Huge Judgement for Hulk Hogan … Essay
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Bollea v. Gawker Media LLC
The case that is presented in the form of Terry Bollea vs. Gawker Media LLC has led to some intriguing legal lessons and questions. The case centers on a video that was recorded without the knowledge or consent of the plaintiff, who is better known for his Hulk Hogan wrestling persona. The video is a sex tape in which Hogan is having sex with a former friend of his. His comments and remarks are being recorded as he speaks. The leaking of the tape to Gawker and, eventually, to the public had some long-reaching ramifications for Bollea given that he was cut loose from any relationship with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) just as soon as the video came out. Pursuant to what was mentioned in the case, there has been a verdict in the case and Bollea was actually awarded more than what he was asking for, that being $100 million. This brief report will discuss the possible and actual ramifications of the case. While there are legal ways to gain information that can be compromising, wiretapping and over privacy-related laws can cause very nasty consequences if those laws are violated.
Some of the most salacious case involving public figures acting badly have involved video and/or audio that was procured using illegal or at least questionable means. One major dilemma is that wiretapping and video recording laws vary widely by state and the situation at hand plays a huge part in whether a law is being violated. Generally speaking, someone acting badly in public is in a bad spot if they do something stupid in public such as on the street or at an event where no expectation of privacy can reasonably be expected. In other cases, phone or video recording is acceptable so long as at least one party is aware of the recording. However, there are some states where recording someone in a private setting without their knowledge is a massive violation of the law (Cornell, 2016). One case where there were actual consequences was when Linda Tripp ran afoul of wiretapping laws during the Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton fiasco. She was charged in Maryland, although the case was eventually dropped (Van Natta, 2000). Another case where serious questions were posed was when former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was recording making comments that were embarrassing to himself, the NBA and others. However, he was being recorded without his permission or consent. However, this did not stop him from being harmed as he was forced to sell his team when he did not want to (ESPN, 2016).
As for the Bollea situation, it goes without saying that a sex tape recorded with the knowledge of one or more people in the room is ethically dubious at best or illegal at worst. Another layer to the proverbial onion in this case is that the video footage was leaked to Gawker Media LLC. Gawker then made the footage public and then holy hell broke loose. While Gawker did not themselves record the tape, them making the footage or even the transcript available to the public was a fairly obvious violation of Bollea's privacy. However, the real legal question is whether Gawker can be punished even though they were a proxy for the release of the video and transcript as compared to the person or persons that actually shot the footage. In the end, the jury found that Gawker was clearly in error and greatly harmed Bollea. Even if Bollea said some rather coarse and bigoted things, his speech and privacy are both protected (BBC, 2016).
The last point segues into Bollea's right to say what he wishes. Of course, he is protected by the First Amendment to say whatever he wants with very limited exception. If he was out in the public square and was saying racial epithets as part of a wider incitement of a riot, then there would be problems for Bollea legally as this is one of the exceptions to the First Amendment. However, Bollea, despite how disgusting his speech and sentiments were, was in a very private setting and was not aware he was being filmed. There are some situations where this matters not but the privacy of someone's (or his own) bedroom is not one of those places. Based on this premise, the aforementioned Donald Sterling would have a very strong case against his ex-friend as well as any media outlets who released transcripts or the actual footage involved considering how the footage was maintained. California laws about privacy and recording are among the most stringent in the country (Cornell, 2016; OAG, 2016).
However, there are some arguments for the media as well. First of all, there is indeed the freedom of the press in the United States. This is also guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, among other laws and regulations. Further, Gawker did not record the footage and was not involved in the same. They were simply passed the video and they decided to make it public given the implications it had on Bollea's persona and image. Much like Sterling and other people who have been caught making racially charged or outright bigoted statements, the sentiments became public and cost Bollea dearly. Even so, the media should probably be made to adhere to the same standards as the police when it comes to how footage, both audio and video, is obtained. For example, evidence in a criminal trial without a valid search warrant is typically inadmissible. The media should probably be required to hold themselves to the same standard. However, there are wide-ranging opinions about that. The prime example of situations where privacy is not all that sacred is when politicians make mistakes. Indeed, elected officials are one of the very few people in this country (or the world) where ultimate transparency is demanded and anyone that gets around legal or illegal means to curtail transparency are usually lauded as whistleblowers and heroes rather than bad people who broke the law (UConn, 2016).
Another situation where skirting the law is sometimes accepted is when there are corporate scandals and issues. Indeed, if someone technically broke the law when it came to blowing the lid off of problems at places like Enron, MCI Worldcom, Tyco and so forth, there are probably very few prosecutors that would dare take action against those people because there was a noble cause behind the revelations and the prosecutors do have discretion to decline prosecuting someone if it does not serve the matter or the public interest. Of course, political scandals like the Flint water crisis and Hillary Clinton's email server are other situations where law-breakers may get or have got some slack. Indeed, one of the people involved in the email server scandal that Hillary is going through was apparently granted immunity so as to procure full disclosure without that person fearing prosecution himself (Goldman, 2016).
With all that being said, there needs to be a limit. Normal and private citizens should get more protection and most public figures should get the same. While tabloid fodder that is completely untrue is rampant, recording video of such a sensitive and private nature such as was done to Bollea is extremely unethical and illegal ... and this is as it should be. This is not to say that it does not matter whether or not Bollea is a rampant racist because this does matter given how many kids adored him ... past and present. Even so, the whole "fruit from the poison tree" aspect of the law and police work would seem to be applicable to media outlets that gain video or audio that was not obtained legally and/or with the right consent. While some may say that only the person who recorded the video should face consequences, there would seem to be a current precedent that says that proxies and people who are sent the video should also be punished. The author of this report would point to child pornography as being an example of a situation where both the producer and any recipient of the video is in big trouble. While what happened with Gawker and Bollea is certainly not at that level, it is certainly in the same realm of discussion from a legal standpoint (.
The Bollea judgment will surely be appealed. It remains to be seen whether this will stand or if there will be a demarcation between what happens when there is a privacy violation. The salient question is whether just the producer is liable or if anyone who disseminates the footage is liable. The author of this report, per the child pornography and public figure typology examples mentioned before, thinks that Gawker clearly should not have aired, disseminated or otherwise shared the footage due to the way it was procured. However, it would seem that they were more concerned with becoming the second coming of the Drudge Report.
Amster, S. (2016). Sterling's Lesson: Public Figures… [END OF PREVIEW]
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