Graphic account of Hulk Hogan sex tape read aloud in Florida court

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 15, 2016 2:22 PM

By Letitia Stein

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Reuters) - Gawker founder Nick Denton read out a graphic account of the acts shown in a sex tape featuring wrestling celebrity Hulk Hogan in a Florida courtroom on Tuesday, saying it "stands up to the test of time" years after his company put it on the Internet.

Gawker was sued for $100 million by Hogan, who says the 2012 release of the tape violated his privacy. The New York-based media company could be forced out of business by an unfavorable verdict in a civil trial testing the limits of freedom of the press.

Hogan's attorneys asked Denton, a high-profile figure in the world of Web publishing, to read aloud an article accompanying the video, which he did in an even tone.

The lawsuit centers on the one-minute, 41-seconds of video that Gawker excerpted from the sex tape of unknown origin. The video has not yet been shown to the jury in St. Petersburg, Florida, near Hogan's home.

The video shows his tryst with the wife of his then-best friend, radio "shock jock" personality Bubba the Love Sponge. Hogan says their consensual encounter was recorded without his knowledge five years before Gawker's posting.

Denton said he had not watched the video, nor read the article before publication. He described his role as broadly overseeing the portfolio of websites under Gawker media.

But when asked by a juror how the posting fit into Gawker's goal to produce "true and interesting" journalism, he stood by the piece.

"We are talking about it now," he said. "I don't think anyone would dispute that it has been an interesting piece."

Denton's testimony, spread out over two days, highlighted his work in print media before starting Gawker, whose outlets include technology-oriented Gizmodo and Jezebel, which is focused on women's topics.

Seeing traditional media as often stodgy, Denton said his outlets aim "to peel back the surface, show what is going on behind the scenes."

"Today's gossip is tomorrow's news," he said, describing Gawker's motto.

During cross-examination, Hogan's attorneys pressed him on his interviews over the years on privacy rights in a digital age. Denton said celebrities have "a smaller zone of privacy."

Jurors had questions for Denton, too. One of them asked if the sex in the video would be protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution if it was gratuitous.

"No," he replied.

Hogan's attorney, David Houston, immediately issued a statement suggesting it "perhaps sets the tone for deliberations."

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Tom Brown)