Late Thursday night, the journalists at Gawker Media took it upon themselves to publish a story that will more than likely ruin the life of a man, and possibly his family as well.
David Geithner is the Chief Financial Officer at Condé Nast, a very very large media group, one that is a direct competitor to Gawker Media. Gawker received information from an "anonymous" source (that many believe to be porn star Brodie Sinclair) in regards to Geithner, which was an exchange between the two over escort services. The male escort was to spend time with Geithner for a couple hours while he was in Chicago for business. After finding out who his client was, the escort took it upon himself to use Geithner's influence (he is also the brother of former Treasury secretary Tim Geithner) to help settle a housing dispute. The housing dispute originally even went as far to attempt to include the FBI, citing that sexual discrimination was behind the eviction of the escort while living in Texas. The escort services were cancelled by Geithner, after being paid in full ($2500), due to the fact that his flight to Chicago was being delayed and he wouldn't make it in time. There is speculation as to the verity of this situation, and we may never know the true details behind it.
The internet, and Twitter in particular, was set ablaze as the story hit, with the vast majority of readers being absolutely disgusted with it being published. Escorts are notorious for being seedy; they easily blackmail public figures into bending over backward to hide their secrets, something Geithner might have, or at least should have considered before starting the exchange. That being said though, for Gawker to take in the information, embrace it and then PUBLISH it is a scar on the company that will not fade with time. Not only did the author, Jordan Sarge, inflict pain into the Geithner household so that his paycheck would be a little higher from the click bait title, he also complied in a blackmailing scheme - and that's the largest issue. Taking the texts and photos from a deranged male escort who felt wronged because he stomped around and didn't get his way is being an accessory to blackmail and extortion. Congrats, Jordan and whoever was the editor behind the piece, you've set your company up for a potentially disastrous lawsuit.
I dont say this lightly: This is repugnant, shameful journalism @jordansarge.
— Michael Barbaro (@mikiebarb) July 17, 2015
Those who can, report the news. Those who can't, write gossip columns. Those with no lives or consciences, write for Gawker.
— Julia Kite (@juliakite) July 17, 2015
The executive director of Gawker, John Cook, clearly is on the "we post what we want" side of the fence:
Jordan’s post was solidly in line with what Gawker has asked its writers and editors to do for years.
— John Cook (@johnjcook) July 17, 2015
Personally, I've been wandering around all day on Gawker and Jezebel, who also released a story today that made waves. The internet is angry, and it seems as if any mention of the Gawker story gets your comment deleted on any other comment thread that belongs to Gawker Media. The writers there are able to dish it out, but simply cannot take it - or rather, prefer to censor those who dissent.
As a daily visitor to Jezebel, Kotaku and io9 (which are all under the Gawker umbrella), I am appalled at the lack of journalistic integrity. This is not the first time the company has done something that is 100% messed up, but one can hope that this causes enough damage to make sure that it is the last. As writers, we have a responsibility to respect the way ethics (as well as retaining a moral code) work... unless of course you can sleep at night knowing that you work for a company that resembles a faux TMZ. For shame.
As of the publishing of this article, the original Gawker article has been taken down and replaced with a thinly-veiled "sorry not sorry". The kicker? They had to VOTE to take it down. I mean, if you had to choose between revenue or what's ethically and morally right, you'd certainly choose the latter - right? Give me a break, Gawker. I'm sure the people who took part in the lovely social event that was Gamergate are chomping at the bit about this, but you can rightfully back it up and leave.
I'll save you the click, so there isn't any more traffic to the website than there needs to be to show you their attempt at saving face, courtesy of the Gawker managing editor Nick Denton:
Yesterday evening, Gawker.com published a story about the CFO of Conde Nast texting an escort. It was an editorial call, a close call around which there were more internal disagreements than usual. And it is a decision I regret.
The story involves extortion, illegality and reckless behavior, sufficient justification at least in tabloid news terms. 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. “We put truths on the internet.” That has been the longstanding position of Gawker journalists, some of the most uncompromising and uncompromised on the internet. I cannot blame our editors and writers for pursuing that original mission.
But the media environment has changed, our readers have changed, and I have changed. 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.
We are proud of running stories that others shy away from, often to preserve relationships or access. But the line has moved. And Gawker has an influence and audience that demands greater editorial restraint.
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.
The point of this story was not in my view sufficient to offset the embarrassment to the subject and his family. Accordingly, I have had the post taken down. It is the first time we have removed a significant news story for any reason other than factual error or legal settlement.
Every story is a judgment call. As we go forward, we will hew to our mission of reporting and publishing important stories that our competitors are too timid, or self-consciously upright, to pursue. There will always be stories that critics attack as inappropriate or unjustified; and we will no doubt again offend the sensibilities of some industries or interest groups.
This action will not turn back the clock. David Geithner’s embarrassment will not be eased. But this decision will establish a clear standard for future stories. It is not enough for them simply to be true. They have to reveal something meaningful. They have to be true and interesting. These texts were interesting, but not enough, in my view.
In light of Gawker’s past rhetoric about our fearlessness and independence, this can be seen as a capitulation. And perhaps, to some extent, it is. But it is motivated by a sincere effort build a strong independent media company, and to evolve with the audience we serve.