Free Speech Post-Gawker Will Be Just Fine

Tommy Collison

It’s a longstanding cliche that college newspapers are full of students who know exactly what they would do if their editorial freedom was challenged. A corollary to this notion is that editorial boards at newspapers on campuses around the country will almost always side with the Fourth Estate — the press — on issues concerning First Amendment law and press access. The WSN Editorial Board’s piece last Monday, “Freedom of Speech Snubbed in Hogan Case,” is no exception.

However, if one is to stake out a position in favor of the press, they would do well to ignore the case Gawker just lost against Hulk Hogan, after the gossip site published a video of him having sex with a then-friend’s wife.

Firstly, the case has more to do with invasion of privacy rather than free speech. The First Amendment concerns what governments can and cannot do — “Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” All that a court in Florida has said is that Gawker unreasonably violated Hulk Hogan’s privacy and should pay damages.

Legal experts seem unconcerned about the future of the First Amendment, feeling that the Gawker decision has no general bearing on the issue of freedom of the press. George Freeman, an adjunct professor at New York University, said in a quote to The New York Times that “This was an unusual and extremely private matter […] that could be bad for the future of sex tapes, but I’m not sure it would be a threat to anything else.”

Secondly, the WSN Editorial Board argues that since Hulk Hogan openly talked about his sexual exploits in public and even on the radio, he has no grounds upon which to protest Gawker publishing the video.

This position seems to take the rather large leap of logic that a media company can publish a sex tape of a private individual — a celebrity, but not someone who holds public office or spends public money — without his consent. Such a precedent seems not only illogical, but downright dangerous in the age when a video can be seen by millions in a matter of minutes.

A sex tape is only a “major scandal” if Gawker chooses to shove a retired wrestler back into the spotlight for no other discernible reason than to grab eyeballs and earn ad revenue. The public’s interest in these tapes is undeniable, but this interest does not mean newsworthiness. The right to free press comes with the responsibility to cater toward more than just our basest, most prurient interests. If Gawker is truly a news site, and not new media’s equivalent of the Daily Mail, it should seek to raise the calibre of our conversations rather than appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 28 print edition. Email Tommy Collison at [email protected]

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