Interview, recent

The Demise of Gawker: An Interview with Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday is the author of Trust Me, I’m Lying and numerous other books about marketing and culture. Holiday dropped out of college at 19, and by age 20 was chief marketing officer for American Apparel. His advisory firm, Brass Check, has counselled companies such as Google, TASER and Complex. Holiday’s most recent book, Conspiracy, tells the story of Peter Thiel’s decade-long campaign against Gawker Media, including his funding of the successful lawsuit against Gawker initiated by Terry Bollea, better known as Hulk Hogan. Holiday was interviewed by Stephen Elliott in November, following Holiday’s keynote address to the Athletic Business Show at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.

Stephen Elliott: I’ve been thinking a lot about deplatforming. Your new book, Conspiracy, is kind of the ultimate deplatforming story. Except instead of what normally happens, where a person is denied a venue to speak, or a celebrity loses their TV show, this is the story of an entire platform, Gawker media, being destroyed by the billionaire Peter Thiel.

Ryan Holiday: Right. What we’re describing is a billionaire setting out to destroy a media outlet he doesn’t like. That’s very scary if you’re a free speech advocate and you don’t know anything else about the case. But as you dig into it, the story gets much more complicated.

SE: How so?

RH: Gawker deliberately outed Peter Thiel as a homosexual. He was a private person who didn’t want to be outed. They had outed a number of other people as well.

Now, media outlets sort of defame and slander people all the time. They understand that the burden of proving this defamation is not only very expensive but, as far as libel goes, the standard in this county is that you have to prove it was done with reckless malice. And proving that is extraordinarily difficult. The discovery process is so onerous to both sides that these cases almost never go to trial. And anyway outing someone is not illegal. So he couldn’t do anything about it.

What Peter Thiel eventually did is discover another case that was far more egregious. Gawker outed Thiel in 2007. He waited five years to support the Hulk Hogan lawsuit in 2012, and there was no verdict until March of 2016. It’s a pretty incredible—almost Count of Monte Cristo-esque—story of revenge and, depending on where you sit, justice.

SE: We should back up for a second and point out that you and I met once before, in combat. Back in my political organizing days, I started an organization to stop American Apparel from opening a store in the Mission District in San Francisco. And you were the chief marketing officer.

RH: Yeah. This was not a store I had anything to do with or knew anything about. I got thrown into responding to what you had organized, which was a sort of grass-roots boycott/backlash movement against the store. And we ended up getting crushed. I think I was probably 20 or 21 years old and I had to sit and get yelled at by about 600 angry San Franciscans for what was probably one of the worst days of my life. In retrospect, it was completely absurd and one of my favorite stories. Basically, some rogue employee had signed this lease without reading the zoning laws. I remember a woman at the hearing saying she had been trying to open a vintage sex-toy store in the same location. I was like, “What’s a vintage sex toy? Does she mean used?”

SE: It’s funny because I personally had no problem with American Apparel. We just wanted to keep chain stores off Valencia Street. We were very good about staying on message and not talking about the brand. At the protests, there were a lot of American Apparel shirts, which led to Rush Limbaugh doing a whole segment on me.

I’d been doing a monthly reading series to raise money for progressive political candidates, so I already had an email list of socially engaged local residents. I passed the store and saw a sign in the window. It wasn’t easy to read but it said an American Apparel would be opening in 17 days. I went home and started organizing. It was like throwing a lit match in a bale of cotton. I was told it was a record turnout for a city Planning Commission meeting.

RH: There was an extraordinary amount of media coverage, driven primarily by blogs. I remember SFist and Curbed San Francisco. It was a predecessor to what we’re seeing now, which is how this sort of mob who agree with a cause or whatever can just flash active and direct incredible amounts of attention and leverage and create basically unwinable situations.

SE: How did you end up as the marketing director for American Apparel at 20 years old?

RH: My mentor Robert Greene was on the board of directors. I was his research assistant and sort of marketing person. Basically, I came in to add one project, and then another, and the next thing I knew I was running the marketing department, which I had no business running at the time. It was a dysfunctional company. But I got to do a lot of cool things and learned a lot.

American Apparel was probably the first company created by the internet and internet culture. And it was one of the first to be undone by that very same thing. The idea that it was even news that American Apparel was trying to open a store in the Mission District and then people didn’t want it there was a reflection of just how much bigger its brand was than the reality of the business. You classified it as a big box store, but Walmart probably makes more money in single cities than American Apparel did in total. The internet allows you to punch above your weight class. It also then allows you to get piled on.

SE: Conspiracy was your sixth book. You did a lot of writing in your 20s! I’ve been reading your other books, like The Obstacle is The Way, based on a quote from Marcus Aurelias, and your work on stoicism. You’re clearly a person who’s just bursting with ideas. But Conspiracy, I felt, is a level beyond your other books. Do you feel that way?

RH: It’s definitely the best writing I’ve done. It was a fortuitous situation where my personal expertise and something I was ideologically interested in overlapped with an almost unbelievable true story.

SE: It’s the first of your books where the story is the most important part, as opposed to the ideas.

RH: It was much harder to write for that reason. It was also harder because the people were alive. My other books are mostly about people who are dead. Philosophers, emperors. And the fact that I was writing about someone who just destroyed a media outlet for wronging him, that is something that loomed over the book quite a bit.

SE: How did you get so much access? Had you already written an article about the Hulk Hogan/Gawker trial?

RH: Yes. And my first book was quite critical of Gawker and laid out how they were likely to fall into something like this in the future. Starting in 2012, I wrote a media column for the New York Observer, and wrote that for almost five years. I wrote about the case not knowing I would ever do a book about it.

My writing attracted the attention of both Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker, and Peter Thiel. Nick and Peter are the two main characters in this story and having access to both of them is what made the book possible. Peter had read my media stuff and believed, based on that, he would at least be given a fair shake. Nick Denton didn’t like my media writing, but I had also written extensively about stoicism and Denton went through a calamitous sort of transformation as a result of the lawsuit and read my stoicism stuff and was a fan of that.

SE: So you had access to Peter Thiel and Nick Denton, which nobody else had.

RH: Yeah. There was a night in 2016 where I had dinner with one, then an event at the house of the other. And then breakfast with one of them the next morning.

SE: Before reading your book I had never thought of conspiracy as a neutral term. I thought of it as a performative term.

RH: People hear conspiracy and they think of things like assassination. A conspiracy is a coordinated action done in secret designed to disrupt the status quo. Peter Thiel is outed by Gawker in 2007. He finds this to be cruel and unnecessary. This is the event that launches the conspiracy.

SE: They don’t just out him, they mock him over and over again. He tries to play nice and they keep beating on him.

RH: It was basically a rude introduction to what Gawker was. They styled themselves as a site that published the things no one would else would. Sometimes, those things needed to be said and sometimes they probably didn’t. It was this sort of rebellious media company that didn’t follow the advice of lawyers and said what they wanted. They knew that nobody in their right mind sues a media outlet. For many years, this propelled them to be the sort of dark prince of the internet. They were the biggest gossip site, the most powerful and most feared.

Peter Thiel found that he didn’t like this status quo, but being outed was not illegal. He thought about what to do about it, and finally he put in motion a conspiracy. He recruits an operative, Mr. A. Mr. A hires a lawyer. A team of people come together, many not even knowing who everyone else was or the ultimate goal. Thiel begins to fund research into causes of action, funding a myriad of lawsuits against Gawker for the express purpose of destroying them and putting them out of business. Of these lawsuits, the most famous case is the Hulk Hogan sex-tape case. Hulk Hogan [Terry Bolea] had been illegally and surreptitiously recorded having sex with his best friend’s wife, and Gawker got hold of that tape.

SE: They ran it when they were asked to take it down, even when it was proven to them that he’d been recorded without his consent.

RH: They were asked to take it down and they refused. And that’s lost in the story. People don’t realize just how awful Gawker was to Hulk Hogan. They were completely unreasonable. And by the way, not only should they have taken it down for moral reasons; but on a pure copyright level they probably could have been bankrupted as well.

So Thiel is funding these lawsuits and this case sort of quietly worms its way through the legal system. Nick Denton and Gawker never really take the lawsuit seriously until it’s too late.

