Just Because You Don't Like Gawker Doesn't Mean It Wasn't Right

Sometimes the worst speech deserves the most protection.

Gawker Media hit the auction block Monday. Whether you've loved or hated Gawker in the past, the fact that an independent media company has to sell itself to stay in business following a court battle against someone with much deeper pockets should worry anyone who believes in freedom of speech.

You can find a full timeline of events detailing Gawker's legal woes here

As a journalist, Gawker published stories I personally found questionable at best and I don't think I would have made many of the decisions its editors did. But, to be absolutely clear, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution affords Gawker and its journalists the right to make many of those questionable decisions: 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Bloomberg View columnist Noah Feldman said it best when he somewhat grudgingly defended Gawker earlier this year: 

"It would be great if all First Amendment defendants were publishing Ulysses. But in reality, free speech and free-press rights are especially vulnerable when the defendant's speech is nasty."

The freedom of the press has played a crucial role in America's history and its public identity. In 2015, FindLaw.com asked 1,000 Americans what they considered to be the most important rights guaranteed in the Constitution and freedom of speech won with 30 percent. 

According to the Pew Research Center's Spring 2015 Global Attitudes Survey, the basic principles of a free press and free speech were seen as "very important" across the world.

Pew Research Center
Pew Research Center

And, I would say proudly, the importance of a free press was strongly supported in the United States.

Pew Research Center
Pew Research Center

In an eloquent 2015 defense of freedom of speech, The Boston Globe lays out the many reasons we need to vigorously defend our right to say — and write — what we will, not the least of which is that it's "essential to democracy and a bulwark against tyranny."

And that's where the system failed Gawker the most. It let a modern-day tyrant —a billionaire with an ax to grind against a member of the free press — use his vast wealth to destroy a bedrock of American values.

Cover image via Grace Villamil / Financial TimesWikimedia Commons