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Book review: “Conspiracy” by Ryan Holiday

“Conspiracy” is an intriguing and true story of a battle among a billionaire, a pro wrestler and a news media company. The book was written by media strategist and author, Ryan Holiday.

The story begins in 2007, when Gawker Media created a potent nemesis after one of its writers outed the billionaire and co-founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel, as gay. Nick Denton, founder of Gawker Media, argued that Thiel was paranoid about his sexual orientation being discovered. It was a secret that only Theil’s friends and family knew, and Denton hated the idea of ‘open secrets.’ He wanted all secrets exposed for the whole world to see.

Gawker Media was well-known for publishing things that most media sites were scared of publishing. They published almost everything they gathered and made a lot of money doing it. They lacked standards and decency. The company exposed the lives of celebrities, politicians, athletes and other non-public figures.

The job of Gawker Media’s writers was to publish what they believed was true and what they believed the public wanted to read, irrespective of the choice or feelings of those exposed. And most of the people exposed did not have the will or resources to go against the media outlet in the public court.

Thiel became concerned about the power of the Gawker which he saw as a threat to privacy and society as a whole, so he began contemplating how he could take down the company. In 2011, a 26-year-old student named Mr. A, whose identity is hidden throughout the book, approached Thiel, stating that he should establish “a shell company to hire former investigative reporters and lawyers to find causes of action against Gawker.” The plan would cost $10 million with a three to five-year timeline. Thiel agreed, and Mr. A began hiring lawyers and conducting research and investigations on Gawker Media.

In 2012, Gawker Media decided to publish a sex tape involving the pro wrestler Hulk Hogan and his former best friend’s wife without his consent. Hogan’s lawyer contacted Gawker Media to take it down, but they refused. Hogan decided to take them to court. This provided Thiel and his team the perfect opportunity.

Gawker Media could not hide behind the shield of ‘freedom of the press’ because they violated Hogan’s right to privacy. The video was recorded without his knowledge. Charles Harder, Mr. A’s lawyer, contacted Hogan’s lawyer, telling him that they will provide resources to help him win the case. Due to Gawker Media’s lack of preparation, lack of empathy, over confidence and hubris, they lost to Hulk Hogan. Gawker Media was fined $140 million and had to declare bankruptcy.

What makes this conspiracy interesting is that no one knew Peter Thiel was bankrolling the case, except for Mr. A. However, due to the conspirators’ lack of discretion, Thiel was revealed as the mastermind behind the fall of Gawker Media.

Conspiracy was a gripping page turner. The only problem I had with the book was that Holiday kept referencing historical stories and quotes of other people, which was distracting from the main story. When people hear the word ‘conspiracy,’ they often think of fake conspiracy theories, but true conspiracies happen frequently, as shown in this book.

 

Illustration courtesy of “Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue” published by Penguin Random House LLC.