SE: You wrote about how Gawker had so much insurance. Their whole company was setup to be sued and to survive it and outlast people. And that’s why they’re not taking it seriously. Which is one of the most interesting lessons of the book. It shouldn’t take a billionaire to sue Gawker; a person of lesser means should have been able to sue Gawker and get justice, but was unable to.

RH: It’s interesting. At the outset of 2012, there’s a question of who’s the underdog. And you might think Peter Thiel, being very wealthy, is the big guy. You might think Hulk Hogan is the big guy. But Peter was outed and had no recourse. So is he really more powerful than Gawker? Is Hulk Hogan, a world famous celebrity, more powerful than Gawker?

The litigation cost between 10- and 20-million dollars. Hogan could not have afforded to litigate the case that he won. And so it’s interesting, if we take the verdict that the jury gave as being justice. This is a case Hogan won that he could not have afforded to litigate.

SE: And Gawker knows this and that’s why the editorial strategy seems [in retrospect] completely unjust. To run a company doing things you know are unjust and illegal, refusing to take stuff down that’s illegal because you’re invulnerable and the little guy can’t afford to sue you.

RH: I also think people don’t understand what Gawker‘s role was in the media system. Often Gawker would break a story, like the Hogan story. And then the New York Times could report on it. They could publish unseemly information that the rest of the media could then report and follow up on. Gawker is not the only side that understands it’s basically suicide to sue a media outlet in this country. And look, for the most part that’s a good thing. You wouldn’t want powerful people to be able to intimidate the media into not covering them.

But at the same time, it means that if you’re an average person and you are unfairly or unjustly or illegally treated by a media outlet, you have very little in the way of recourse. I mean not just that it cost 10-million dollars to litigate the case. It also took almost five years, and it arguably made the sex tape much more well-known. And so an embarrassing situation is even more embarrassing for the plaintiff. And then unconscionable things that Hulk Hogan had done came to light as a result of the lawsuit.

It’s a bad system where people who might be guilty of unrelated things, who might have skeletons in the closet or be on financially unsound footing, are incapable of getting justice when it comes to media coverage about them.

SE: Gawker could have just written about it. They didn’t have to have it playing on their site.

RH: That’s a very important distinction that again has been lost in the media coverage. Writing about the tape is completely covered by the First Amendment. Playing an illegally and surreptitiously recorded sex tape of two consenting adults in the privacy of a bedroom, not as much. This is where copyright comes in, where privacy comes in. Where a number of other non-First Amendment related issues come in. And so Gawker knows they’re doing something illegal.

SE: They’ve been asked to stop doing it and they refused and left the sex tape up for over a year.

RH: The second cease and desist letter comes from Hogan’s lawyer and it’s an email to Nick and he says, “I appeal to you as a human being, please take this down. It was recorded without my client’s consent.” And they ignore this and in fact they also ignore a judge’s order to remove the tape and basically write an article that says, “Fuck you, you don’t get to tell us what to do.” That backfired in a major way, not just with the jury but that judge is the one who ultimately ends up presiding over the case. Gawker was so arrogant, and so unlikable as a defendant, that they made an already difficult case even more difficult to win.

SE: Peter Thiel’s destruction of Gawker is kind of the ultimate modern conspiracy. It seems from reading the book that you think conspiracies can be a good thing.

RH: If you look at my earlier definition, a conspiracy is a coordinated secret action designed to disrupt the status quo. So on the one hand, Peter “conspired,” I think, pretty objectively by any definition, to destroy this company.

Now is there also a conspiracy going on to destroy Alex Jones? It seems unlikely the Sandy Hook parents are funding these lawsuits themselves and that Alex Jones would mysteriously and suddenly be kicked off all these media outlets. The difference is people think of those instances of deplatforming as a good thing. I’m not making a judgement, but many people who see Thiel’s takedown of Gawker as bad also see the deplatforming of Alex Jones as good.

What I’m talking about in Conspiracy is a toolkit. Conspiracies are a way of accomplishing something that we should be more aware of because they do happen. There are conspiracies to assassinate people, or to steal things. In 1919, there was a conspiracy to fix the World Series. That’s not a good thing. However, there might be some billionaire funding the Stormy Daniels case, or the case against Alex Jones. There are good conspiracies and bad conspiracies. What I tried to do in the book is not say why this happened or that it was good or bad, but rather how it happened. Because it is incredible that this guy was able to, in secret, destroy a media outlet through one of the most covered stories and lawsuits of our time. And we should learn from that.

SE: He worked on this in secret for 10 years, while also making billions of dollars, funding hugely successful companies.

RH: He kept the plan secret and told the people involved only what they needed to know.

SE: The secrecy of it is almost superhuman. I’ve never even cheated on anyone. I would never get away with it; I’d rat myself out. So working in secret for 10 years, I can’t imagine getting away with that.

RH: Look, I’m sort of center-right politically, but when you look at the left what I mostly see is people who are so sure they’re right that their policies will obviously be embraced by the world and be automatically successful. And that’s not the case. If Thiel had said, “I’m going to destroy Gawker,” they would have realized much earlier the Hulk Hogan case was being bankrolled by someone else and changed their legal strategy.

SE: The strategy wouldn’t have been to outlast him.

RH: I think it was Napoleon who said: Never do what your enemy would like you to do for the reason that he would like you to do it. The whole idea that Gawker thinks Thiel should have been upfront about his intentions is exactly why, strategically, it would have been stupid.

You can say that a billionaire destroying a media outlet is the opposite of what the First Amendment is supposed to be about, and still be impressed that he did this incredible thing. Like, you can say that the Israelis should not be involved in covert kidnappings and assassinations yet still admire the efficiency or strategic brilliance with which they sometimes are able to do it. And again, the idea that because you don’t like something or you think that the outcome is bad doesn’t mean you should close your mind to it and simply condemn rather than understand it.

SE: It’s like in the Revolutionary War. If we fought the British the way the British wanted us to fight it, we would have lost.

RH: You need to understand these things. Like, calling someone Machiavellian is one of the worst insults. People don’t realize what Machiavelli’s book was actually was. Machiavelli was arrested and tortured for conspiring against the Medici. So then he turns around and writes The Prince, which he dedicates to the Medici. People think The Prince is about how to be a ruthless prince. In actuality, tyranny was anathema to what Machiavelli actually stood for. He’s writing about how power works, how power is seized, how it is defended, and what the mindset and approach of these sort of individuals is. The subtext of Machiavelli is how we defend ourselves against all this.

One of the stories told in Conspiracy is the story of how Eisenhower takes down McCarthy, who was obviously an individual with a massive platform that he was using for evil. He was pretending to care about communism but really he was just a demagogue trying to get power for himself. People don’t realize Eisenhower’s role precisely because Eisenhower never took credit for it and did it privately. But McCarthy’s demise was meticulously orchestrated by Eisenhower. Eisenhower said in a meeting, “This man will never become president as long as I’m alive. I will destroy this person.” But he knew that what McCarthy thrived on was outward conflict, so he said, OK. I can’t attack this person head on, so how can I slowly limit his power? How can I send proxies against him? How can I set him up to overreach?

SE: It’s interesting though that in the end maybe Peter Thiel wasn’t so successful. He destroyed Gawker but ended up hurting himself when it became known that he funded the lawsuit. This ends up having a destructive impact on his life. Kind of a “be careful what you wish for” sort of story.

RH: The day the verdict came down there was this New York Times piece where they interview three First Amendment experts, including the former general counsel of the New York Times. They all say that no precedent was set in this case except that you can’t run celebrity sex tapes. Basically, it was a very limited case and Gawker probably deserved to lose it. A lot of people in the media actually sort of cheered Gawker‘s downfall.

Only a month and a half later, when Thiel’s involvement is revealed, that suddenly changes. And I would argue Gawker has created a very successful sort of lost-cause mythology after the fact. You know Gawker was very early, supposedly, on the Bill Cosby case and the Louis CK case and a few others, so they’re looked at in a more heroic way. But it’s interesting that people didn’t take those articles seriously at the time because people tended not to take Gawker articles seriously. It didn’t have a great reputation for truth or stringent editorial standards.

Thiel’s involvement immediately shifted the narrative from Hulk Hogan as the underdog to Hulk Hogan as the bully and Thiel as the ultimate bully. The irony is that he went after this media outlet because he wanted privacy and now he has almost no privacy.

