Last month, the media conglomerate Univision agreed to acquire Gizmodo and five other sites from Gawker Media for $135 million. On September 9, the day before the sale became final, two Univision executives, Jay Grant and Felipe Holguin, voted over the objections of Gawker Media’s executive editor to delete six posts—three at Deadspin, two at Gizmodo, and one at Jezebel—that are currently the subject of ongoing litigation.
The reaction to this decision, among Gawker Media staffers and other members of the press, was almost universally negative. The deleted posts concerned the controversy surrounding V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, who has repeatedly claimed to be the original inventor of email despite voluminous evidence that the true inventor was Ray Tomlinson; the erratic behavior of M.L.B. analyst Mitch Williams at several youth baseball games*; the infamous conservative troll Charles C. Johnson; and a lawsuit filed by a man acquitted of sexual assault against the legal blog Above the Law. All of the posts were newsworthy and held public figures to account. In the Mitch Williams case, Gawker Media had already won a summary judgment against the subject’s defamation lawsuit in a New Jersey court.
Following the outcry, Isaac Lee, Univision’s chief news officer, invited Gizmodo to interview him at Univision’s Miami headquarters about the decision to remove the aforementioned posts. We presented the Gawker Media staff’s intense skepticism about Univision’s commitment to defending the work of its journalists, and Lee pledged that as long as the newly acquired sites practice “fearless but also rigorous journalism that meets the standard that we have to meet, we will never delete those posts.”
Present for the interview, besides Gizmodo and Lee, were Jay Grant, who is currently serving as the interim general counsel for the six acquired Gawker Media sites; David Ford, the vice president of marketing and communications at the Univision subsidiary Fusion; and Chocolate, a brown labrador retriever.
As a condition of the interview, Univision required Gizmodo to refrain from publishing the recorded audio of the exchange, unless any particular passage happens to require future clarification. Furthermore, at eight points during the interview, Lee asked to go off the record. Accordingly, this interview has been divided into nine segments.
A transcript of the exchange, which has been condensed and edited for clarity, can be found below. Transcription assistance was provided by Gizmodo’s Bryan Menegus, Michael Nuñez, and William Turton.
Keenan Trotter: To preface, I collected a bunch of questions from editorial staff members at the acquired properties. There might be some overlap. I’ll try to minimize that as much as possible, and then I have a few of my own questions obviously.
Isaac Lee: I didn’t expect anything different.
Keenan: So these might not come in thematic packages.
Isaac: That’s okay.
Keenan: The first question I have is: These posts that were deleted—did you read them?
Isaac: Have I read them?
Isaac: Not thoroughly, and I don’t have a judgment about them.
Keenan: Okay. Did anybody with an executive decision-making power read these posts before deleting them?
Isaac: I don’t know.
Jay Grant: I’m not sure this is really going to be relevant. I think the challenge for Isaac as a corporate officer, he’s trying to focus on keeping privileged conversations within the company, and discussing who read what and when puts him in an awkward position with respect to the privilege.
Keenan: Well, I’m not asking who, I’m just asking if.
Jay: Right. But I think you’re asking about the context of a post and—
Isaac: Something I can answer is that no one from the editors or the journalistic team made any judgments on the merits of those posts.
Keenan: Okay. Fair enough. And just as a preface to this, I was reading through Univision’s S1 filing and one of the enumerated risks of a public offering was union activity. The S1 filing said that one of the risks of investing is that Univision directly or indirectly relies upon local TV stations that have unionized members, and that a strike or some kind of work stoppage would impact Univision in the sense of its public valuation. So my question is how would you or Univision as a whole react to a walkout on behalf of editorial employees of the acquired sites?
Isaac: I cannot answer on hypotheticals.
Isaac: I can’t. I don’t know. It depends. What’s the reason for the walkout? How is it carried? How long does it last? What is the message? Things are not just black and white. It all depends on the way that it’s carried out. But, I don’t think that we have ever seen that at Univision. I don’t know, Jay?
Jay: Yeah, I don’t know that you have much more to add to that. It’s a little “Here’s a challenge.” You make references to S1 filing. We’re in a mandatory quiet period. The S1 speaks for itself.
Keenan: Have there been relatively recent situations in which Univision has had to defend reporters or stories from litigation? And by litigation I don’t mean copyright claims, I more mean subjects bringing defamation or libel lawsuits.
Isaac: Lawsuits or threats?
Keenan: Either, I guess.
Isaac: Of course, all the time. And at Fusion too. We have a story that is going out tonight. We have a cease and desist letter and a threat of a lawsuit and the story’s going out tonight.
Keenan: And that’s the Melania story?
Keenan: And I’m assuming it’s from [Los Angeles entertainment attorney] Charles Harder?
Isaac: I don’t wanna get into specific names—
Keenan: Fair enough, fair enough.
Isaac: But the answer [to the question of whether Univision defends reporters from litigation] is of course. It’s the normal cost of doing business. It’s what we do here every day. One thing that I would like to mention—we have two lawyers that are supervising and helping editors, [they] have all the necessary tools to do their jobs well. One of them is Eric Lieberman who used to be the general counsel at the Washington Post, who is a very, very good first amendment lawyer and has all the experience coming from the Post. And the other one is Rick Altabef who was recommended to me by [investigative journalist] Lowell Bergman and spent 30-plus years at 60 Minutes and also has a lot of experience in this. And what they do is help journalists to find the way to be able their stories being rigorous, and I trust them and they work really great with the news team.
Keenan: Speaking of those, the following question could either be tangential or central. One of the questions I have about the process by which the posts were taken down concerns my understanding that none of your First Amendment lawyers looked at the story, it was all purely whether or not it qualified as a liability under the terms of the acquisition, correct?
Keenan: To me that’s concerning because Univision, or at least the people I’ve heard from at Univision, are telling people at the acquired sites that A) this wasn’t about the editorial content—
Keenan: Is it fair to say Univision considers them to be true otherwise?
