The Upshot

Gawker editor defends anonymous O’Donnell post

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Gawker on Christine O'Donnell

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Gawker was convicted Thursday in the court of Twitter opinion. The charges: misogyny and reckless link-baiting.

"Today, we are all Christine O'Donnell," wrote Salon's Justin Elliott.

He was one of several journalists and bloggers to criticize Gawker for posting an anonymous account by a Philadelphia man claiming to have gone home with Delaware Senate candidate on Halloween night three years ago, following a night of drinking.

But editor Remy Stern told The Upshot that Gawker ran the item because it's "a great story" and pushed back against the misogyny charge, arguing that the alleged incident was worth noting because O'Donnell's private actions -- according to the anonymous writer -- run counter to her public persona as an advocate of Christian conservative values.

"If it was any politician whose private life diverged from his public life in such an interesting way, we'd be interested in that," Stern said. "It had nothing to do with her being a woman."

Despite the sensational headline --  "I Had a One-Night Stand With Christine O'Donnell" -- the two never actually had sex. However, the anonymous writer describes O'Donnell's anatomy in detail, which led to some of the backlash.

"Hey Gawker, I hope a one-day SEO term victory is worth the sleaziest piece of s--- story in memory,"  wrote Slate's Dave Weigel. "Regardless, that vile anonymous dudebro is an awful person and an awful writer to boot," wrote Mediagazer's Megan McCarthy. "Why protect his identity? (Oh, yeah, pageviews.)" And Mother Jones magazine simply responded with a new tag: #GawkerFail.

Gawker Media sites have been known to pay to get exclusives, such as Gizmodo's scoop on Apple's new iPhone and Deadspin getting a hold of NFL star Brett Favre's voice mail messages to a sideline reporter and (alleged) photographs of his genitalia. Stern said Gawker paid in the "low four figures" for the O'Donnell story, but also did its due diligence in checking the accuracy of the man's claims.

Stern said that the man approached Gawker about 10 days ago. He had shopped it elsewhere but wanted it to be told correctly, and Gawker allowed him to do it first-person.

"From an editorial standpoint, it was compelling to hear it from his own words," Stern said, adding that "it's a good story and that's why we did it."

Gawker Media chief Nick Denton, in a staff memo, described the O'Donnell post as  "an example of brilliant packaging," with a good composite image on the front and compelling writing.

"And this points to a general rule on the Web," Denton said. "Writers are successful to the extent that they can sublimate their egotism and get out of the way of the story."

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