In case you missed it, there’s a trial underway in Florida in which Terry G. Bollea — better known to the world by his stage name of Hulk Hogan — is suing Gawker.com for posting a grainy, secretly recorded video on its website that purportedly shows the retired wrestler having sex with a friend’s wife.
Normally I wouldn’t care about a tawdry legal clash between a fringe celebrity who claims invasion of privacy and a website like Gawker.com, but yesterday I happened to read a news story about one piece of testimony in the case that stopped me in my tracks. The testimony came when a former Gawker editor-in-chief, Albert J. Daulerio, was being questioned about what he considered newsworthy and where he drew the line when it came to posting sex videos of celebrities.
“Can you imagine a situation where a celebrity sex tape would not be newsworthy?” the lawyer asked.
“If they were a child,” Daulerio answered.
“Under what age?” the lawyer asked.
“Four,” Daulerio responded.
Gawker later said that Daulerio was being “flippant” because, you know, people are always flippant when they are being questioned by a lawyer in a legal proceeding.
Have we really come to this point? I can’t imagine why any adult would record a sex tape, much less why anyone would want to watch it — but to suggest, even in a “flippant” way, that sex tapes of children would be newsworthy and should be posted on the internet is, in a word, sick. Any website that would articulate such an editorial policy isn’t really a “news” website at all, but just a mechanism for feeding the voyeuristic interests of a seamy underside of American culture.
There are important legal issues to be explored at the intersection of the internet, the First Amendment, and the privacy rights of celebrities large and small. No doubt the Hulk Hogan lawsuit against Gawker will help to develop the law in that area, but it’s also obviously exposing something equally important about the internet — something that is small and sick and sad about our society. Have we touched bottom yet?