Isaac: I don’t know. I don’t know if we have made any judgment whatsoever. The only thing I can tell you is that they qualify as a liability. If you’re going into a bankruptcy proceeding in an auction to acquire an asset where the liabilities are worth more than the assets and the commitment that we had with the company was that we were not going to carry on any liabilities from the past so as long as those posts are considered liabilities we could not take them.
Keenan: So my followup question would be—and I think this might go back to the fact that apparently there is some question as to whether these posts were actually read by anybody—if you looked at these posts, and this is a hypothetical so you don’t have to say yes or no. Hypothetically, if you were to look at these posts and find them true, interesting, newsworthy—would you publish them?
Isaac: Mhmm. If I read any post, any post, and it’s vetted by people that I trust—would I publish them? Of course.
Keenan: Hypothetically speaking, if the sites affected by the takedowns were to just say, here’s the content of the posts that was deleted due to a technicality of the acquisition terms, would that be like a nuclear bomb, or would that just be finding a way around the acquisition terms?
Isaac: If it opens a liability for the company which we were instructed not to carry over, it will be impossible to do. If it doesn’t, we’ll talk about it.
Keenan: Just as a sidebar, I believe most if not all of the posts in question, the ones that drew litigation are reproduced in court documents. When somebody files a defamation lawsuit they often include the article as an exhibit and, I’m not an expert on the case law regarding the publication of court documents, but the general principle, as I understand it, is that reporters and outlets are generally protected from defamation and libel complaints concerning the publication of court documents—
Isaac: Keenan, “generally” is the right word. But it’s generally. I think that we have seen and experienced in the past couple of months that what seems to be common sense or a general rule does not always apply and I have a responsibility to a company not to bring unnecessary or unwanted risk in our intention to save six assets and a group of amazing, talented, independent journalists with a unique voice. So only because this was a very unique transaction happening in bankruptcy, where we had the authority to acquire only the assets, we had to take that choice. There was not a maybe or a possibility or an if. It was the choice between, either you bid for Gawker Media Group and you acquire it and you don’t bring that liability to the company for the future, or you don’t. And there was not a perfect answer. But I chose to do what I chose to do. Am I being precise?
Jay: You’re being precise—
Isaac: You can ask as much as you want—
Keenan: To me it’s concerning that First Amendment lawyers were not even looped into this conversation because—
Jay: I think you’re mischaracterizing what he said. And I think we also said we weren’t going to talk about conversations that were had in connection with that.
Keenan: I guess I’m saying—I just want to explain my reasoning in this case as a background. My understanding of the situation concerns me because there is sort of a certain tradition at the sites of, you know, of having sort of an insane in-depth understanding of what we can and cannot publish. And we’ve often taken that up and to the edge, right? But that also means that-
Isaac: You meant, very edge?
Keenan: Yeah! But that also necessitates a certain, I don’t think mischievousness is the right word, but an ingenuity regarding, Okay, how do we get this published?
Isaac: Keenan. So to your peace of mind I can tell you that in the regular course of business, not looking at this specific and isolated event in a bankruptcy court, that will continue to be the case.
Keenan: Is there—one of the things that I’ve been hearing from people that I’ve discussed this with is that there is—I mean, first of all, we lost Gawker dot com.
Keenan: What’s that?
Keenan: I mean there were a number of reasons one of which was—well, the reason that you said—the judgment that was handed down by a Florida jury in March. And, speaking in terms in comparison to what’s happening now, [the termination of Gawker.com] was a relatively drama-free transition. Would you say? Or no?
Isaac: What I can tell you is that I can relate perfectly well with the journalists at Gawker Media Group and all of its sites, because they have had to endure a very difficult process and they have seen a company built by wit and hard work fall apart. And that causes anxiety and that keeps people out of focus. And my intention is to get everyone to look forward and to focus on the company that we can build together. I understand that a post-traumatic stress disorder event doesn’t go away from one day to the other. That there are many sensitivities. I am perfectly fine with people expressing their thoughts and sensitivities and dealing with that. I like the transparency of it. It is part of what is appealing to me about Gawker. And I am really not the one to judge what’s drama-free or not drama-free because it is—it’s hard compared to what?
Keenan: Compared to this. I mean, generally, would you say there’s a lot more pushback about the deleted posts versus mothballing Gawker.com?
David Ford: Can I just make one point of clarification—are we still off the record or are on the record?
Keenan: I think we’re on the record.
Isaac: Yeah, we’re back. We’re back.
Keenan: Okay. I think they were just talking about—I think I said we’re back on the record.
Isaac: Yeah, you’re good. So I think that what happens is that the process with Gawker is a process that took a long time. Okay? When you guys went through the difficulty of the Condé Nast CFO story and decided to take that post down, and some people quit their jobs, et cetera. There was already a rebranding and a new mission for a new Gawker. So it was not the Gawker that it was before. Okay? And that was fairly new. And then when that asset was taken to court and had to go through all of what we saw in court, I think that it was clear to everyone that Gawker had lost a fight with very powerful interests. And that was it. I think that the event was so big and the consequences so profound that the reaction was, you know, it was a flat-line, okay?
Isaac: I think that people thought that, okay, that was the price we had to pay, now let’s focus on the future. Now, let’s look forward, and then these came out as a surprise. And the fact that it came out as a surprise—it’s a mistake from everyone, including me, who handled the process, because we could have informed you and your colleagues in a much better, constructive way of what was going on, not to have a surprise. The fact is that this is a conversation that happened for a couple of weeks, where everything was discussed, where everyone was involved and no one was misled. And the only reason why the decision came to happen on a Friday was for two reasons. Because we had to decide at that point if we were—and please correct me if I’m wrong, Jay—if we were going to take down only the ones that had pending litigations or we were going to take down the other ones that had threats of litigations and posed risk to the company. And we hired outside counsel, and we had advice, and we decided to leave those [posts that incurred threats of litigation] and to defend them and to defend them as we will any post in the future. And that happened on Friday. And the only moment where we could start to do that was after the bankruptcy court would give us the asset and make it ours. And at that point is where we, following the procedure of the union agreement, went through the process and took the post down.
