A 2015 Gawker article that highlighted leaked emails written by Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton has been quietly removed from the internet, the latest in a line of stories from the former digital media company to be disappeared under apparent legal pressure from powerful figures.
The story pieced together some of Lynton’s emails disclosed in the Sony Hack, the monstrous dump of company materials in late 2014 that was catastrophic for the studio and widely covered by the media.
The removal of the story about Lynton — who earlier this year announced he is stepping down from Sony to serve full-time as the chair of the board of Snapchat parent Snap Inc. — appears to be the result of a previously unreported settlement.
The deletion also raises the question of what might happen to the dormant archive of Gawker.com, a pioneering site that left its mark on the media world and the subjects it covered controversially for more than a decade. It is also the latest deletion of a post from a Gawker-related property, a rare occurrence for news outlets. After Univision purchased Gawker Media’s sites last summer, the Spanish-language broadcaster removed six stories that were involved in pending litigation.
Gawker.com is no longer in operation following a well-publicized legal battle with Hulk Hogan. After the $135 million sale of its stable of other sites — which include Deadspin, Jezebel, and Gizmodo — the remains of Gawker Media, including the Gawker.com domain and archive, are operated by an estate.
“That was a signature Gawker story,” Gawker founder Nick Denton said in an email. “I am told that the terms under which the article has been taken down are confidential by order of the court. The estate is supposed to represent the interests of shareholders, who I'm confident are with me in defending the legacy of Gawker. They do not represent my view.”
Documents filed in Gawker’s bankruptcy court proceedings last year refer to two claimants who wished to file under seal. It is unclear if those claimants have anything to do with Lynton or the mysterious removal of the article.
Gregg Galardi, Gawker’s bankruptcy lawyer, and Will Holden, the company’s restructuring officer, didn’t return requests for comment. A Sony spokesperson did not return a request for comment on Lynton’s behalf.
The deletion comes months after Gawker Media and Denton were forced into bankruptcy after Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, won a $140 million judgment stemming from a 2012 Gawker article that included video clips from his sex tape. In November, Gawker settled with the former pro wrestler for $31 million and agreed to remove three stories about him from the site. Gawker also settled other defamation cases.
During the saga, it emerged that the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel had been bankrolling the wrestler’s and other cases against Gawker amid a decade-long grudge. Lawyer Charles Harder represented Bollea and others who sued the digital media company.
Though Gawker’s story about Lynton was scrubbed, the account lives on across other media sites that picked it up. Denton told the New York Times in 2015 that he was proud to have published the Lynton story. “There was a point, and a public interest in the truth getting wider circulation,” he said.
The deletion and future of the archive are among the last remaining questions in the long Gawker affair. As The Wall Street Journal reported, advisers who represent the remaining entity are also seeking information about what motivated Thiel’s financing.