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[NEW YORK] Gawker Media Inc has hired a banker to explore strategic options, including a possible sale, as the digital media company fights a potentially crippling US$140 million damages award in a defamation suit brought by the former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan.
Mark Patricof, managing director at Houlihan Lokey, will advise Gawker on its options amid the legal clash secretly bankrolled by billionaire investor and Facebook Inc board member Peter Thiel, the company said Thursday.
On Wednesday, a Florida judge denied Gawker's motion for a new trial and said the US$140 million jury verdict won't be reduced, the Associated Press reported. Gawker can still appeal to a higher Florida court.
"We've had bankers engaged for quite some time given the need for contingency planning around Facebook board member Peter Thiel's revenge campaign," Gawker said Thursday in a statement.
"We recently engaged Mark Patricof to advise us and that seems to have stirred up some excitement, when the fact is that nothing is new." Gawker isn't currently for sale and there aren't any bidders, but that could change if it loses an appeal, according to a person familiar with the matter. The New York Post first reported Gawker had hired an investment banker to explore its options.
Hogan, whose given name is Terry Bollea, sued the media and celebrity-focused website in 2012 over the publication of a tape showing him having sex with a friend's wife, claiming the publication cost him endorsements and inflicted emotional harm. Mr Thiel, the libertarian-leaning venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal, made a financial contribution to the suit.
Gawker and Mr Thiel have a contentious history already; the website outed him as gay in 2007. Mr Thiel has since publicly acknowledged that he's gay, and called Gawker's now-defunct blog Valleywag the "Silicon Valley equivalent of al-Qaeda."
In a statement Thursday, Mr Thiel said he was proud to have supported Bollea in a fight against a "bully's gross violation of privacy."
"Gawker, the defendant, built its business on humiliating people for sport," Mr Thiel said. "They routinely relied on an assumption that victims would be too intimidated or disgusted to even attempt redress for clear wrongs. Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to publish sex tapes without consent. I don't think anybody but Gawker would argue otherwise."
Gawker CEO Nick Denton on Thursday challenged Mr Thiel to a debate about free speech rights and journalistic ethics.
"We can hold the discussion in person with a moderator of your choosing, in front of an audience, under the auspices of the Committee to Protect Journalists, or in a written discussion on some neutral platform such as Medium," Mr Denton said in an open letter posted at the Gawker website.
"Just tell me where and when."
He also warned that if the case continues, it will expose "gruesome" details of Mr Thiel's involvement.