Isaac: Did I explain myself?
Keenan: Um, well, yeah I think you adequately explained the timeline of the situation—is there a specific reason why this wasn’t communicated to—I mean, so you’re saying that they took this vote in anticipation of being handed the assets at midnight on Friday night, correct?
Isaac: I am not sure.
Jay: Yeah, again—
Keenan: Is this a privileged thing?
Keenan: Oh, okay.
Jay: You’re talking in terms of—first of all it involves a complexity of bankruptcy auction process and the timing associated with that based on the magistrate’s orders and instructions, so to have Issac opine on that ignores an entire set of background regarding the process and what was going on in general with respect to finalizing the agreement per the bankruptcy court’s order.
Jay: One portion of it doesn’t give the context—
Isaac: I didn’t go to the auction.
Isaac: I was not involved in the auction proceedings. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not an accountant. Don’t have much to add. What I have is a very strong belief in the people that work at Gawker Media and their ability to create amazing content and build brands that are already powerful, but with the right resources and support can grow more.
Keenan: I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to phrase this as a question but is there—This is just a statement basically.
Isaac: That’s okay.
Keenan: Which I believe channels and encapsulates a lot.
Isaac: The feeling of many people?
Keenan: Is that Univision is telling us that they’re going to defend us but they have not yet demonstrated that fact, they’ve not done anything concrete to demonstrate that.
Keenan: They’ve said that they will, but we don’t—a subsidiary issue of this is the fact our contracts do not include indemnity.
Isaac: Okay, so—let’s separate the two things.
Isaac: I agree with you. Nothing that I will say in this interview should give anyone the level of trust that they need in order to know that we are going to do everything that they expect us to do. Deeds speak louder than words. And we’re going to have to give each other a period of time of working together to find out if we can build that trust. Both ways. We also don’t know what the reaction of the employees and the talent of Gawker is going to be. Do we wish to build a team to work together and thrive? There is no doubt. We just paid $135 million for it. And, by the way, just as a reminder, we were the only other company in America willing to do so.
Keenan: Uh, I had a very good question submitted about that from Tom Scocca.
Isaac: Yeah, but let me finish. So, you’ve asked that and it’s good. And he’s smart too, so I’ll answer whatever question he has. So what was I talking about? Sorry, David. I got confused.
David: It was the, I can’t remember, you were separating the employment part—
Isaac: Ah, okay. Trust is built with time and deeds. The only advice that I can give to my new colleagues at Gawker is to talk to their colleagues at Univision and at Fusion where they are incredibly competent journalists that have been doing their job for a long time, winning the best awards in journalism. Working on stories that are complex. And they will be able to speak louder than any words that I can tell you, because they will be able to tell you if they have had the backing, the support, the encouragement of the leadership of this company. It will be my only advice, it will be what I would do as a reporter if I’m going to go and work with someone, I am going to talk to the people that have worked with them. And I would also find out what is the fiber of Fusion and Univision made of. I mean who are the people here and how do we handle that? I think that Univision has a very strong record of 50 plus years of standing for what we believe in. I don’t think that we are afraid to stand up to a presidential candidate or to a billionaire or to a country. And that speaks volumes as to who we are as a journalistic institution.
Keenan: So I’m gonna get to Tom’s question in a little bit.
Isaac: Go ahead.
Keenan: But you said that we should talk to people at Fusion and Univision. Correct?
Isaac: No, it’s what I would do.
Keenan: Well, so, uh—there hasn’t been a lot of—I’ll just say this outright—
Isaac: Sure, go ahead.
Keenan: Glenn Greenwald, who I’m assuming you know.
Isaac: I know, yeah.
Keenan: He recently tweeted that Univision’s decision to remove these six posts was, and I quote, “a major assault on journalism.”
Keenan: And sometime thereafter María Elena Salinas of Univision News retweeted that statement. And, I can add to that, an editor at Fusion tweeted that, regarding the deletion of the posts, “This is deeply wrong in so many ways” and “This is deeply not good.” And a Fusion reporter tweeted “This is the wrong decision and it’s a really cowardly one.” So this is what we’re hearing from our Fusion colleagues.
Keenan: And the co-host of one of Univision’s flagship evening newscasts.
Isaac: Okay, fair. What I can answer to that is that I am okay with people having dissent. And expressing their opinions. Nobody here has to follow a party line. I am sure that what they felt with the information they had—retweeting doesn’t always mean approving.
Keenan: Of course.
Isaac: I retweet many things because I want to highlight that the commentary is inappropriate, not because I agree with it, but I encourage you to talk to María Elena. Call her and say, “Hey, you made this retweet, I would love to know if you have experienced lack of support on your journalistic endeavors from Univision or if you feel that they stand with what you believe in. And that if you get in trouble they will be behind you.” And whatever she answers, has value. The retweet, there’s very little I can say aside for the fact that I respect her tweet or retweet or comment on whatever she wants. On the two gentlemen at Fusion, call them up. “Hey guys, we saw this and this is very interesting, what’s your experience? When did you have to take down a story? Who has ever pressured you from the advertising department? When have you ever felt that the corporation is more important than the integrity of the news department?” And if they have something to say about that, use it!
Keenan: Well, I feel like their stance would not be that, I mean, I’m extrapolating, I’m entering a hypothetical world here, but my sense is that they’re saying this because it defied their experience. Not because it comported with it.
Isaac (to David): Can you explain that to me? I’m sorry.
David: I think they’re saying—they were saying those things because it doesn’t reflect the experience that they’ve had to date.
