In a vote carried out on Friday night, Univision executives voted to remove six posts published by former Gawker Media properties that are involved in ongoing litigation. The vote took place just hours before the close of Univision’s purchase of Gawker Media’s assets, and was carried out under a provision in Gawker’s existing collective bargaining agreement. That provision states that “once a story has been posted it can only be removed by a majority vote of the Executive Editor, the CEO, and the General Counsel, unless required by law.”
John Cook, the executive editor of Gawker Media, voted to preserve all six posts. As he explained in a memo to staff, however, the other two executives—Felipe Holguin and Jay Grant, both of Univision’s Fusion Media Group—still voted to remove the six posts over his strenuous objections. Holguin, the chief operating officer of Fusion Media Group, is currently serving as the interim CEO of Gawker Media; Grant, Fusion’s general counsel of the same division, is serving as Gawker Media’s interim general counsel.
“I communicated to Felipe and Jay in the strongest terms that deleting these posts is a mistake,” Cook wrote in the memo, “and that disappearing true posts about public figures simply because they have been targeted by a lawyer who conspired with a vindictive billionaire to destroy this company is an affront to the very editorial ethos that has made us successful enough to be worth acquiring.”
The posts in question are:
1. The Inventor of Email Did Not Invent Email? (Gizmodo)
2. Corruption, Lies, and Death Threats: The Crazy Story of the Man Who Pretended To Invent Email (Gizmodo)
3. Man Acquitted of Sexual Assault Sues Blog for Calling Him Serial Rapist (Jezebel)
4. Wait, Did Clowntroll Blogger Chuck Johnson Shit On The Floor One Time? (Deadspin)
5. Mitch Williams Ejected from Child’s Baseball Game for Arguing, Cursing (Deadspin)
6. Witnesses: Mitch Williams Called Child ‘A Pussy,’ Ordered Beanball (Deadspin)
(The Univision executives considered the removal of a seventh post, which is currently the subject of a copyright complaint, but ultimately decided to table a final vote until Univision could further study its legal risk.)
According to Cook’s memo, the posts linked above will disappear sometime over the weekend. It remains unclear whether the posts will simply be deleted, or replaced with explanatory text indicating why they have been removed.
Gawker, the flagship Gawker Media site that was shuttered last month after Univision declined to purchase it, was frequently critical of BuzzFeed and other news outlets for deleting posts that met resistance from advertisers, readers, owners, and subjects.
We’ve reached out to Holguin and Grant for comment, and will update this post if we hear back.
Cook’s full memo can be read below:
Earlier this evening, our acquirer Unimoda invoked the provision in the Gawker Media Group WGA-East contract regarding the removal of posts. I was informed that Felipe Holguin, the chief operating officer of Fusion Media Group, had been named interim CEO of Gawker Media, and Jay Grant, the general counsel of Fusion Media Group, had been named interim general counsel of Gawker Media. As you know, the collective bargaining agreement calls for a majority vote among the general counsel, CEO, and executive editor before a post is removed. Taken together, the persons occupying those roles comprise an Editorial Independence Committee under the agreement.
Felipe and Jay proposed that seven posts—all on Jezebel, Deadspin, or Gizmodo—be deleted. The posts are as follows:
1. The Inventor of Email Did Not Invent Email?, Gizmodo, February 22, 2012.
2. Corruption, Lies, and Death Threats: The Crazy Story of the Man Who Pretended To Invent Email, Gizmodo, March 5, 2012.
3. Acquitted Rapist Sues Blog For Calling Him Serial Rapist, Jezebel, May 11, 2011.
4. Wait, Did Clowntroll Blogger Chuck Johnson Shit On The Floor One Time?, Deadspin, December 9, 2014.
5. Uber Drivers in California Will Be Employees, Not Contractors, Gizmodo, June 17, 2015.
6. Mitch Williams Ejected from Child’s Baseball Game for Arguing, Cursing, Deadspin, May 11, 2014.
7. Witnesses: Mitch Williams Called Child ‘A Pussy,’ Ordered Beanball, Deadspin, May 16, 2014.
Felipe and Jay explained that they proposed deleting those seven posts because they are currently the subject of active litigation against Gawker Media, and that Unimoda had been authorized only to purchase the assets, and not the liabilities, of the company. Though the posts were published by Gawker Media, and therefore under the so-called “first publication rule” should only be the legal responsibility of the Gawker Media estate being left behind in the transaction, Unimoda’s legal analysis was that the continued publication of the posts under the new entitity would constitute the adoption of liability, and that Unimoda is therefore obligated to delete them. Felipe and Jay represented to me that their decision to propose deletion of the posts was purely a function of the terms of the transaction, and that Univision and Unimoda are committed to defending our journalism against any future legal threats or attacks.
