ST. PETERSBURG — Addressing damaging comments he made in 2013, former Gawker editor-in-chief A.J. Daulerio tried to assure a jury Monday that he was joking when he said he would publish a sex tape of a child over the age of 4.
"Were you being serious in that answer?" asked one his attorneys, Michael Sullivan.
"Not in the slightest," replied Daulerio, 41.
Three years ago, in the middle of a videotaped deposition in the $100 million lawsuit brought by the former wrestler Hulk Hogan, Daulerio was asked under what conditions he would not publish a sex tape.
"If they were a child," he told an attorney for Hogan.
"Under what age?" the lawyer asked.
"Four," Daulerio said.
Attorneys for Hogan, whose legal name is Terry Bollea, used Daulerio's answer as proof that writers for Gawker would leap at the chance to publish anything salacious, regardless of legal or ethical bounds.
Bollea is suing the New York-based gossip website, its founder Nick Denton, and Daulerio for publishing a sex tape of him in 2012. He claims the site violated his right to privacy.
Daulerio, who ran Gawker.com at the time, oversaw the editing of the roughly 30-minute tape down to a 1-minute and 41-second highlight reel. He also published an acid commentary critiquing Hogan's performance. It ran under the headline: "Even for a Minute, Watching Hulk Hogan Have Sex in a Canopy Bed Is Not Safe for Work but Watch It Anyway."
On the witness stand, Daulerio acknowledged that he hadn't considered the former wrestler's right to privacy before publishing the post.
"He's a public figure, and this tape was already discussed in many other publications at that point," he said, referring to several websites, including TMZ, that had reported on the sex tape's existence.
But under aggressive cross-examination by Bollea attorney Shane Vogt, Daulerio struggled to explain why publishing the video excerpt was necessary to make his point, and whether he had truly edited out gratuitous footage.
"When you edited the tape, you made sure the readers saw Mr. Bollea's penis, didn't you?" asked Vogt.
"Yes," Daulerio said. "I included images of his penis because that's sometimes what happens when two people have sex. There are body parts involved."
Vogt hammered away at the idea that Daulerio and other Gawker employees were motivated by money and that they posted the sex tape to draw in readers, boosting web traffic and advertising revenue. At the time, Gawker Media employees got bonuses based on the traffic they drew to the site. After Daulerio published the Bollea sex tape and traffic soared, he received a $2,000 bonus.
Attorneys for Gawker said they were pleased with Daulerio's testimony.
"Our whole legal position is you don't sit and carve out one tiny piece of a story and say is this newsworthy or is that newsworthy," said attorney Seth Berlin. "You look at the whole thing."
Bollea attorney David Houston said Gawker had done itself irreparable harm by putting Daulerio on the stand.
"He obviously wasn't prepared as well as he should have been," he said. "That truly was a Hail Mary with no receivers in the end zone."
Throughout the day, the judge encouraged members of the jury to submit questions to witnesses on the stand, a practice that some attorneys said was unusual. In one particularly astonishing moment, the jury asked Emma Carmichael, 26, editor-in-chief of another Gawker Media website, Jezebel, whether she had slept with either Daulerio or Denton, while working for them.
Although Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Pamela Campbell has at times dismissed jurors' questions as irrelevant or misdirected, she allowed this one.
The question, while clearly ignorant of the fact that Denton is gay, hinted at something darker. It appeared to suggest that Carmichael had slept her way to a position of power, and it stunned the courtroom. Heads swiveled and voices hushed.
"No," Carmichael replied smoothly. She left it at that.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.