Professional wrestler Hulk Hogan took the stand this week in his $100 million lawsuit against Gawker Media and told a Florida jury he was “completely humiliated” when a video of him having sex with the wife of his then-best friend was released online.
Hogan, legal name Terry Bollea, said the 1 minute and 41 second clip published by Gawker caused him difficulties in both his personal and professional life.
“I was completely humiliated,” he said. “It was even embarrassing as my character. Hulk Hogan was embarrassed.”
Hogan’s attorneys said even though the World Wrestling Entertainment and reality TV star is a public figure, he still has the right to expect privacy in a private bedroom and that the video was filmed without his knowledge, according to the Telegraph.
Gawker maintains that its 2012 post is protected speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and says it was reporting on a celebrity who publicly discussed his sex life. Gawker’s lawyers also question whether Hogan knew about the cameras in the house of his then-friend, radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge when he had sex with Bubba’s wife.
Gawker’s founder, Nick Denton, sat in the front row for the first day of the trial in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“Gawker believes this kind of reporting is important,” an attorney for the company, Mike Berry told jurors, explaining that celebrity sex tapes are “uncomfortable” but an important part of gossip and media reporting.
On Tuesday, the two sides debated on whether the video could be considered “newsworthy”. Gawker again made the claim that Hogan’s “frequent public discussion of his sex life made the clip newsworthy and thus protected by the First Amendment,” according to NPR.
But Hogan rejected that point under cross-examination by Gawker’s attorney, Michael Sullivan. The New York Times reports:
“[Bollea] gently rebuffed attempts by Mr. Sullivan to paint him as someone who carelessly and routinely flaunted his sexuality and his conquests, and for whom even the most intimate personal details were fodder for publicity. Mr. Bollea insisted that any such disclosures in public were purely an act, a crucial component of his ‘character’ as Hulk Hogan.”
“I’m kind of concerned about Hulk Hogan’s privacy, but you kind of give it away,” Bollea testified, according to the Times. “But in the privacy of your own home, no one invades my privacy.”
Gawker said its First Amendment argument is based on the fact that the video represents the events truthfully.
“I am not going to make a case that the future of the Republic rises or falls on the ability of the general public to watch a video of Hulk Hogan [———-] his friend’s ex-wife. But the Constitution does unambiguously accord us the right to publish true things about public figures.”
Media and celebrity watchers will be closely following this case as the result could have a dramatic effect on celebrity privacy rights and the freedom of the press in an era where just about anything can be found online.