Isaac: Oh, okay. Well, I am certain of that. I am also certain that as many of our colleagues at Gawker, they don’t have all the facts. All they are seeing is that after a long, painful battle, where Gawker died because of those interests going after it, they read a title that says that six posts are taken down. I am sure that if I have, you know, 120 seconds to explain to them that we had to choose between not carrying the liabilities forward and acquiring the company—keeping all of the journalists and moving forward or not doing the deal at all—I hope that they would have another point of view.
Keenan: Tim Marchman, at Deadspin. He wanted to ask a few questions, the first of which was, was there anything preventing Univision from creating an extension to the no liability provision of the agreements? And, if not, why didn’t they create one for these stories, given that they present very little risk given the attached lawsuit’s frivolous nature?
Isaac: Tim, great—
Jay: Asking questions about the exceptions to the agreement, how the agreement is constructed, I just don’t know if that’s a valuable use of the time. Getting into this privileged area to an extent he had information.
Jay: Just my thought, I don’t know if you want to rephrase it.
Keenan: In the sphere of non-privileged discussion, were you aware of any attempts to avoid the present situation in which six posts that people generally acknowledge to be true were deleted.
Isaac: After listening to experts and consulting with legal counsel we were able to keep some up because they would not classify as a liability in the books of the company, but since the mandate was to acquire assets, and not liabilities, regardless of the merit of why they are liabilities, we couldn’t take the other ones.
Keenan: And that mandate came from the board, correct?
Isaac: No. That—first, whatever happens under something that I am in charge of you can blame it or put it on me. I assume responsibility for everything. The mandate that was given to me by the company, was that. And that’s what I executed. And I had to choose if I could live with that or if it was better not to acquire the company. That was the choice.
Keenan: Okay, so, Tim Marchman’s follow up question concerned—and I understand if this is getting into a privileged area so if it does I just ask that you exclude the portions of your answer that might get caught in that web—but was there an established definition for what may I call ongoing litigation? [Marchman] asked that in regard to the Mitch Williams case, which we won on summary judgment—
Isaac: Yeah, I have no idea. This was not under my purview. I did not make that analysis choice or decision. It was done by very competent lawyers who advised the company.
Keenan: Okay, and that was Jay and Felipe? Or—
Isaac: Felipe’s not a lawyer.
Jay: We can’t use this process to talk about who made decisions, what discussions were had with whom. If the questions are a backend to—
Keenan: I didn’t mean that as, like, a deception—
Jay: No, no!
Isaac: No, no.
Jay: But the fact—the result of it is kind of an end-run around that results, no matter what, in forcing him either to divulge a process, even unintentionally—and I’m not saying you were intending to do that, but that’s the result. So I don’t know that we can really have the questions because the result is taking a chance at damaging the company’s privilege and the company’s hold on internal communications.
Keenan: Is it potentially damaging to either of those two imperatives to ask if John Cook’s memo sent on Friday evening was accurate, concerning the process by which those posts were flagged for deletion?
Isaac: Let me tell you something. I thought John Cook sent a very good memo, I think that he was sensible. I think that everything that I, I don’t remember exactly what the memo said but described things accurately and I completely understand that he voted no and that he dissented. That’s what any responsible editor-in-chief would have done. That’s his job. To publish stories.
Keenan: Right. Okay. Fair.
Isaac: And the two Univision executives were not there giving their opinions. They were just executing a mandate.
Keenan: So you’re, and again, and I did not intend to trick you into violating—
Isaac: Don’t worry.
Keenan: So you’re saying that the interim general counsel and interim CEO relied upon other lawyers that you brought in to assess the potential risk.
Jay: I apologize, Keenan, I’m not trying to make this difficult for you but it’s, you know, describing the process by which the vote was taken such that the result of the bankruptcy asset purchase can be completed, your question just results in understanding the entire legal and corporate privilege process by which that happened.
Jay: I don’t know how to fix that.
Isaac: Keenan, this was not a regular transaction. This was not the regular course of business. We acquired The Root and nothing like this happened. We acquired The Onion and nothing like this happened. We acquired Fusion, nothing like this happened. This was a very specific case of a company in bankruptcy where we had to go to an auction at the court and buy the assets. If that wouldn’t be the case, the situation would have been different.
Keenan: Okay. That’s fair. And then Tim Marchman’s, I believe—
Isaac: And, by the way, I know nothing about bankruptcy and courts and all that—
Keenan: I understand that.
Isaac: It is a very complex world, really, when these guys explain to me the detail of was going on, it’s crazy.
Keenan: So Tim Marchman’s penultimate question was, do you think it’s reasonable to expect a reporter who isn’t indemnified to pursue aggressive, adversarial coverage at a potentially litigious subject? And if yes, why?
Isaac: Can you please go slowly because those are too many complicated words for me?
Keenan: Do you think it’s reasonable for a reporter at any of the sites—or even Fusion—who is not indemnified to pursue aggressive, adversarial coverage of a subject that might sue them?
Isaac: Coverage by who?
Keenan: The reporter. A reporter who isn’t indemnified at Univision—do you think it’s reasonable to really pursue a hot story that might result in litigation if they’re not indemnified?
Isaac: Why wouldn’t they be?
Keenan: Because they’re not indemnified.
Isaac: They are.
Keenan: But that’s not in writing.
Isaac: I don’t know what is in writing or not in writing, and I understand that you guys are new, but what I can tell you is that Univision has had and will continue to have an indemnity policy that covers all of Univision employees for any litigation if it’s within their course or scope of work.
Keenan: Is that a written policy or is that a de facto policy?
Isaac: It is a fact. And we have never let anyone be out there without defending them and giving them all the support.
Keenan: Is it unreasonable to ask, if what you’re saying is true, which is that every Univision employee is indemnified, is it unreasonable to ask why that is not in writing?
