Gawker says it fears new legal entanglement - in Donald Trump's hair

Who is driving the threatened action? The lawyer, the PayPal founder or Donald Trump himself?

David Usborne
New York
Wednesday 15 June 2016 17:58
The offending piece ran for 3,500 words
The offending piece ran for 3,500 words

Gawker Media, the legally embattled network of popular blogging sites founded by British journalist Nick Denton, says it is under threat of a new lawsuit, this time pertaining to Donald Trump’s hair.

All things to do with the billionaire’s famously extravagant coiffe normally demand only the most frivolous of comment. On very close inspection, The Independent can attest, it is an entirely perplexing meringue, voluminous enough to stuff a small cushion and the colour of unsalted butter.

But last month Gawker chose to take, as it were, a deep reportorial dive into The Donald’s proudly swirled mane. The resulting investigation, reported by their own Ashley Feinberg, asserted that its unusual appearance was the result of unusual restorative work by a specialist named Edward Ivari, who in fact maintained an office in Trump Tower on the same high floor as the boss himself.

The lengthy report – it runs to some 3,500 words contends that Mr Trump spent $60,000 on Mr Ivari’s signature ‘microcylinder’ weave technique to give his hair new body. The microcylinders contain donated human strands that intertwine, with help from tiny clamps, with the patient’s own hair. There is additionally a $3,000 per month maintenance cost to the whole affair, the article said.

As Gawker is now boasting, it drew considerable attention as well as not a little praise from fellow journalists for its thoroughness. Hair styling may not usually rank near the top of public policy concerns in a US presidential election, but Mr Trump’s might seem to warrant a little explaining.

Yet it is now reporting that it is in receipt of a letter from legal representation hired by Mr Ivari threatening a legal suit for alleged emotional distress, invasion of privacy and something called "tortious interference”. Gawker, in its reporting of the suit, has described the claim of legal harm as “ridiculous”.

The lawyer in question is Charles Harder, who was in the wheelhouse of Gawker’s other recent and not insignificant legal tangle the lawsuit against it by Hulk Hogan, also for invasion of privacy regarding a sex tape aired on the site. Earlier this year that resulted in a $140m court finding against Mr Denton’s company which just last week, was forced to file for bankruptcy.

Helping fund Mr Hogan’s case and paying the lawyer’s fees has been Peter Thiel, the early Facebook investor and PayPal co-founer, who, by his own public admission, was eager to see Gawker taken down as retribution for a piece it ran several years ago outing him as homosexual.

The question arises, naturally, whether Mr Thiel also encouraged the filing of the hair-do assault. No one can be sure, Gawker itself concedes.

An attorney from an as yet undeclared source is "helping a man sue Gawker Media over an article that comes nowhere near invading his privacy, concerns a clear matter of public interest, and explicitly states that the subject is not guilty of a crime,” Gawker asserts, denouncing the new attacks against it.

“While Thiel has acknowledged funding multiple legal attacks, including Hogan’s, nobody knows for sure whether he’s behind all of Harder’s efforts to harm the company, or just some of them, or if he can even control what his money is used for,” Gawker went on.

Equally obscure is what role, if any, Mr Trump himself may have had in encouraging this latest lawsuit. He does, however, have a long track record of resorting to aggressive legal measures to assail his critics and defend himself and his businesses.

Add to that Mr Trump’s well-known willingness to fire torpedoes, rhetorical or otherwise, at media organisations in general. This week he banned The Washington Post from attending his campaign events because of its “phoney” reporting. More chillingly he has spoken about changing the libel laws if he becomes president to make media outlets more vulnerable to legal challenges.

Gawker supporters will not find the letter from Mr Harder on any Gawker sites, because the letter itself includes a direct warning of further legal trouble if it's reproduced anywhere in public.

But it reportedly contains many demands for Gawker to answer if it is to avoid another lawsuit that it would surely not welcome. It requires that all of the original hair-related reporting be removed from public view and that all confidential sources that may have helped Ms Feinberg write the report be identified to Mr Harder so that he can then pursue them with legal remonstrations also.

Handing over the names of sources is rarely an option any news organisation will contemplate without being exposed to extreme legal duress.

But Gawker also asserts that the bulk of Ms Feinberg’s reporting was informed by the brochures of Mr Ivari’s company Ivari International and publicly available documents relating to a 2001 lawsuit that was filed against it by a former customer.

Among Mr Harders alleged complaints is the inclusion of Mr Ivari’s Trump Tower address in the original article. Ms Feinberg wrote: “What’s more, Ivari’s New York location is inside Trump Tower on the private floor reserved for Donald Trump’s own office.” Yet that information was precisely available in Ivari International’s own public literature, the site pointed out.

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