Nick Denton, Peter Thiel, and the Plot to Murder Gawker - 2016-11-06
One day in September 2014 the publisher of Gawker Media, Nick Denton, sent an e-mail to Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist and billionaire. It could easily have been a message to a friend, or at least a kindred spirit, for, as many people who know them both have noted, the two have so much in common.
They are contemporaries: Denton turned 50 this past August, and Thiel 49 two months later. Both were born in Europe—Denton in England and Thiel in Germany. Both graduated from fancy universities—Denton from Oxford and Thiel from Stanford. Both made their fortunes in the digital world; in fact, it had brought them together in San Francisco a dozen or so years earlier. Both are gay, and both came out relatively late. Both are libertarians, and nonconformists, and visionaries, and science-fiction fans, and workaholics, and wonks. Both have resisted getting old, Denton by attitude, Thiel through human growth hormones. Both have a cultish kind of appeal. Both were wealthy still in 2014, though as winner of one of Silicon Valley's greatest daily doubles—he co-founded PayPal and was Facebook's first big investor—Thiel was exponentially more so, a fact that stuck in the ultra-competitive Denton's craw. "Nauseatingly successful" was how Denton once described him. "Does Nick Denton wish he were Peter Thiel?" a headline on Denton's own gawker.com once asked.
But, in 2007, Gawker's Silicon Valley tributary, Valleywag, had outed Thiel, or at least Thiel thought it had. Both before and after that, Valleywag and Gawker had continued to ridicule Thiel, his investment decisions, his ideas, and his friends. It was such stories that had led Thiel, in 2009, to label Valleywag "the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda" and to liken its writers to terrorists.