Share this article

print logo

Hogan v. Gawker case shows some closed doors ought to stay closed

Hulk Hogan didn’t ask for enough. A paltry $100 million. So the jury in his invasion of privacy suit against Gawker awarded him $115 million instead. And that was before they got to the punitive phase of their deliberations.

I’m with the jury – more or less.

It’s not because I have any unusual regard for Hogan. Call me old-fashioned but I don’t think anyone has the legal right to show anyone else having sex unless the participants agree. Even Hulk Hogan. Even though his sex partner knew they were taped at the time. Hogan didn’t.

Nor do I have any special concern for his mental state. I’m sorry I ever heard the stage name of the fellow who filmed his own wife and Hogan in the act: He’s called Bubba the Love Sponge on the radio – a name I would gladly unhear and unsee if I could. Alas, it’s way too late.

The Hogan and Gawker case is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard about. Of course, you can’t show two people having sex on the Internet unless both give permission. What kind of world would it be if you could?

Hogan – aka Terry Bollea – may be in contention for major jackass of the Western World these days. I wouldn’t know. Never met the fellow. You probably haven’t either.

If Hogan wants to go on Howard Stern’s or any other radio show and talk in detail about his sex life, that’s between him and the host and their listeners. If anyone else wants to go on the air and make jokes about it – once he opened that can of worms – more power to them. First Amendment and all.

I’m as much of a First Amendment zealot as you’re likely to meet. But you can’t say anything you please about any celebrity anymore, no matter what primrose path the Internet is leading people down. Lee Daniels, creator of “Empire,” is finding that out for talking about his star Terrence Howard’s alleged domestic abuse allegations and saying Sean Penn physically abused Madonna while they were married.

It may have been a rumor that’s been “out there” since Penn and Madonna divorced. But the key fact is that not only does Penn say no, she’s denied it in a sworn affidavit. And then there have been reports of the pair at mutual peace in the 21st century so it’s not likely she’d appear in court and start ticking off physical abuses now.

If both parties say nothing happened, and cops were never called and no evidence exists of it, you’d jolly well better have emergency room testimony or else shut up. Penn can almost certainly not prove Daniels’ malice about such a widespread rumor, but you can bet your favorite lawyer’s office rent that’s not really what Penn is after. He just wants to kick that particular defamation in the pants and stop it.

He’s suing for $100 million. I don’t think his tempestuous “reputation” underwent that much damage, any more than Hogan suffered much loss of worldly esteem because Bubba filmed his former best pal and his wife in sexual congress and let it get out.

What offended me about the whole garbage-ous matter is the Gawker contention that this is a First Amendment issue – that a gossip site has the right to show a sexual act if one of the participants talks publicly about his sex life.

It’s simple logic: If he talks about it publicly, everyone else should be allowed to and say whatever they want.

Showing it, though, is another matter.

Good for Hogan. Even on the lowest rungs of the showbiz ladder in America, it is still possible for people to make a stand for privacy and dignity.

To paraphrase the poet Andrew Marvell, the Internet’s a fine and public place so none, I think, should there embrace – not in full NC-17 glory unless they agree to exposure first.

I never saw the infamous tape when a few seconds of it ran on Gawker. If that website had only described what’s on it, it might have been fine. Gawker could argue that in the world of modern celebrity, fame leaves your sex life open to others’ speculation, especially if you boast about it yourself.

Showing a video online is another matter. If a person’s privacy doesn’t begin at the bedroom or bathroom door, Lord help anyone else who doesn’t have the money to hire lawyers and fight back.

We all know that the Internet changed the porn business entirely. The only thing that now separates our eyeballs from a screen full of people having sex is a few keystrokes.

I’m sorry for Gawker if this puts them out of business. I’m even sorrier if Hogan is scored a national hero.

But the message of the jury was clear: In the world of the Internet you’ve got to draw a line somewhere – the bedroom door, for instance, if somebody didn’t give permission.

No argument from me.

email: jsimon@buffnews.com