Jay: He said every employee is indemnified—
Keenan: Oh sorry—reporter—
Jay: No, no, you made a blanket statement. He described their scope of employment, et cetera.
Keenan: Under what you described as the understood terms of indemnification, which is that—
Isaac: I will never let anyone on a news team that is working with me alone in any lawsuit in any battle.
Keenan: Okay. Is there something preventing that from being put in writing?
Jay: I’m not sure we’re following what you’re saying.
David: I think he’s saying—
Keenan: Well, certain news organizations have written indemnification clauses in employee contracts.
[At this point in the exchange, Gizmodo and Lee briefly discussed the employee indemnification policies of Gawker Media. We are redacting this portion of the interview on the advice of our own legal counsel.]
Isaac: What I can tell you is that I trust Univision, I trust that the decisions that they made to choose the right insurance is a good one. We have an amazing general counsel and team of people who are always there to help. And I am absolutely certain that if a journalist doing their job is ever in any situation of risk—legal, safety, personal, or whatever the case is—we will always stand behind them.
Keenan: I’m asking if you appreciate the fact that the employees of the six sites may not be—
Isaac: I understand.
Keenan: Their hesitation, you would say?
Isaac: I understand very well that the employees of the six sites have just gone through a very difficult, painful time. And some of their colleagues are going through hell, and this makes them nervous. I also understand that before we acquired the company, Gawker did not have an indemnity clause for them and that created even more concern. And I understand that that prompts questions, and I think they’re perfectly reasonable and I think that we should explain it to them. Now, if that is going to be sufficient enough for them or not as I’m telling you, only time will tell. Only when there is a reporter that is going to get a lawsuit and we’re going to send our best lawyers to stand behind them, then you guys are going to see, Ah, yes, they do have this insurance policy and they keep their word and they stand behind journalists.
Isaac: Do I think that the journalists at the six verticals at Gawker deserve to have a different treatment of the journalists at Univision, Fusion, and The Root? I don’t see why.
Keenan: Well, there’s two ways to answer that question, the first of which is, yes, they should be treated differently because they just had six posts that were the subject of litigation, but were otherwise true, deleted. And insofar as that presents a unique situation, that would by logical consequence deserve a unique treatment. And then the other way of responding to that is to argue that people at Univision and Fusion or the Root should not be treated differently. They should also get indemnity clauses.
Isaac: But they are protected.
Keenan: I understand that.
Isaac: I don’t know if what they want is something written on their clause—
Keenan: Yeah, that’s what they—
Univision employee, entering conference room: Time is a little bit of the issue right now for sending to master control.
Isaac: Okay. Give me 15 minutes please, please, okay?
Univision employee: Okay.
Keenan: I believe this was Tim Marchman’s last question—just to put the indemnity thing in clearest possible terms.
Keenan: And this was Tim Marchman’s question: Considering the fact that the entirety of the editorial staff are spooked about the deleted posts, and considering that Univision is presenting their deletion as an anomaly, do you think it’s fair to demand that staff members have indemnity clauses amended to their contracts?
Isaac: I think that we’re taking an isolated interview that is related to the acquisition of a company in bankruptcy and using that isolated event to talk about a union contract. And I think that we should deal with things one step at a time. I am explaining this as best as I can today. I’m very happy to have Jay talk to Heather and our legal counsel and see what is it that is concerning to them and how we can address it. I always want people to feel safe and protected. And what they also have to know is look, this happened on a Friday night. Yesterday I sent a memo to all staff. I spoke on the phone to several of them. Sunday I’m talking to you. So I read that some people are angry that I did not—how is it that they put it, that I did not show my face? Or whatever?—I think I’m being very accessible and I’m showing you guys that this is very important for me. That it’s personal. And that I care. And that’s the message that I want to come across.
Keenan: Okay. Just as a programming note, do you have to leave in 15 minutes?
Isaac: I have to go down to the control room.
Keenan: Can we resume the interview after that?
Isaac: If we have to? Yeah. It’s gonna take a while.
Jay: We’re just approaching almost 50 minutes so—
Isaac: How much more time you need?
Keenan: I have about three more pages of questions. And they’re in pretty big type, in my handwriting, so I can go through them quickly. So this is from Bryan at Gizmodo.
Isaac: Which Bryan?
Keenan: Menegus I think his name is? I am completely botching his last name.
Isaac: It’s okay.
Keenan: He had two questions—and I think you may have communicated this before but in case you want to add something—but his question was: Why was the takedown not communicated to staff in a timely manner?
Jay: Assuming a lot, that question.
Isaac: They were our staff Friday at 12 a.m.
Keenan: You mean noon?
Isaac: No, night.
Jay: Saturday night.
Keenan: Oh, yeah. I’m talking about Friday.
Isaac: Before that it was not our staff.
Keenan: So if I understand you correctly, you couldn’t communicate it to us.
Isaac: I couldn’t. It was not under my purview to insert myself in a company that is still not ours and communicate things to people. And Keenan, that doesn’t mean that this was not thoroughly discussed with several people from both companies and that it was decided at the last moment for the reasons that I explained.
Keenan: Bryan’s second question was, we were—
Isaac: These are all very good questions. No, I’m serious. You’re asking things that I would ask, too.
Keenan: He referred to you by name but I’m just going to say: We were given your word of Univision’s commitment to honest journalism and in every way these takedowns run counter to that. What proof can Univision give us, in writing, that this will not be an ongoing method of dealing with controversy?
Isaac: I completely reject that statement. I don’t think that a transaction to acquire and save a valuable company with—how many journalists?
Keenan: I think the editorial headcount was about 100.
Isaac: With 100 journalists that are brave and deserve better can be counter to defending honest journalism. And if the price that you have to take for that is not to have the company that is acquiring carry dangerous liabilities to the future, I chose to pay that price and the only way that he can know how we deal with controversy is how we have dealt with controversy in the past.