SE: That’s an interesting element of conspiracies, right? What happens when they’re successful.

RH: The unintended consequences of conspiracies cannot be overstated. The senators who helped to assassinate Julius Caesar in order to restore the Republic ended up obliterating any chance of that happening. Ceasar could have restored the Republic, and perhaps he intended to do it at some point, but his assassination set in motion a civil war and then Octavian becomes basically the dictator and emperor for life and it ends the Republic permanently.

SE: It happens over and over again: Conspirators turn against one another. The enemy of your enemy, it turns out, is not your friend. I’m thinking of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in Russia, the Marxists and the Islamists in Iran.

RH: Yes. You could almost argue that every single CIA conspiracy ever has ended up having blowback worse than whatever the problem was they were trying to avoid. In Afghanistan, we supported the Mujahideen and ended up creating al-Qaeda. Today’s freedom fighters are tomorrow’s terrorists. The person you assassinate sets in motion a different tyrant.

Clearly Peter Thiel’s main failing in this conspiracy, aside from any moral consideration, was his lack of planning for what happens after the win. That is the problem with most conspiracies: planned up until plunging the knife into Caesar, with no plan for what comes next. It’s a major strategic error.

How many people say, “I want to be a best selling author. I want to win a Grammy.” We think when we get what we want we’ll be happy and the world will magically be the way that we want it to be.

You could argue that the real [unintended] outcome of Thiel’s conspiracy was the election of Donald Trump. A lot of the tactics that he learned here, a lot of the media disdain that’s been kicked up and put in motion was then used for the election of a way bigger bully than Gawker ever was.

Stephen Elliott is the author of eight books, including the novel Happy Baby and the memoir The Adderall Diaries.

Featured photo: Ryan Holiday


  1. Evander says

    “A lot of the tactics that he learned here, a lot of the media disdain that’s been kicked up and put in motion was then used for the election of a way bigger bully than Gawker ever was.”

    Good right up to this sentence. When you assert without evidence that Trump is a bully, all you’re doing is stating your politics. If I asserted Obama was a clown without evidence, I would be doing the same thing. I think we can do better than this.

    • Tome708 says

      My God does Trump live in these people’s heads. How often does his name get dropped in totally unrelated topics?

      • Doctor Locketopus says

        It’s on the “journalist” checkoff list. You must mention one or more of:

        1) Trump.
        2) “Global warming”.
        3) Racism/sexism/anti-small-furry-rodentism.

    • Stephanie says

      @Evander, thank you, I was going to say the same thing. Some people can’t get through a single conversation without throwing shade at Trump. It’s obsessive and pathetic.

      It spoiled an otherwise interesting article. Ironically, the most important point made was on the tendency for revolutionary actions to backfire horrible, and ultimately delay the advances they seek. If the author thought about this a moment, they’d realise their alternative to Trump is a Democratic party caught up in exactly the kind of revolutionary fever they caution against.

    • Martin28 says

      I don’t mind the gratuitous reference to Trump, but this is complete BS. The media disdain has been around far longer than the Hulk Hogan case. To draw that line is ridiculous. And the media has earned this disdain on their very own, without the help of Peter Thiel. And they continue to earn it!

  2. Robinson says

    Gawker was the most awful sociopathic nonsense. This apology for it trying a bit too hard to masquerade as criticism isn’t really very convincing.

    • peterschaeffer says

      R, There is a body of opinion (that I agree with) that the First Amendment only protects political speech, not pornography. That’s not the prevailing legal opinion and I am not anti-pornography. However, I do believe that the Constitution was meant to protect political speech, not Emily Ratajkowski. I am not arguing that she should be censored, just not protected by the First Amendment.

      • Robinson says

        Censoring Emily Ratajkowski would be a crime against humanity.

      • DeplorableDude says

        The First Amendment protects all speech by preventing the government from interfering with speech. It does not protect an organization from the backlash it creates by publishing something.

        • Breakfast Bear says

          Up to a point.

          It also protects your privacy in that you should be able to sleep with who you want and not have hidden cameras filming things and publishing them to the Internet.

      • Peter, in the abstract I could agree with that principle. However the catch is when you attempt to define/limit what is political speech and is not. In a sense it is simpler than defining pornography, but in some it is ever-expansive. Is sexuality, its expression, or observance a political issue? If the government has any say in the matter one could argue it is indeed political the moment a politician can write laws on it one way or another.

        For an example, image the U.S. federal government never had any say in defining marriage. It never “recognized” a marriage as anything more than a mutually agreed upon domestic arrangement for tax and inheritance purposes. Under that scenario “gay marriage speech” is not political, but civil and individual – at the federal level. As such speech promoting or disparaging it would not fall on “free speech” grounds as it is apolitical speech. Conversely, once politicians want to legally define “marriage” at all, it becomes political speech to discuss it.

        Perhaps that is the great irony of free speech covering political speech, and why the distinction may ultimately be devoid of meaning: the moment you try to make laws or use government to prevent an expression it immediately becomes political. Said another way, the attempt to make speech illegal confers the protection of free political speech on it.

        If we look outside pornography, which is almost unique in its political aspects, and see what “speech” has been banned and survived a constitutional challenge we see the actual speech is apolitical in that exhorting someone to murder another or burn down someone’s house is apolitical – even if the victim or motivation is “political”-, or yelling “fire” in a crowded theater (to bring that horse carcass back out) is not “protected” because there is nothing political about that as well.

        One could use that angle to somewhat wiggle out of the example above, but the more politics is intertwined in daily life and choices, the more difficult that becomes. At the extreme end where “all politics is personal” (of which Mussolini would be envious) then all speech is political. In that sense virtually all speech is potentially political.

        Indeed the scenarios I’ve outlined above did come to a head early on in the second Union, in the form of the Sedition Act, which criminlized conspiracies to oppose any measure or measures of the federal government. In the above scenario the federal government regulating the definition of marriage would be a measure. Further it went to criminalize speaking bad about the President or Congress (that lack of inclusion of the VP in that is striking, and unsurprising given the act was aimed at the party of the VP at the time: Jefferson). The Federalist response to a constitutional challenge by the republicans is intersting and familiar.

        The federalists fell back on English law, and claimed the protection was limited to the expression of ideas, but that once expressed they were no longer protected and the government could punish you for having done that. Now to us that seems absurd a priori. However, it obviously seemed rational at the time. The first accustion and conviction of it was against a Republican who openly opposed Adams’ (POTUS) seeming interest in a war. I don’t think it a coincidence that the Sedition Act’s escape clause of “truth of the matter” being a defense led to a guilty until proven innocent scenario for Lyon.

        Ultimately the matter was greatly obfuscated by later amendments promulgating the Bill of Rights onto the states. For the framers are “on record” as not being opposed to state level restrictions. Jefferson himself even wrote as such.

        That said, a counter to the notion that the framers intended to protect very little speech would be supportable by the structure and limitations in what they designed: a very limited government. Expansive powers to regulate speech deemed non-political would be at odds with their clear and explicit intent to severly limit the federal government. Indeed, while most are ignorant of it, the Constitution and government we recognize is not the first one we had. In that one the federal government had even less power (which is a major part of why they pulled a “do-over”). Between the constituion as adopted at the time and the writings of those involved in the years following, as well as their actions and inactions, it is quite clear they intended for the federal government to be highly limited in what it had to say regarding speech/expression.

  3. David Wall says

    How is publishing a tape of people having sex, recorded without their consent, a free speech issue?

    • peanut gallery says

      Additionally Gawker did deserve to be taken down. Their smaller victims couldn’t fight back, as the the fellow admits. I’d be more with the Alex Jones take down if they had done it after the Sandyhook thing, but they ended up doing for some other less principled reason. It’s a disgrace.

      And as I have said over and over, Trump (and Hillary) are a symptom of a much greater problem with the Republic.

  4. peterschaeffer says

    “You could almost argue that every single CIA conspiracy ever has ended up having blowback worse than whatever the problem was they were trying to avoid. In Afghanistan, we supported the Mujahideen and ended up creating al-Qaeda.”

    Not really. The USSR was a lot more dangerous than al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc. i am not trying to sugar coat al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc. They are awful. However, the USSR was a real superpower. It was vastly more dangerous to the US, the West, Japan, etc.

