In 2007, Gawker outs Peter Thiel, Facebook's first investor and Paypal cofounder, as gay. Nine years later in 2016, Gawker declares bankruptcy, slammed with a $140 million judgement after publishing an illegally recorded sex tape of Hulk Hogan. "These two seemingly unrelated events," author Ryan Holiday writes in Conspiracy, "were in fact the bookends of a nearly decade-long plot masterminded by [outed Peter] Thiel..."
Surreal, disturbing, and potentially instructive, the story of Thiel's secret plans to totally and legally destroy one of the most powerful and ruthless media companies of the 21st century is brought into sunlight in a very dark time for the media landscape—a time that includes fake news, #gamergate and Trump, Breitbart and Salon, Antifa and Anonymous.
As newsworthy and contemporary as the events in Conspiracy are, Ryan Holiday's commentary places them into a dramatic, overarching narrative—a narrative largely crafted by Peter Thiel, his camouflaged legal team, and the (in)famous, anonymous, ex-Gawker employee known as Mr. A.
But in Conspiracy, we as readers are privy to enjoy the killing (and suicide) of Gawker from even higher vantage point than Thiel himself, in part due to the author's exclusive access to Nick Denton and other Gawker team members, and more importantly because of the author's ability to draw both philosophical and tactical parallels with both ancient and contemporary strategists of war, sports, and politics.
This book is a trip. And especially for me because I actually worked with Gawker on behalf of Huckberry from 2015-2017, and saw firsthand the events unfold: the suite, the trial, the verdict, the bankruptcy, the auction and purchased by Univision, the shutting down of Gawker.com, the second-life of its various affiliate sites like Jezebel and Gizmodo, and the age-old-yet-seemingly-still-too-forgotten truth play out: actions have consequences. [JG]
8. "When personal gossip attains the dignity of print, and crowds the space available for matters of real interest to the community, it destroys at once robustness of thought and delicacy of feeling. No enthusiasm can flourish, no generous impulse can survive under its blighting influence." - Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, 'Right to Privacy,' 1890
7. "In the search for collaborators, hunger is an essential qualification. While it's dangerous to conspire with people who have a lot to lose, you can't conspire without someone who is afraid to bet on themselves, who isn't willing to take a big stake on something that very well could fail. Where those two traits overlap there is often a sweet spot: the man or woman who has something to prove and something to protect, the strong sense of self-belief coupled with that killer instinct." - Ryan Holiday
6. "The staples of old yellow journalism are the staples of the new yellow journalism: sex, crime; and event better, sex crime." - Nick Denton in a Gawker memo
5. "I came to believe that the nastiness of the internet was not a function of a technology or various thing that have gone wrong, but the function of one particularly nasty media company led by a particularly sociopathic individual and that if i defeated Gawker, it would actually change the media landscape." - Peter Thiel
4. "Today, we have a complex relationship with secrecy insomuch as we live in a world that no longer values it." - Ryan Holiday
3. "Keep your object always in mind, while adapting your plan to circumstances." Liddell Hart, Strategy
2. "He who traffics with a tyrant becomes his slave, though he goes to him a free man." - Sophocles
1. "There are things that were very tempting, an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Retributive justice. But I think those would've ultimately been self-defeating. That's where you just become that which you hate...There were all these things that you could be tempted to do and it's not clear they would work any better. So we decided very early on we would only do thing that are totally legal, which is a big limitation...We were comfortable taking a very aggressive legal posture, just entirely within the system." - Peter Thiel
Photo: Jared Polin
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Holiday is a bestselling author of books on marketing, entrepreneurship, ancient Stoic philosophy, American culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into twenty languages and appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Fast Company, The New York Observer, and others.
I'm also a big fan of three other books by Ryan: Trust Me, I'm Lying, The Obstacle is the Way, about which I had the privilege of interviewing him in 2016, and Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, & Advertising.
I first encountered Ryan by way of the Chase Jarvis Live show in 2012, and since have discovered an incredible amount of books from other authors and creatives, including bestselling author Robert Greene, CEO of Breather Julian Smith, human guinea pig Tim Ferriss, and others.
"How we have lost this. How squeamish we have become. We now blindly demonize what is often one of the most effective forms of action. How vulnerable this ignorance has made us to the few real conspiracies, successful or not, that exist in the world. In this rare occasion, though, we got a peek behind the curtain, as the title of Gawker's last post put it, of how things worked."
- Ryan Holiday, Conspiracy
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