Keenan: When’s the last time somebody was sued at this company?
Jay: He can’t go through the history of litigation—
Keenan: I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for precedents.
Keenan: Has it ever been the case at this company that an individual journalist has been sued?
Isaac: I’m sure.
Keenan: Can you name one?
Jay: Isaac can’t answer your question because he’s not our head of litigation, who would know it. I don’t even know it myself.
Isaac: So let me put it this way: Have journalists here been threatened with litigation? Many, many times. You want to talk to one that has? Gerardo Reyes.
Keenan: Okay. But just to reiterate, you can’t recall a situation at this company in which an individual journalist was sued?
Isaac: It’s not that I can’t recall. I’m not sure what I can say or can’t say about pending cases.
Keenan: I’m coming from a group of people—one of the posts that was deleted concerned a subject who sued me personally for $55 million. It is concerning that you cannot, that nobody in this room can seem to remember a case at this company in which an individual journalist was sued. Because that would suggest that you do not have, that this company does not have a standard operating procedure for when that occurs.
Jay: No, no, no. That’s a huge assumption.
Keenan: I’m telling you what I’m thinking.
Isaac: You’re jumping to conclusions.
Keenan: What conclusion did I reach?
Jay: The initial conversation we weren’t talking about privileged matters or internal company litigation matters. I’m not sitting here as the head of litigation. That’s one of the reasons I would not have that information for you. Assuming the head of litigation was here, he would have that information for you. Isaac does not worry about the litigation because he has a head of litigation to take care of those matters for him. So, A) we probably shouldn’t be talking about litigation. I’m sure there are cases publicly filed. If you want to talk to our head of litigation about file cases, that’s a different issue. But it’s really an inappropriate use of his time. He’s not going to know about ongoing litigation.
Keenan: Yeah, but that’s—
Jay: He has a team that handles litigation. Isaac may never see a complaint, may never know that a complaint is filed. I am a transactional attorney. I may not know that it is filed.
Isaac: Let me try to understand, Keenan, what your concern and your point to see if I can address them. What I don’t want is that being sued becomes a badge of honor. That that is the litmus test to who’s doing fearless journalism or not. When we have not been sued, it’s because the merits have never been there, and because our lawyers are damn good and they have defended our news department vigorously. Have we ever stopped publishing a story because we were threatened? No. Have we ever taken a post down in the history of Univision and Fusion? One. And it was because it was a person under the witness protection program, and that person requested for us to remove it, and not to put his personal safety in danger. We thought it was a sensible thing to do, although we were not ordered to do it. Aside from that, not once have we pulled a post down. I’ve read some of your previous interviews, Keenan, and there has never been a case where there was a conflict between the business or sales department and the news department about any post. And never have we taken down a post or modified a story because of pressure from sales.
Keenan: Okay, that’s fair enough. This is from Stassa Edwards from Jezebel, she actually lives in Miami: Is Univision willing to commit in writing to not deleting any more posts whether or not there’s legal action or threat of legal action? I’m not sure if you’re in a capacity to answer that question.
Isaac: I am just not really sure it’s a good question. Can you read it to me again?
Keenan: Is Univision willing to commit in writing to not deleting any more posts whether or not there’s legal action or threat of legal action?
Isaac: Univision is willing to commit that, if we do fearless but also rigorous journalism that meets the standard that we have to meet, we will never delete those posts.
Isaac: There’s one piece that I would ask you to highlight however you wish. The word fearless has to be paired with the word rigorous. There cannot be one without the other.
Keenan: I’m going to try to phrase this question, considering our parallel conversation about privileged conversations, so that it does not violate anything.
Isaac: Go ahead. Shoot.
Keenan: The subject of one of the deleted posts, Charles C. Johnson, recently claimed several times on his Facebook page that he is in settlement talks with Univision. Can you say whether or not that’s true?
Jay: He can’t comment.
Isaac: I have never been informed or aware or have had a conversation with him. That doesn’t mean it might have happened or will happen.
Keenan: Stassa said she was asking her question because editorial employees have faced targeted harassment by individuals like Johnson, so settling with him would appear to incentivize such harassing behavior.
Isaac: In the future, anyone—I don’t care if it’s someone else or this guy—that’s harassing one of our journalists will be harassing Univision, and we will deal with it.
Keenan: I guess you can’t say whether you’ve settled with any subject of a story, correct?
Jay: Yeah, he can’t comment on litigation matters.
Isaac: I know we haven’t, but I can’t say. So I—Keenan—I can’t say it. I’m telling you I know we haven’t but I can’t say it.
Keenan: Okay. Fair. This one is from Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, also from Jezebel: Are you or is Univision, generally speaking, aware of who Charles C. Johnson is?
Isaac: Not particularly.
Keenan: Her question was: What kind of foresight was put into the concept of Univision inherently accepting liability for other posts by unpublishing the ones that they unpublished? I guess that’s sort of a cerebral question.
Jay: Wait, can you read that again?
Isaac: I got a little lost, that was a little too sophisticated for me.
Keenan: What kind of foresight was put into the concept of Univision inherently—she might mean implicitly—accepting the liability of other posts—
Isaac: Got it. Yeah. Okay. So the answer, if I understand correctly, is that those threats of those posts do not constitute pending litigation. So they would not be qualified in the books as a liability. Since what we were instructed to do was not acquire liabilities but assets, those we could carry with us and defend vigorously.
Keenan: I think that answers that question. I think her question was, to what degree was the entire process considered? Like, was it sort of a rush job. And again, I feel like I’m goading you into violating privilege, but is it accurate to say this was a considered thing?
Isaac: Let me answer the way I can. Acquiring a company like Gawker after what Gawker went through, in a bankruptcy court, for $135 million, is not a decision you rush.
Keenan: Okay. I think that answers her question. She’ll let me know if it didn’t answer her question.