    People forget how long and bitter the Cold War really was. In a way that’s a good thing. We can afford to forget about it because it is over.

    Famously, the CIA backed the anti-communists in the 1948 election. Did it work in the short term. Yes, it did. Does Italy have problems today? Of course, it does. Would Italy have been better as a member of the Warsaw Pact?

    • Amen! We should never forget the Cold War. Its dangers put all our present concerns into perspective.

    • TarsTarkas says

      The Cole War is a big reason why Italy has had such messy politics ever since the 1948 election. Because no matter what the non-communist Italian political parties knew better than to ever ever consider forming a coalition government with the Communists. Because (1) every secret NATO and the Americans had would be have been immediately become known to Moscow and (2) the Americans would never stand for it (they still have troops and bases there and I believe nukes).

  5. ga gamba says

    It’s interesting though that in the end maybe Peter Thiel wasn’t so successful. He destroyed Gawker but ended up hurting himself when it became known that he funded the lawsuit. This ends up having a destructive impact on his life. Kind of a “be careful what you wish for” sort of story.

    Has he harmed himself? Who’s saying so? I can understand why the media howls with indignation, and it may play up this angle to warn off others, but they also have a vested interest. They’re accustomed to being the 800-pound gorilla and running roughshod over others. Not too often they’re in conflict with a 1200-pound one. But even that analogy doesn’t ring entirely true because this wasn’t a bare-knuckle punch up or a duel by pistols. Thiel didn’t hire hitmen to gun down Denton and the reporters. Each side hired competent lawyers and the case was argued before a judge. The ruling against Gawker proved it wasn’t a frivolous nuisance suit. It’s a sad state of affairs that one has to be a billionaire to hold the mass media to account.

    And what of the average man? What are his opinions of Thiel in this case? Take a look at readers’ comments at the leftist Guardian. The journalist Marina Hyde is one of the paper’s more popular pundits, and she was critical of Thiel. The BTL community rubbished her views resoundingly.

    Most of the antipathy I find for Thiel is best summed up by a reader’s comment at the NY Times: “I was actually rooting for Mr. Thiel until I read, ‘Mr. Thiel is a pledged delegate for Donald J. Trump for the 2016 Republican National Convention.'”

    Revealed: The principled left.

    And let’s not even address how the dinosaur media is trying to trample on independent journalists and online commentators. It’s incessant finger pointing at creators on youtube has paid off; many have been deplatformed. Youtube recently announced a multi-million dollar initiative to aid legacy media create online content too. Youtube never ever extended such a helping hand to the independents, i.e. the creators who actually built the platform, yet the major media players need handouts because all these decades of expertise are a hardship they can’t overcome.

    Anyway, screw Nick Denton. I wish him many more failures.

    • Robinson says

      You’ve hit the nail on the head. This piece is really just a long preamble to allow the author to have a dig at Trump. It’s so transparently so it hardly needs repeating.

      • peanut gallery says

        @Rob Hah! Maybe it’s like “the Aristocrats!” joke. Make a long story, then end it with “Anyway, Trump amirite?!”

    • Doctor Locketopus says

      > Has [Thiel] harmed himself?

      He hasn’t. Thiel is a honey badger wrt not giving a shit what leftists think of him. That’s why they hate him so much.

    • Evander says

      “Revealed: The principled left.”

      ga gamba, the hard core of the left is commited to a utilitarian principle. They calculated that Thiel, on balance, was foe not friend, because of his support for Trump. Material and/or moral backing of a figure like Trump cancels all prior credit. The ultimate aim isn’t to support principles or vulnerable individuals but for their bloc to dominate the polity; everything is secondary – and therefore negotiable – to that aim.

      A homegrown example from Oz: the most radical Australian PM to date, Gough Whitlam – elected 1972 – was ambivalent about accepting refugees from South Vietnam after the Communist victory. (It was up to his nominally-conserative successor to let them in). Why? Because they were predominantly anti-communist in their political sympathy and would vote for the Liberals, the party of the centre-right. Politics first, people second, brutal murder notwithstanding.

      There are modern liberals in the tradition of Orwell – principle before party – but the hard core remains power-oriented.

      • Peter from Oz says

        For non-Australian readers it should be noted that the Autralian Liberal Party is not liberal in the American sense. It is a merger of the liberals in the British sense with the conservatives in the face of the threat from the then socialist Labor Party.

        • TarsTarkas says

          Generally outside of the US Parties with the word ‘Liberal’ as part of their name are conservative (at least compared to other political parties in the nation they are in).

    • Breakfast Bear says

      Don’t forget that Canada is now bailing out legacy-large media right now to the tune of hundreds of millions of public dollars.

    • Stephanie says

      @ga gamba: Wow. That is relevant information. How in the world did this fail to come up in this interview?

      Of course I’m being facetious, the contextless, strained anti-Trump dig at the end makes it abundantly clear why the media turned on Thiel, and why the author wouldn’t admit to it.

      This piece is a major failure for not mentioning that. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

  6. David Smith says

    “You could almost argue that every single CIA conspiracy ever has ended up having blowback worse than whatever the problem was they were trying to avoid. In Afghanistan, we supported the Mujahideen and ended up creating al-Qaeda.”

    This are the kinds of idiotic empirical claims you get when a writer doesn’t know his limitations. He writes about Gawker and thinks he knows about everything from ancient Rome to the internecine conflicts among Afghan rebel units in the 1980s. He also doesn’t understand causation. Pompous fool.

    • Innominata says

      “He writes about Gawker and thinks he knows about everything from ancient Rome to the internecine conflicts among Afghan rebel units in the 1980s. He also doesn’t understand causation. Pompous fool.”

      I read Holiday’s book “Conspiracy”, and I came to a similar conclusion. It was an interesting read in many ways, but I sensed a a good deal of intellectual overreach, particularly when he tries to discuss Donald John Trump, whom he obviously has not researched thoroughly.

      A very smart man once talked about knowing what you do not know. I don’t get the sense Holiday has found that liminal distinction in himself.

      I tend to agree that the book would have been more accurately titled “Campaign” than “Conspiracy.” What Thiel did was a strategic campaign, not really a conspiracy.

      As for “Stocism”… Is that the new hipster religion? I must get me a Caesar haircut, like the Romantics did in the 1800s… ?

  7. It’s a tough one for me. On one hand, I don’t agree with any kind of de-platforming. On the other hand, I fail to see why the media needs to intrude so deeply into people’s personal lives, particularly their sexual orientation.

    There should be consequences when the media acts poorly. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m sure I would think of doing the same thing as Thiel if I were in his position.

    • ga gamba says

      On one hand, I don’t agree with any kind of de-platforming.

      This isn’t a deplatforming issue. A speaker on a platform still must behave lawfully. S/he can’t defame individuals. S/he can’t violently assault others or perpetrate crimes and claim it was done as speech. Gawker and its allies want to frame this case as a free speech one and use the vengeful Trump-loving billionaire running amok as a foil. This is far from the real dispute. Let’s put aside Thiel for a moment. Did Bollea have a case against Gawker? Indeed he did. Not only did he prevail in the lower court, on Gawker’s appeal he prevailed again. Gawker behaved both unlawfully and unethically full stop. It was Gawker’s own poor choices and stupid behaviour that wrecked its platform.

      What we witness in this interview is a mishmash of bogeymen (Thiel, the CIA, Machiavelli, McCarthy, Trump, Freddie Krueg… wait, not him) meant to distract us from the crux of the matter: Gawker maliciously wronged Bollea. There is no dispute on this fact.

      On the other hand, I fail to see why the media needs to intrude so deeply into people’s personal lives, particularly their sexual orientation.

      Though this was the motivation for Thiel to seek other abuses by Gawker, let’s not mistake this for what sank Gawker in court: it decided to publish a surreptitiously recorded sex video of Bollea in a private home where he had an expectation of privacy. In response to new technology that made video voyeurism possible, and to strengthen voyeurism laws that hadn’t included video recording devices, new laws began to be enacted in 2003. Often these laws treat video voyeurism as a felony with multi-year imprisonment and the criminalisation of this allows for civil lawsuits. In many jurisdictions voyeurism is treated like a sex crime, so the released must report his/her residence to police and a publicly accessible database is maintained. Gawker had about a decade to acquaint itself with these laws and it could have raised questions of the media’s ethical responsibility in response to these changes with professional associations such as the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the Society of Editors, and others. These have codes of ethics or practices.

