on cross-examination from Hogan’s attorney Shane Vogt, Daulerio acknowledged that child pornography wasn’t a proper subject to joke about, that he was testifying under oath, and had three lawyers present with him. “If I had the opportunity to insert that I was joking, I should have,” said Daulerio, who admitted that he signed a transcript of his deposition as accurate.
Daulerio’s appearance at trial became most heated toward the end of his testimony when Vogt fired off a series of rapid questions seemingly intended to get under Daulerio’s skin. Vogt asked the editor about smirking during his deposition upon a discussion of the First Amendment, why his recollection of events didn’t match Gawker owner Nick Denton’s and whether he understood that there are kids out there who were interested in Hogan and would search for the video. After Daulerio acknowledged that he had told other Gawker staffers that Hogan’s penis should be shown in the video, Vogt zeroed in on the topic.
“Mr. Bollea’s penis had no news value, right?” asked Vogt.
“No,” responded Daulerio.
“It wasn’t newsworthy, right?”
“There was no news value to showing them having sex?”
“No, not necessarily.”
Daulerio says he was making a social commentary on celebrity sex videos, and during direct examination from Gawker attorney Mike Sullivan, he defended the posting and a viewpoint that there are limitations on celebrity privacy.
“Sometimes you can come across as callous,” said Daulerio. “But that’s my job as a journalist. It’s to put something out there that’s fair and accurate. … Public figures live a different life.”
Daulerio testified that after TMZ reported about the existence of the sex tape in March 2012, he received an email from Tony Burton, a manager representing various radio personalities, who wanted to send along the sex tape for review. Burton didn’t demand money, says Daulerio. The package came when Daulerio was on vacation. When he returned to the office and took a look at what was sent to him, he saw Hogan having sex with Heather Clem, the wife of Tampa radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge. According to Daulerio, Bubba’s voice can be heard saying, “You guys go have fun now.”
“I was amused by it,” says Daulerio. “I grew up watching Hulk Hogan and knew him as a character for most of his life. This was not a situation I ever expected to watch him in.”
Daulerio added it was “strange” to see Hogan sleeping with his friend Bubba’s wife, seemingly with Bubba’s permission. He told a subordinate to take the 30-minute tape and cut it down to some excerpts. Daulerio said he wanted the more “innocuous” discussions between Hogan and Clem to be shown given what he was going to write about celebrity sex tapes as well as the sexual acts themselves. Ultimately, one-minute, 47 seconds of the sex tape — nine seconds of actual sex — was published with subtitles. “I really wanted to focus on the things being said in the sex tape,” said Daulerio, who also explained why he labeled it “NSFW” (not safe for work), provided links to other celebrity sex tapes, and acted facetiously by headlining the story, “Even For A Minute, Watching Hulk Hogan Have Sex In A Canopy Bed Is Not Safe For Work But Watch It Anyway.”
The former Gawker editor told the jury that a bump in traffic happened after Hogan went on a publicity tour, especially when the wrestler appeared on Howard Stern’s radio show. Another traffic spike occurred when Hogan filed his lawsuit.
“It was an extremely popular story,” said Daulerio. “I was pleasantly surprised by that.”
Daulerio also explained why he didn’t contact Hogan’s camp for their opinion of the sex tape. “They had already commented on the sex tape,” says Daulerio, referring to Hogan’s media interviews. “I was satisfied with everything I saw on the tape. I needed no clarification.”
On cross-examination, Daulerio was asked whether Nick Denton was a “rule-breaker” and whether he had a discussion with his boss about the sex tape prior to posting. Daulerio said there wasn’t any such conversation, but after being shown Denton’s own statements that portrayed Daulerio as being excited about the sex tape, Daulerio said, “I think [Denton] was confusing two different conversations.”
Daulerio mostly kept his cool throughout his appearance on the witness stand, only flashing a tinge of sarcasm when telling the jury he showed Hogan’s penis “because that’s sometimes what happens when people have sex” and, “No, I was not surprised there was more than one person who was visiting the site to see the sex tape.”
Vogt read some of the things that Daulerio had written in his October 2012 post — how Hogan’s penis was “the size of a thermos you’d find in a child’s lunchbox” and how “because the Internet has made it easier for all of us to be shameless voyeurs and deviants, we love to watch famous people have sex.”
“You could have commented without showing the tape?” Vogt asked.
“I could have,” said Daulerio.
“You believed publishing the sex tape would bring traffic to the site, right?”
“Again, the whole point of publishing is to bring traffic. This is the way I chose to present the story.”
“You didn’t care whether it emotionally distressed him, right?”
“That’s not my job.”
“It didn’t matter that it was a morbid and sensation-prying, did it?”
“No it didn’t.”
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