ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Reuters) - The former Gawker editor who published a sex tape of celebrity wrestler Hulk Hogan admitted limits to its newsworthiness in a Florida court on Monday, as the media company fights for the right to have posted the tape on its website under U.S. press freedoms.
A.J. Daulerio, Gawker’s editor when the tape was posted on the Internet gossip site in 2012, emerged as the face of the former professional wrestler’s contention that the company had few limits in using sexual content to drive web traffic.
He was Gawker’s first defense witness in the civil trial over Hogan’s $100 million privacy-invasion lawsuit, which is testing media boundaries in the digital age.
At issue in the case is whether Hogan’s right to privacy should be superceded by the public interest and freedom of speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The one-minute, 41-second edited video features Hogan having sex with the wife of his then-best friend, radio “shock jock” personality Bubba the Love Sponge.
Hogan, 62, said he did not know the consensual encounter, which occurred nearly a decade ago in Bubba’s home, had been recorded.
Daulerio, 41, described his interest in writing a commentary about celebrity sex tapes, with the video excerpts to focus on “innocuous” conversation between Hogan and his friend’s wife.
“That was what I found most amusing,” he said, noting that he had grown up watching the moustachioed Hogan when he was a dominant figure in the wrestling world in the 1980s and 1990s.
He directed a video editor at Gawker to cut a highlights reel from the roughly 30-minute sex tape sent to its offices.
The final cut featured nine seconds of actual sex, he said, to confirm the encounter. Daulerio said he did not consider blurring images, nor contact the wrestler before publication.
He said publishing material that subjects dislike was part of the news business, even if that can “come off as pretty callous.”
Gawker has argued that Hogan made his sex life a public matter. But Hogan, whose legal name is Terry Bollea, told jurors he still suffers from humiliation following the tape’s release, when he took the stand at the trial near his home in St. Petersburg last week.
Under cross-examination by Hogan’s attorney, Shane Vogt, Daulerio acknowledged limits to the video’s newsworthiness, including its depictions of Hogan’s anatomy.
“Mr Bollea’s penis had no news value, did it?” Voght asked. “No,” Daulerio responded.
In answer to another question from Vogt, Daulerio also acknowledged it did not really matter to Gawker if the tape had crossed a line into sensational prying.
The amount of damages sought by Hogan could potentially put New York-based Gawker, known for its snarky celebrity and media industry gossip, out of business.