      For example, under the ethical responsibility to minimise harm, the SPJ states journalists should “balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.” It adds they should “show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with… victims of sex crimes.” Journalists are to “avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.”

      So, the sex video reached Gawker’s hands. It could have handled the story in a few ways. It could have written an article about how surreptitiously recorded sex videos also victimise men and not included the visuals. It could have notified the victim that the recording had been delivered to it and pitched such a story. It could have even published stills or the video itself and blurred out the victim.

      Gawker did none of this. Gawker edited the 30-minute recording down to one minute and posted it with a story that gave a mocking blow-by-blow account of the other 29 minutes. This was the extent of the news report. Gawker decided to become a beneficiary of the video voyeurism crime, further victimising the victim. Remember, the video hadn’t been leaked to the public first, so it wasn’t reporting the news. Gawker was making it.

      The interview fails to mention two unorthodox tactics used by Bollea’s legal team. These are what freak out journalism. When offered $10 million to settle, Bollea refused. Corporations are accustomed to plaintiffs, often urged by their lawyers who work on contingency, to accept such deals. The plaintiff is not required to do so, but it’s become so normalised than corporations consider this a cost of business. In normalising this process, they failed to foresee more dire consequences, such as bankruptcy. Removing the chance of its own death from its calculation allowed Gawker to (mis)calculate it would earn more money by trampling on people than it would pay in lawsuits. And, anyway, Gawker was protected by insurance. At least it thought so. Secondly, Bollea’s legal team removed Gawker’s insurer from the lawsuit by dropping the claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress. Without this injury the insurance policy didn’t apply. The insurer counted its blessings, said its thanks, and walked out of court. This was crafty; it left Gawker solely on the hook and now made vulnerable its shareholders such as Denton. And outcome for all other media companies is they have to review their insurance policies and decide whether or not to incur further expense to cover themselves from what was previously deemed almost impossible to occur.

      • A good summation. I think Gawker sunk itself by showing the video instead of just writing about it. That was a stupid move and they paid the price for their stupidity.

  8. jonfrum says

    Couldn’t happen to a better company. When I heard that Gawker went down I did a dance. They fucked with a guy, and he fucked back. I’d do the same thing.

  9. Farris says

    Conspiracy: An agreement to perform together an illegal, wrongful, or subversive act.

    It would appear the interviewee fails to understand the term conspiracy. Class action lawsuits frequently search out sympathetic plaintiffs, in order to demonstrate how the actions of a powerful corporation or government may affect an average or smaller person. Many defamation and civil rights lawsuits are bankrolled because the individual aggrieved party can not afford to instigate the lawsuit. There are several legal organizations and aid societies dedicated to this principle. There is nothing conspiratorial about it. The fact that a billionaire supplanted a legal aid organization does not alter that fact.
    If there is any conspiracy present it is on behalf of Gawker who retained a stable of lawyers for the purpose subverting the right to privacy and defaming individuals smaller than themselves with impunity. Regardless of what one thinks of Thiel’s politics or even his motivation, the fact is he stood up to an obnoxious bully. It is simply mind blowing that anyone’s perspective on the case could change because of Thiel’s involvement. So what if Hogan had a benefactor, that does not alter one fact in the case. Freedom of Speech is a shield not a hammer.

    • Conspiracy: Union or combination (of persons or things) for one end or purpose; harmonious action or effort.
      From the online OED. It notes, however, that usage is a good or neutral sense is archaic or obsolete.

  10. Is it really “deplatforming” when a for-profit media company breaks the law and is ruined because of their bad business practices? Gawker existed to make money. Its “journalists” were intellectual prostitutes who spread gossip and profited from virtual STDs that harmed and humiliated others. Good riddance.

  11. Doctor Locketopus says

    > You could almost argue that every single CIA conspiracy ever has ended up having blowback worse than whatever the problem was they were trying to avoid.

    Nah, brah. It’s just that, as a general rule, the only CIA conspiracies that ever become publicly known are the ones that fail.

    > One of the stories told in Conspiracy is the story of how Eisenhower takes down McCarthy, who was obviously an individual with a massive platform that he was using for evil.

    McCarthy was 100% right. The U.S. government really was full of Communist agents. We know that now from the Venona transcripts and numerous other sources that became available after the fall of the Soviet Union.

    • ga gamba says

      Read about Willi Munzenberg. He created numerous front organizations he termed “Innocents’ Clubs” that enticed intellectuals, writers, celebrities, and other useful idiots to defend the Bolshevik revolution and later Stalinism. He saw communists as a hidden vanguard operating at the helm of a coalition of liberals, social democrats, and intellectuals who were slowly being softened up. Otto Katz, one of Munzenberg’s henchmen, was sent to America where he with writer/screenwriter Dorothy Parker established front organisations in Hollywood.

      These people were to be the humanising face of communism and adjacent ideas such as pacifism (of the West). It wasn’t even important that they join the Party; in fact, the agents instilled a belief by the duped that they were independent. Munzenberg’s efforts hinged on a single premise — that ideology functioned best when hidden. He told a Comintern congress, “We must avoid being a purely communist organization. Now, especially, we must bring in other names, other groups, to make persecution more difficult.” They were needed to make its causes respectable whilst undermining those causes opposed to the big lie. Actors are especially treasured because not only could they stick to a script, they are skilled at emoting to establish emotional connections with the audience and manipulate these to a leftward orientation. They and writers were to launch fashionable opinions that would develop and grow amongst the ranks of the bien pensants and continue their path lower. This ripple effect was called “rabbit breeding”.

      You ever wonder why champagne socialists with their seaside mansions, private jets, and luxurious hobnobbing events exist? It flies in the face of the ideology, doesn’t it? Certainly some of these people are smart enough to understand the optics appear hypocritical. It was Munzenberg. To change hearts and minds, a soft touch was needed. People will always prefer entertainment to dogmatism, so he did the natural thing and folded communist ideas into mainstream publications, product packaging, plays, and films. The glamorous stars with their lavish lives were to portray a role that successful people embrace leftist ideas. Leftism would be aspirational.

      Munzenberg biographer Stephen Koch writes: He [Munzenberg] wanted to instill the feeling, like a truth of nature, that seriously to criticize or challenge Soviet policy was the unfailing mark of a bad, bigoted, and probably stupid person, while support was equally infallible proof of a forward-looking mind committed to all that was best for humanity and marked by an uplifting refinement of sensibility .

  12. In one corner, the yellow journalists who led the new media charge to fire all the reporters and replace them with weaponized gossip columnists; in the other, an entitled rich guy with a score to settle, giving his fellow entitled rich guys a demonstration of how to silence media outlets they don’t like.

    Tough call.

    • Sydney says

      @Sylv, Yes, that was always my feeling as well.

      Additionally, I’ve had the impression that Thiel has money in Quillette, so it’s interesting to see this piece.

  13. I was never sympathetic to Gawker, for exactly the reasons described.

    Their plan was to bully Hogan and exhaust him of all his assets if he pursued legal action.

    All Thiel did was help fund a lawsuit that was ultimately successful. There is absolutely nothing wrong, illegal, or even immoral about that. It happens ALL THE TIME, for a variety of reasons.

    The character assassination on Thiel after Hogan’s win was just further proof that the Gawker people are scum of the Earth and completely deserved what they got. Good riddance.

  14. Grant says

    He lost me when he invented a new definition of conspiracy and the interviewer just let that go buy. Welp, going Xmas shopping with my wife and conspiring to give people gifts. Maybe Steve can write about it.

  15. derek says

    What was shocking about this case was that a media organization was held accountable. It was akin to the Catholic priests being publicly outed for diddling little boys. Gawker was indefensible. Someone showed up with enough cash and determination to take them down.

    Denton is lucky he lives in a civilized country. In any other context he would have been shot.

    • Doctor Locketopus says

      > Denton is lucky he lives in a civilized country. In any other context he would have been shot.

      There have been plenty of civilized countries where a code duello was in force.