David: I just want to be cognizant of time, because I know that you both have flights and that you [Isaac] have to review this thing before it airs tonight.
Jay: And that should be given some time and consideration. I think we should do one or two questions.
David: You have several pages that you’d like to get through.
Keenan: I can stay here tonight. I’ll do anything to get these questions answered.
Isaac: Let’s try to do them as quickly as possible. This is going to take a long time and this is going to air at 7 o’clock tonight.
Keenan: To what degree will Univision be vetting the posts that the six sites publish if at all?
Isaac: It will be Jezebel and Kotaku and Deadspin and—
Keenan: And that will generally just go through [Gawker Media’s deputy general counsel] Courtenay [O’Connor]?
Isaac: Whoever is in charge of [the legal department]. I have heard the world of Courtenay. I have heard she’s wonderful. Can I say that the only person will ever in this company in the future vet stories is Courtenay? I can’t. I don’t know what her plans in life are. But seriously. Do I think very highly of her? Yes. Do we get into vetting posts? Call Alexis Madrigal. Have you met him?
Keenan: I haven’t.
Isaac: But you know who he is?
Keenan: Yeah, he’s the editor-in-chief of Fusion.
Isaac: And you know Kevin Roose?
Isaac: Pick up the phone. Dodai! Have you met Dodai?
Keenan: I was at a party with her last night.
Isaac: She’s amazing.
Keenan: She spoke very highly of Fusion.
Isaac: Ask her how many times we’ve gotten into one of her posts. I don’t want to say this because it’s pretentious, and I don’t want it to be on the record Keenan, but my job here is to open doors and remove obstacles so that our people can do their jobs. That’s what I do. That’s how I understand my job. So that’s the only thing I do.
Keenan: For time compression sake, I think you’ve made it clear your feelings about Univision, but if we want to get through these questions quickly—we don’t—I’m going to try to say this in the nicest way possible—you don’t have to—you know what I’m saying.
Isaac: Got it! Shoot! Shoot!
Isaac: Don’t answer nicely. Shoot!
Keenan: Is Univision’s intent to make the six sites nicer?
Isaac: I don’t understand the question. Better designed, you mean?
Keenan: No, like, in the voice and the coverage.
Isaac: The reason why we are enthusiastic and bought those sites is because we think they have a unique voice, which we intend to keep.
Keenan: This is from my colleague at Gizmodo, William Turton. Do you think the deletion of the posts sends any kind of message to the subjects that any of the six sites might cover? What kind of message do you think the deleting of the posts sends to others, particularly the powerful subjects of stories?
Isaac: I have no idea.
Keenan: Okay. Fair enough. His concern is that the deletion of the posts basically sends a signal to the people we’re writing about.
Isaac: Those same guys are asking for cease and desist, and threatening us, and we’re dealing with them. If they are smart, they are noticing that we made a financial decision in a transaction, but that the way that we conduct business is a serious one.
Keenan: This was from Veronica—and I’m trying to be faithful to my colleagues—
Isaac: You’re doing a great job. The only reason I’m doing this is for them. I thank you for bringing their questions.
Keenan: This is from Veronica de Souza, she runs social media for all of the six sites. Her question is, why did you send the email about the decision to delete the posts after they were deleted? Why were you not involved in telling the staff? I believe you answered that question because it was the technicality that it was not your place to address a staff that you technically did not own.
Isaac: Veronica, the company was ours at 11:59 p.m. on a Friday evening. I sent my email on a Saturday. I spoke with several of your colleagues on Saturday, and I met with Keenan on Sunday. That’s my answer.
Keenan: Her other question is are you going to come to NY to address the staff?
Isaac: I hope to be there many times to address the staff many times. I mean, yes, of course.
Keenan: The following questions are from Katharine at Gizmodo/io9. Her first question was, how disingenuous is it for Univision to come into our office and tell us that they believe in what we do and then proceed to delete these posts? Or you see any disingenuousness in that process? I think you said the process by which everything happened was a mistake. Or was less than ideal.
Isaac: It was less than ideal, yes. But from her question, what I can tell her is that we are not disingenuous. We live in the real world. In order to conduct business, there are some times that you have to make decisions, and not all of the decisions you make are the ones that you like.
Keenan: Her second question is: Is it not more expensive in the long-term to signal to all the people we’ve written critically about that they can settle with Univision.
Isaac: We’re not settling with anyone.
Keenan: Okay, fair enough. What did you expect Gawker Media’s staffers to do when these posts were deleted?
Isaac: Exactly what they’re doing now. My only hope is that whatever dissent and question is conducted in a manner where we give an example of why this is a valuable company. Not prove to the people that believe that it isn’t that they are right.
Keenan: Her second-to-last question was, what is Heather Dietrick’s role going forward? What is Courtenay O’Connor’s role going forward?
Jay: That’s privileged. Those are internal corporate discussions and you’re asking about someone to personnel decisions.
Isaac: The answer is, we got the company yesterday. We’ll soon find out.
Keenan: I’m assuming this question—
Isaac: Just ask!
Keenan: Why were Heather and Courtenay not part of the voting process considering their knowledge of cases and the actual liability that they posed.
Jay: The question assumes a lot. It gets into how the process went and the work product and the process of the work product. Then on top of it you’re throwing in specific individuals and talking about sort of internal personnel and I understood that this was not the time—
Keenan: Well, I think—
Keenan: Are we back on the record?
Together: Now we’re on the record. We can be on the record now.
Jay: We can’t talk about the process—
Keenan: I understand. I understand.
Jay: Again, and I appreciate Issac wanting to be transparent. And we all love that and we need to do that while protecting the privilege.
Keenan: Are we back on the record?
Isaac: We believe, on the record, we believe in the future of Gawker Media Group. We believe in the people there. We believe in the leadership. And we want the company to be successful. It doesn’t depend only on us.
