At Trial, Gawker Focuses on Mysterious Circumstances of the Hulk Hogan Sex Tape

Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker Media March 1 - AP Images - 2016
Scott Keeler/The Tampa Bay Times via AP, Pool, File

In a taped deposition, Heather Cole says her former husband asked her to have sex with Hulk Hogan, and that she didn't know it was taped nor participated in the release of the video to Gawker.

Hulk Hogan's $100 million invasion-of-privacy trial has reached its most uncomfortable phase in the middle of the second week of testimony. On Wednesday afternoon, Gawker's lawyers began to focus on the unusual tape itself by showing the jury their questioning of soft-spoken Cole, then the wife of radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge (a.k.a. Todd Clem), Hogan's best friend. Cole says she slept with Hogan three times and that she didn't pursue Hogan for sex despite what he said in media appearances. Her supposed lack of knowledge about being taped — and Hogan's too — was put under scrutiny given Hogan's wiretapping claim as well as Gawker's defense that the sexual encounter was "newsworthy."

Gawker's lawyers are also probing who sent the tape.

Cole (formerly Heather Clem) didn't know, but she said Bubba "courted controversy" and that her ex-husband once said, "There's no such thing as bad publicity as long as they spell your name right.”

She also said Hogan enjoyed having publicity, too. 

Shortly before Cole's deposition was shown, a Florida appeals court caused a bit of a fuss at the courtroom by ordering that sealed records in the case be released. Although it's unclear whether the decision will impact what the six-member jury gets to hear, the unsealing will lead to even more scrutiny of the sex tape that has prompted the proceedings. After all, a leak of materials related to the sex tape during pre-trial proceedings led news organizations to report racist comments made by Hogan to Cole during their sexual encounter. There was also an FBI investigation into the tape and its release.

The day's testimony began when Gawker brought forward a witness to rebut Hogan's expert who told the jury last week that Gawker had a likely $15 million benefit from the posting of the tape.

By contrast, Gawker's own expert, Peter Horan — who helped turnaround and is on the board of many media companies — said his research led him to conclude that Gawker generated just $11,000 from the sex-tape post. Horan also said the defendant is a "hits-driven business" where traffic spikes and falls and that he never heard of anyone attempting to assign value to a company from a single post.

This will only matter if the jury decides to punish Gawker and attempts to figure out damages during its deliberations.