  16. Fluffy Buffalo says

    For me, the takeaway message of the Gawker case is that the US legal system is deeply dysfunctional. If you need a pissed-off billionaire as a backer to win a ckearly justified court case against a media company, there’s something wrong.
    As for the “rich guy destroying media outlet he doesn’t like” narrative, that’s BS. Gawker handed him the rope to hang them by. If they had respected the law and treated the objects of their “reporting” with half an ounce of decency and respect, Thiel would have sat on his grudges until the end of days, and nothing would have happened to Gawker.

  17. Steve says

    “you and I met once before, in combat”

    Let’s totally demolish the English language, huh?

    You were not “in combat”.

  18. Folamh says

    Sounds like a really interesting book! I’ve added it to my wishlist.

  19. Excellent article. However, why does everything have to be connected to Trump?
    I get it, Trump is a jerk, enough already! It

  20. Costanza says

    The comments section is pretty instructive on this one. Why are multiple people so triggered by the idea that the CIA backed dictators and terrorists for decades (a fact) and one guy is here even saying “McCarthy was absolutely right”. Then, a couple of others are just pissed off that Trump got critiqued. Snowflakes who can’t face facts, man.

    • Evander says

      This is called a discussion. What constitutes fact is contestable; some claims in the article were made with no compelling backing.

      “Then, a couple of others are just pissed off that Trump got critiqued.”

      Let me help you out: a critique is “a detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory.” People are merely pointing out that no such analysis took place.

  21. Doctor Locketopus says

    I’m not “triggered” by anything. I’m perfectly fine with the CIA backing dictators (e.g., the former Shah of Iran) if the alternative is communism or militant Islamism. In the real world, sometimes you have to ally with Stalin to beat Hitler. That doesn’t make Stalin good, and definitely doesn’t mean that you can’t try to defeat Stalin as well, once Hitler is gone.

    Yes, McCarthy was absolutely right.

    While we’re on the subject, the Rosenbergs were guilty as hell and were justifiably executed. We have the actual KGB communications now, dude.

    • Sydney says

      “…Rosenbergs…justifiably executed.”

      Thinking that it was perfectly fine to orphan two very young children because of the way political winds were blowing is sociopathic. Seek help.

      • peanut gallery says

        @Syd So simple jail time would also not be allowable? Or do the kids go in the cell with the parents? This argument seems half-baked. Put it back in for 10 minutes.

    • f1b0nacc1 says

      Churchill, when asked how he (a lifelong anticommunist) could possibly be advocating aid and support to Stalin’s Russia in WWII put it best….

      “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at the very least make a favorable reference to His Infernal Majesty in the House of Commons”

  22. Doctor Locketopus says

    > I’m perfectly fine with the CIA backing dictators (e.g., the former Shah of Iran) if the alternative is communism or militant Islamism.

    A challenge: can you persuade me that, by any reasonable metric, the Iranians were worse off under the Shah than they are now under the Islamofascists, or would have been as a Soviet puppet state? Those were the alternatives. There was no alternative where Iran turned into Darien, Connecticut, or Portland, Oregon (although Portland is headed toward turning into Iran at the moment).

    Iran under the Shah was one of the most modern and liberated societies in the Middle East. Now, that doesn’t mean it was a totally free country, or anything like it. Nonetheless, women could (and did) go to school, hold jobs outside the home, and so on.

    • Costanza says

      “Yes, McCarthy was absolutely right.”

      So…a ‘free speech warrior’ against witch hunts wants to go on record as saying this? The red scare and Cold Warrior ideology emanates from every word you’ve typed, if you’re younger than sixty I’m terrified. Nothing you’ve said merits response as you’re a McCarthy shill in 2018 but anyway, why are you comparing the Shah to Islamofascist regimes that came into existence *after* the Shah? The US overthrew Mossadegh. Islamism succeeded in Iran as a response to the Shah. Explain how Islamism was stopped by the Shah. in any way. I know, now, you’ll say Mossadegh was a communist, but you’ve already admitted you’re a McCarthyite so I’m not surprised. You are an emotionally-motivated right-winger who is apologizing for the Red Scare in 2018, an abysmal sign for a free speech warrior website that you’d think would have fans who learned a thing or two from the Crucible and Arthur Miller. Oh and nationalizing oil is a good idea and the U.S. should do it today. Get triggered.

      • ga gamba says

        The US overthrew Mossadegh… Oh and nationalizing oil is a good idea and the U.S. should do it today.

        That’s called theft. And that’s exactly what the blockhead Mossadegh did.

        Your depiction of the events is a little bit more complicated than your few sentences. Suffice it to say, I think your knowledge of the topic is enough for two bumper stickers.

        I wrote the below on 17 Sep, and I think it would help you understand where your superficial knowledge fails you.

        Before I begin my comment, I think several maps may aid our understanding of Iran and the region.
        Map 1: Three Persian empires, https://i(dot)imgur(dot)com/LDYGECA.jpg
        Map 2: Iran’s topography, https://i(dot)imgur(dot)com/6g47pzV.jpg
        Map 3: Iran’s ethnolinguistic diversity, https://i(dot)imgur(dot)com/6o6N9NU.jpg
        Map 4: The lands of Sunnis and Shi’as, https://i(dot)imgur(dot)com/ZpGExUh.jpg
        Map 5: Religious composition of the Middle East, https://i(dot)imgur(dot)com/IfLfxJj.jpg
        Map 6: Middle East’s present day petroleum and religion, https://i(dot)imgur(dot)com/FFK0Ip8.jpg
        Map 7: Mohammerah and its waterways (note: Khorramshahr is the city’s contemporary name), www(dot)themaparchive(dot)com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/b9d24ee63e043d9dae72d8cfeefe8ff8/A/x/Ax01233.jpg

        We need to go back a few decades to the Sheikhdom of Mohammerah. This de facto independent kingdom, an emirate once known as “Arabistan” by the Qajar Dynasty (1785 to 1925), existed at the area of what is today the border region of Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait (Maps 2 & 3) and cut off from the Iranian Plateau. Khaz’al Khan al-Kaabi (hereafter Khaz’al), as was his father and elder brother, was recognised as its ruler by the Qajar Dynasty, a Turkic tribe (Azeri) who conquered much of Persia. The people in the southwest were Arabs, and the emir of Arabistan was a relation of the Al-Sabah family, the rulers of Kuwait.
        The D’Arcy Concession granted to the D’Arcy Exploration Company by the Qajar Dynasty allowed the company to prospect this region. In return, the company agreed to pay the Shah £20,000 in cash, and equal value in company shares, and sixteen per cent of its net profits if any resources were found. By 1908 the cost of exploration had reached over half a million pounds without any viable oil fields being discovered. Having exhausted much of his own capital, D’Arcy sold most of his right to the Burmah Oil Company.

        Khaz’al was monarch of Arabistan from 1897 to 1925. During his reign he signed an oil-exploration contract with what become incorporated as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC), which later become British Petroleum and now known today as BP. Oil was discovered in 1908 and a contract was reached that provided the emir a minimum guaranteed income as well as a stake in the sales. Khaz’al was also a shareholder in APOC. Suffice it to say Khaz’al became a very wealthy emir; in his day it was claimed he was the wealthiest of all the Arabs and Iranians. He used this wealth to expand his influence and power by buying the loyalties of nearby tribes. His sheikhdom was able to establish a sense of lawfulness and stability in an area that was until his rule was one of squabbles, intrigues, piracy, raiding, slave trading, etc. He was even able to stop piracy on the Shatt al-Arab waterway from Mohammerah to the Persian Gulf (map 7). As you can see Mohammerah sits at the intersection of several major rivers, which would make the city an important trade centre and of interest to not only to the Ottomans and the Persians, but also the British and Russians. In was Khaz’al who made the place into what would become Persia’s major commercial port. Further, the Karun River, the largest river and the only navigable inland waterway in Iran, runs to Mohammerah and it was under the nominal control of the shah, who kept it closed to international navigation for fear of angering the Russians. The British could have disregarded this, but doing so would have played into Russia’s hands by forcing the shah to seek closer ties with the tsar.