I communicated to Felipe and Jay in the strongest terms that deleting these posts is a mistake, and that disappearing true posts about public figures simply because they have been targeted by a lawyer who conspired with a vindictive billionaire to destroy this company is an affront to the very editorial ethos that has made us successful enough to be worth acquiring. I told them that I am proud that this company refused to delete its accurate posts about Shiva Ayudurrai’s false claim to have invented the email system of communication, and that I am proud that our decision not to take down accurate posts about Mitch Williams’ meltdown at a children’s baseball game was vindicated by a federal judge, who ruled in our favor in his case against us. I am mortified to see them taken down now. We are at the center of an unprecedented assault on the ability of reporters and editors to challenge and critique public figures. While I believe that Univision is a company that values and defends aggressive, independent reporting, the decision to remove these posts is, in my view, at odds with its tradition of confronting bullies with honesty.
I cast my vote against taking down each of the posts. I lost. With the exception of #5, which is the target of a copyright complaint, Felipe and Jay cast their votes in favor of removal. The transaction is expected to close at 11:59 p.m. tonight. The posts will be removed over the weekend. With respect to #5: I argued that removing the photo that was targeted in the copyright complaint, but keeping the text of the post online, should satisfy Unimoda’s concerns about liability. Jay agreed to table a decision on that post pending further legal analysis.
I asked that I be able to propose language to replace each post indicating that it had been taken down, why, and by whom. Jay agreed to consider that request and to review my proposed text.
I am proud to have worked for a company that has fought, to the bitter end, against cynical and craven attempts to silence our work. Despite this defeat, I hope that Univision’s attitude to our journalism going forward will permit me to regain that sense of pride.
Update — 11:30 a.m.
John Cook sent a follow-up email to editorial staff regarding the status of the seventh post (post #5 in the original memo);
Regarding post #5 from my note last night, “Uber Drivers in California Will Be Employees, Not Contractors,” Gizmodo, June 17, 2015. This morning, Jay Grant sent me a revised proposal for removing the photo, but not the text, as only the photo is targeted in litigation over copyright.
I voted for removing the photo but maintaining the text. We did not discuss the post further this morning over the phone, but I presume that Jay and Felipe will vote the same way, and expect that the photo will be removed but that the text of the post will remain on Gizmodo.
Update — 1 p.m.
The six posts flagged for removal have now been stripped of their original headlines and author bylines. Their body text has been replaced with the following message: “This story is no longer available as it is the subject of pending litigation against the prior owners of this site.”
Update — 3:30 p.m.
A spokesperson for Univision Communications Inc. provided the following statement to Gizmodo and other media outlets:
Following our acquisition of assets from Gawker Media, we have decided to take down select articles that are the subject of pending litigation against the prior owners. At this time of transition, the decision was based on a desire to have a clean slate as we look to support and grow the editorial missions of the acquired brands.
Update — 5:40 p.m.
Isaac Lee, the Chief News, Entertainment and Digital Officer of Univision, sent the following memo to staff members of former Gawker Media properties:
To the staff,
Last night, two Univision executives, Felipe Holguin and Jay Grant, voted to remove six posts that are subject to ongoing litigation. They did so with my support.
I understand the frustration involved in seeing any posts removed. So it’s important for you to understand our reasoning.
First, the decision to remove the posts does not reflect an editorial judgment about their content. When Univision acquired the assets of Gawker Media Group, it did so with the understanding that it would not inherit any risk of liability for pending cases. That was a necessary condition for the deal that allowed us to acquire Gizmodo, Jezebel, Deadspin, Jalopnik, Kotaku, and Lifehacker.
Second, while six posts were taken down, Univision is not removing several stories that are currently threatened with legal action from Charles Harder. Should there be threats in the future related to stories published on our Gawker Media Group sites, no matter the date of publication, we will defend them as vigorously as we would defend stories published by Univision News, Fusion, The Root, or any of our other properties. The only difference between these six posts and all of the other posts that will remain up is that these six were the subject of current litigation, no matter the merits of the individual cases. It was a decision unique to the bankruptcy acquisition where assets, not litigation liabilities were purchased, and it is not a precedent for the future.
Univision has defended the free expression of ideas for over 50 years. Personally, I am a board member of the Committee to Protect Journalists and a member of the journalism advisory board of ProPublica, and I believe that my track record proves how deeply committed I am to the freedom of the press and how seriously I take the journalistic mission to provide news and information to the public.
I will be doing a Q&A with J.K. Trotter in Miami later this weekend to answer questions about the removal of these posts. If you have questions, pass them to Keenan, and I will do my best to answer them.