Keenan: Okay. And her last question was, and I don’t think this should violate privilege, does Univision’s location in Florida have any bearing on the calculation to delete posts?
Isaac: I’m sorry. Does Univision what?
Keenan: Does Univision’s location in Florida and thus—basically she’s asking, is Univision being domiciled in Florida and thus a subject of Florida laws regarding First Amendment issues—
Isaac: I don’t even think Univision is domiciled in Florida—
Jay: We’re a Delaware corporation.
Isaac: Yeah, exactly.
Keenan: But that usually doesn’t mean, it could still be plausibly sued in Florida because that’s where its operations are.
Jay: Yeah, that’s the thing. Assuming he can understand all the thoughts that went into making a legal determination which he wasn’t a participant in—
Keenan: Yeah, and, assuming we’re still on the record here, an issue is that there was such a small turnaround time to get these questions ready that I couldn’t tell everyone, okay, here’s how to frame things, or whatever.
Isaac: And I couldn’t prepare myself, either.
Keenan: Okay, so we’re getting into the home stretch. Okay so, [Fusion senior editor] Felix Salmon. He tweeted a few weeks ago, “I’ve known and admired Issac Lee for about 13 years and can unequivocally say that he is the best possible boss that Gawker Media could have.” And then he tweeted, “No one, not even [Gawker Media founder and former CEO] Nick Denton, is more committed to honest fearless journalism.” Considering the posts that have been deleted, do you agree with that statement, or do you disagree with that statement? Or do you think that’s an unfair question?
Isaac: First, that’s a statement coming from Felix. You should ask him if he agrees with that statement or not. I can tell you that I admire Felix a lot, consider him to be brilliant and one of the most important people that we have on staff. And the fact that we had to take those posts down in a bankruptcy procedure in order to acquire the asset have absolutely nothing to do with being fearless and doing good journalism.
Keenan: Right now I’m crossing off questions that are redundant, so I have about six more questions.
Jay: How about three. We’re hitting a wall.
Keenan: A few are yes/no questions.
Keenan: Are you or are you not aware that Charles C. Johnson is attempting to organize a pro-Trump, anti-Univision rally in Fresno, California based upon the fact that Univision took down the post about him? It’s just a yes or no question.
Isaac: If I know whether he’s organizing a pro-Trump, anti-Univision rally?Answer: I don’t care.
Keenan: These questions are from Tom Scocca. Are you going to republish the posts?
Isaac: Is that really a question?
Keenan: That’s what he asked me to ask you.
Isaac: I think the question does not need an answer after everything I’ve explained [in this] interview.
Keenan: Is it appropriate to say the implicit answer is no?
Isaac: The implicit answer is that’s the past. Period.
Keenan: Okay. Are Felipe and Jay going to be two-thirds of the six sites’ independence panel going forward? Are the interim CEO and interim general counsel going to be a part of the editorial independence—
Keenan: When does that stop?
Jay: You’re asking about future personnel decisions
Isaac: But the answer is no. They’re interim. By the way, you should thank them. They’re really nice guys. You want to get rid of them?
Keenan: I am the vessel of these questions. I’m going to assume this is excluded from privilege, but I have to ask it: What aspect of the legal situation caused Univision to take down the posts on a Friday after the close of business hours? I think you already answered that.
Jay: Let’s go to the next one.
Keenan: For the purposes of the transcript, the reason Isaac couldn’t do so was because of the technicalities of the acquisition, because Isaac could not address the company and it could not be carried out until Univision actually had the company’s assets. This is second to last question: If the stories were by definition impossible to keep up, why wasn’t that communicated openly weeks ago? And I believe you’ve answered that question—
Isaac: I believe so too. But you can say that we never hid that that was a possibility that that was being studied. And everyone was aware.
Keenan: You’re referring to the executive suite of Gawker Media, correct?
Jay: I just don’t think there’s anything more that needs to be said about the process.
Keenan: Just to preface, ever since we’ve been acquired by Univision it’s been communicated to staffers that the attitude within Univision and particularly from you, Isaac, is that our only other choice [for acquisition] was Ziff-Davis. And so Tom’s question was—so any questions about Univision have been met with, Well, did you want Ziff-Davis?
Isaac: Have I said that?
Keenan: Yeah, that’s what’s been communicated to Gawker Media staffers.
Isaac: By me?
Keenan: Not from you directly, but that’s the attitude we see coming from Univision.
Isaac: So, no. I don’t see things that way.
Keenan: But you said, during this interview, that there were only two companies on the face of the planet—so the attitude from Univision is we need to be aware of how tenuous the situation is. So Tom’s question is, What is the statute of limitations for Univision telling former Gawker Media employees that we should be grateful for being acquired? Is this pose of, you should be grateful for being acquired—
Isaac: Listen, gratefulness is a feeling you have, not one that you impose. So I never expect anyone to be grateful for anything. I just think that grateful people are happier than ungrateful people.
Jay: I also want to say that I think you mischaracterized his statement about only two—he was referring to the bidding process. The fact of the matter is there were two bidders.
Isaac: I’ve never said anything like, “So you prefer Ziff-Davis?” No. We know exactly what they were doing during the court procedures and what was going to happen to the assets. Nick Denton is the only person that can explain those things to you.
Keenan: Let’s go back on the record and I’ll ask.
Keenan: Do you think Gawker Media employees should be grateful as opposed to obviously angry that they were acquired by Univision?
Isaac: I think that Gawker Media employees have gone through a very difficult time and the only thing that they should do now is to focus the company that we have together for the future.
Jay: Is that the last question?
Keenan: That is the last question.
Jay: Thank you all for being mindful of the programming that’s up there.
Isaac: Keenan, you’re guilty of not telling me that they call you Keenan. You had me calling you “J.K.” How am I supposed to know?
Keenan: People call me both. Nick still calls me J.K. I never corrected him.
Isaac: Really? You never corrected him?