        Iran’s blessing or curse, depending on how one views these things, was it was a crossroads of many civilisations (see map 3). Several times in its history it was powerful, expansionist, and imperial; the Qajar, themselves Turks, began its rule by conquering the Caucasus. And at other times it was contracting and in decay; Russia soon after seized the Caucasus from the Qajar. In the 1880s the Qajar Dynasty was in the latter state and under great pressure by both the Russians and the British as well as internal rivals. The year 1888 was to prove a pivotal for the Qajar Dynasty and the British. In exchange for British protection guarantees the Shah decreed security “to everyone his life, liberty, and property”, which imposed limits on his absolute rule that had been used to summarily execute rivals and seize the assets of the wealthy to top up his ever depleting coffer. The Shah also opened the Karun River. This was a period of concessions where the Shah granted monopolies, such as telegraphs, mills, roads, and railways, for a portion of the take which he used to finance his court and to repay loans made by Russia, Britain, and others.

        As the Qajar shahs were spending themselves into ruin and further alienating the merchants of Tehran by awarding concessions, Khaz’al was earning greater amounts as more oil production came on line and was exported in addition to the wealth gained by the expanding trade on the waterways.

        The early 20th century saw the establishment of the dynasty’s first parliament, one dominated by those living in Tehran. Looking at map 6 we can see a problem that vexed this new influential class – the oil wealth was far from the land dominated by the Farsi and other non-Arab speakers. And they wanted it.
        During these years APOC invested a considerable sum to build drilling platforms, refineries, storage tanks, port infrastructure, transportation infrastructure – the whole kit and caboodle that doesn’t magically fall from the sky when a resource is found. In 1914 the British government bought a majority stake and control of APOC for £2,200,000, approx. £250 million today adjusted for inflation, and thus the precursor of UK state-owned British Petroleum was established. APOC was to be managed as a nominally private entity with the state taking a hands off approach – the government acting as a sleeping partner. This would later cause problems when APOC’s and the government’s interests diverged throughout the ’20s and ’30s. APOC’s and the government’s interests aligned during WWII and, more importantly, post-War when a nearly bankrupt government was reliant on APOC earnings to finance itself.

        The oil company was not only a major employer and source of Iranian government revenue, but the leading source of direct foreign investment and a supplier of key services including roads, schools. and hospitals. The importance of Iranian oil to Britain was also undeniable. For example, the Abadan oil refinery was Britain’s largest single overseas asset.

        In 1921 the Shah was overthrown by a former general of his own Cossack Brigade, Reza Khan, and the Pahlavi Dynasty was established a few years later when Reza Khan became Reza Shah. One of Reza’s first acts, prior to assumption of the throne, was to go to to war with Khaz’al and bring Arabistan tightly under his rule. Reza, still as a civilian also partook in the renegotiation of the D’Arcy Concession, which was replaced by the Armitage-Smith Agreement. After Reza became Shah he then claimed he had exceeded his civilian authority in negotiating the Armitage-Smith Agreement and decided to rubbish it. Suffice it to say, Reza was often looking to extract more money from APOC.

        The company’s growth was affected by the Great Depression which cut demand for oil and, in 1931, royalties were reduced to a quarter of the previous year’s. In November 1932, the Shah himself cancelled the concession unilaterally, alleging APOC was not acting in Persia’s interests, though how APOC was to fix the worldwide Great Depression and return oil consumption to pre-crash levels was left unexplained by the Shah. Kings and their decrees, I suppose.

        One of the Shah’s complaints was the 16% profit was limited to oil extracted from Iran. After World War I APOC expanded outside Iran’s borders, for example into Iraq. The Shah wanted his takings to be derived from worldwide revenue.
        In 1933 a new 60-year agreement was reached, due in part to the intervention of the League of Nations responding to the British complaint. APOC’s concession area was reduced by 80%, a minimum annual payment of £750,000 (approx. £50m today) was provided, and royalties were to be calculated on physical volume of oil extracted in Iran rather than profit. Whilst this protected Iran from the risk in oil’s price fall, it also failed to provide Iran increased revenue in the case of oil’s price increase. The company was to recruit its technical and commercial staff from Iranian nationals to the extent that it could find Iranians who had the required competence and experience. The Iranian government’s revenues from oil sold inside and outside the country increased from an average of 12.3 US cents a barrel during 1913-1932 to an average of 21.5 cents in the period from 1933 to June 1951 – an increase of 75%. The agreement included a clause preventing any alteration unless discussions were instigated by the company, theoretically blocking any demands or action from the Iranian government for the 60-year duration. Ratified by the legislature and signed by the Shah,the agreement saw APOC renamed to Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) in accordance with the Shah’s wishes.

        During WWII the amount of royalties received from the company re-emerged as a matter of national concern, and the company’s existence, operations, and activities became a focal point for national grievances. AIOC a pawn in the constitutional struggle between the Shah and his opposition. The Shah had earlier weakened his position by cozying up to the Nazis, due in part to his ambitions to extend Iran’s power into the Gulf thereby threatening the rulers of Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain, so Britain and the Soviets agreed to support his abdication in favour of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to ensure the safety of Russian oil and material supplies transited through Iran. Domestically, the 1940s were a time of ever shifting political alliances and intrigues, foment of agitation, and even assassination. One notices the communist Tuda (Tudeh) Party’s double dealing as it was campaigning to end AIOC’s concession it supported one for the Soviets in northern Iran. Again, and in violation of the 1933 agreement, the Iranians were demanding renegotiation of the concession agreement to extract more money and this led to the Supplemental Agreement of 1947, which went unratified.

        Reviewing the contracts reached between the Iranians and the British, one can’t help but reach the conclusion the Iranians were poor negotiators who looked to the past problems to make political arguments and failed to forecast future developments of the market. Said the World Bank’s Hector Prud’homme, who was an arbitrator between the two parties in the 1950s: “Our difficulty was that we were dealing with political men and not businessmen.” The tension between political gains and economic ones proved irreconcilable. After unilateral nationalisation in 1951, again in violation of the 1933 agreement, the withdrawal of British workers, and the severing of diplomatic relations by Iran in ’52, the Iranians were left on their own to run AIOC. They ran it into the ground because the British embargo and its threat of legal action against shipping companies and refineries contracting with the Iranians. Mosaddeq hadn’t planned on that response and he had no way to counter it. Though controlling the domestic facilities, the Iranians failed to realise the principal market was overseas which required the control of the distribution, refining, and sales channels, all of which were beyond their grabby hands. In denying these to Iran, Britain was supported by its allies, chiefly the USA amongst many others.

        Mosaddeq was incompetent. Though desiring to increase Iran’s takings and improve opportunities for workers, the decrease in oil production – plummeting from 650,000 barrels per day in 1951 to only 20,000 bpd in 1952 – reduced Iran’s revenue and labour was left without work and incomes. Mosaddeq’s popularity soon diminished and his support dwindled, both in government and in the streets. His political ambitions were no substitutes for the needed foreign exchange that the flow of oil to international markets used to generate. Failing to understand the operation and dynamics of the market, Mosaddeq and his supporters overplayed their hand. Mosaddeq’s advisers had convinced him that given its size and importance, the Iranian crude oil and petroleum products were irreplaceable in the international markets. Consequently, the loss of such a volume of oil would bring the Western economies to their knees, forcing them to accept the Iranian terms, and bring about the success of the nationalisation. They could have not been more wrong; they were clearly not sufficiently informed about the development of large-scale crude oil production capacities in the neighboring countries such as Kuwait.

        Once his domestic support largely evaporated because he was unable to deliver on his promise of increased national prosperity, he was left vulnerable to rivals who wanted to re-establish relations with Britain, return Iranian oil to the world market, resume receiving revenues to fund the government, and recover the economy. Saying the CIA and MI6 overthrew Mosaddeq is an oversimplification. He was overthrown because his own ambition and misguided actions made him vulnerable to domestic actors. The CIA and MI6 couldn’t orchestrate against him had he still retained the support of the people, the Tehran merchants, the legislators, and the military. Mosaddeq made nationalisation his hill to die on, on died on it he did.

        Under the new post-Mosaddeq agreement of 1954 Iran shared the profits from the oil production with the new consortium members on a 50-50 basis. Further, Iran opened up much of the country to exploration by several oil companies of many nations, expanding it beyond the interest of AIOC, now called British Petroleum, and the Soviets. This led to phenomenal growth in investment, production, and revenue for both the government and the oil companies.
        Advocates of nationalisation of natural resources and their extractive businesses possess a bizarre idea that these owners are somehow like a lottery winner who found their ticket serendipitously and undeservedly. It denies significant risk was taken and investments made to create the industry that now they want to steal in the name of the people. Further, these advocates disregard contracts and the rule of law; we often find the expropriating governments later abusing the rights of the people in their name.

        There are lessons to be learnt about nationalising transnational businesses, in particular ones owned in whole or in part by other governments. You might just find you’ve run afoul of powers who will respond with more just angry words to protect their or their citizens’ interests. Tread carefully.

        A couple things to add.

        Firstly, the quality of life for many worsened under the theocrats’ rule. Khomeini decreed that women would be unable to serve as judges; that only a man could petition for divorce; that women were banned from participating in sport; and as predicted by many pessimistic voices prior to the establishment of the theocracy, women were ordered to wear the chador.

        Secondly, [I wrote on 14 July] a democratic and peaceful change for Iran, one that includes the possibility of ending theocratic rule if it is willed by the people, is practically impossible because of the Guardian Council of the Constitution. This twelve-member body, six of whom must be Islamic jurists (known as faqih) and the other six appointed by the legislature, has the right to accept of reject legislation passed by the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the nation’s parliament. Further, it approves and disqualifies candidates seeking to run in local, parliamentary, presidential, and Assembly of Experts elections. The Assembly of Experts is not a law-making body; its job is to elect the Supreme Leader of Iran. All members still have to be approved by the Supreme Leader.

        This stacks the deck against those who wish to significantly reform or end theocratic rule. In the 2016 election only 51.4 per cent of parliamentary candidates were approved to run (6,229 out of 12,123), the lowest rate of approval for these elections ever. For the Assembly of Experts only 20.1 per cent were approved to run. Reformist parties have to use subterfuge, such as overwhelming the Guardian Council with candidates’ petitions, as a way to have some of their desired candidates approved. One of those rejected was Hassan Khomeini, a Shiite Muslim cleric like his grandfather, Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. As a member of a “reformist” party his petition to run for the Assembly of Experts was rejected by the Guardian Council.

  23. Doctor Locketopus says

    > The red scare and Cold Warrior ideology emanates from every word you’ve typed

    They murdered over 100 million people, dude. Stop pretending that it was imaginary thing. You do realize that you sound EXACTLY like a neo-Nazi holocaust denier, right?

    > but anyway, why are you comparing the Shah to Islamofascist regimes that came into existence *after* the Shah?

    Because when commies like you managed to get the Shah kicked out, he was immediately replaced by an Islamofascist regime.

    Next question.

    > you’d think would have fans who learned a thing or two from the Crucible and Arthur Miller

    Arthur Miller: also a communist. Sorry, but it was true.

    • Doctor Locketopus says

      And I notice that you did not answer my question.

      Was life under the Shah better or worse than it is now under the Islamofascists? Was it better or worse than life was in Soviet puppet states?

      If you refuse to answer, just let me know now and we can both save a lot of time.

      • Costanza says

        The Shah was far worse than Mossadegh, as the Shah was a dictator implanted by a foreign power to replace a democratically-elected President. Mossadegh was the best leader Iran has had in the past eighty years and the U.S. ousted him via force to implant the Shah, who, again, was a dictator not elected by the people of Iran. Mossadegh was a secular liberal, not an Islamist. The Islamofacists didn’t come until after the Shah and are not a part of that question. I hope I’ve helped correct your historical misunderstandings.

        • Stephanie says

          @ Costanza, ouch, that’s embarrassing. Maybe time for you to read history, instead of ideological commentary. Also check to see that your news sources aren’t funded by Russia.

    • peanut gallery says

      You’re both right. They killed a lot of their own people and the Cold War was also stupid. America became an empire because it had no faith in it’s own people to not embrace a foolish ideology. But we also didn’t and don’t want to admit the empire exists. Combine this with the military industrial complex and you get Vietnam and a shit sandwich. I understand why post WWII leaders made those decisions, but hindsight is 20/20 and I think a lot of what happened was unnecessary and we have a lot of self-inflicted wounds. YMMV.

      We were friends with Japan until we weren’t. Had America not intervened in WWI, WWII would likely never happened, but it’s easy to arm-chair history.

      When someone talks about America being less all over the globe they call us isolationists. What other country has this much presence? Is Mexico following an isolationist path? If that’s bad shouldn’t China be in more places too? Maybe Russia was right to get Crimea! Don’t wanna be isolated! Is getting out of Syria isolationist? Imperial Japan is isolationist. The US not policing the world is not reverting to isolationism. It’s a return to sanity.

  24. Doctor Locketopus says

    > The Shah was far worse than Mossadegh

    Mossadegh was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Kremlin, so, no, the Shah wasn’t “far worse”. For one thing, the Shah didn’t need to use mine fields and dogs to keep people from leaving the country, as we saw in every Soviet satellite state.

    > Mossadegh was a secular liberal

    Mossadegh was a communist.

    > The Islamofacists didn’t come until after the Shah

    One: what is a “facist”? Someone who’s prejudiced against ugly people?

    Two: yeah, I said “immediately replaced” That sort of implies “came after” doesn’t it? The Shah left Iran on 16 January, 1979. Iran became an “Islamic Republic” on 1 April 1979.

    > I hope I’ve helped correct your historical misunderstandings.

    You should look at actual history, not the junk that’s been put into your head by the likes of Howard Zinn.

  25. Doctor Locketopus says


    In your fantasy world where Mossadegh was an Aryan Mr. Rogers, what happens to Iran when it falls out of the U.S. sphere of protection?

    I know. Just more Cold War paranoia on my part. It’s not like the Soviets curb-stomped and absorbed dozens of other resource-rich countries with which they shared a border, right? Never happened. Nope.

    Then there was the eternal Soviet (and both before and after the Soviet Union, Russian) dream of having a warm-water port for their fleet.

    Warm-water port, lots of fuel, strategically-located to cut off energy supplies to the west…

    Nah. No way the Soviets would’ve grabbed it. Wouldn’t have happened. Nope. Mossadegh would’ve created an earthly paradise for his people. You betcha.

    • Chad Jessup says

      Mossadegh signed his own death warrant upon nationalizing the British oil company (can’t remember the name) which controlled Iran’s oil production. Britain embarked on a successful world-wide economic boycott, impoverishing the Iranian people, and thus forcing Mossadegh, himself adverse to socialism, to seek help from pro-Soviet entities.

      Britain, unable to affect a reversal of Mossadegh’s policies, sought the assistance of the USA, which then embarked on the regime change program resulting in the Shah of Iran’s ascension to power, the uptick being American oil companies obtained approximately a third controlling interest in Iranian oil production.

  26. Anthony says

    I have just today stumbled upon this site. It is now my new favorite stop on the Internet. Ironically, because it feels like the old Internet. Much obliged, knowledgeable and civil commenters.

  27. Jezza says

    I am much indebted to Ga gamba for his informative posts. His quote from Koch’s biography of Munzenberg set bells ringing in my mind. If you substitute ‘Democrat’ for ‘Soviet’ you get a pretty accurate representation of the state of political discourse in USA today. Thus: ” He wanted to instill the feeling, like a truth of nature, that seriously to criticize or challenge *Democrat* policy was the unfailing mark of a bad, bigoted, and probably stupid person, while support was equally infallible proof of a forward-looking mind committed to all that was best for humanity and marked by an uplifting refinement of sensibility. ” So the question is: Who is suborning the Democrat party, and to what end?” Who convinced them that any person who supported DJT is unfailingly ” bad, bigoted, and probably stupid”? Shine a light on this.

  28. R Henry says

    Nick Denton and Gawker and NOT sympathetic defendants. They got what they deserved.

    Sadly, remnants of Gawker, now called “Gizmodo Media” remain entirely bereft of integrity, and continue to publish poorly vetted and dangerously divisive garbage, particular on the Jezebel and The Root sites.

  29. jorge espinha says

    My disdain for MSM really started with the Daily show, a kind of offshoot of the MSM. Two events spring to mind, John Steward’s interview of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a baseless affair and John Steward and Trevor Noah relativisation of the Charlie Hebdo murders. The moral superiority of the left is sickening.

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