The Corner

Gawker, Pots, and Kettles

I sent a few e-mails yesterday inquiring of Gawker’s staff how it felt about working for a company whose Cayman Islands–based finances are, as John Cassidy of The New Yorker put it, “organized like an international money-laundering operation” when they are nonetheless content to run a piece knocking Mitt Romney for tax avoidance. John Cook, who wrote the piece, responded, as did both Cord Jefferson and Hamilton Nolan. Cook informed me that Gawker’s Cayman connection has been common knowledge since 2010 and that I was late to the “scoop.” (A funny accusation, given that I wasn’t claiming a scoop, but Gawker, which touted Bain files that were almost all in the public domain, screamed “exclusive.”)

“I, too, was disappointed when I first learned those details from Reuters’ Felix Salmon and the New Yorker’s John Cassidy back in 2010,” wrote John Cook. Cord Jefferson added: “Way to crack the case on a fact openly linked to in the original story. My comment is this: Nice job, Woodward.” This came in the midst of a very Gawker-esque barrage of sarcasm, which included descriptions of me as a “dimwit” and “f***ing idiot” and basic instructions as to how I might read pages on the Internet. I’d have been disappointed with anything else, I suppose.

But these e-mails entirely missed the point of my question. I was under no illusion either that Gawker’s finances were anything other than common knowledge, nor that John Cook had failed to allude to them in his piece. He did, as he kindly demonstrated to me with this image. The issue here is not one of breaking news, but of rank hypocrisy. Gawker’s pointless “Bain Files” piece was clearly intended to make it appear that, at best, Mitt Romney was unethical for arranging his finances as he has, and, at worst, that he had something terrible to hide.

As regards the latter, Forbes calmly demolished Gawker’s insinuations here. As regards the former, John Cook appears to consider ethics to be wholly contingent upon the practitioner. In his e-mail to me, he criticized Kevin Williamson for what he described as “establishing ethical parity between the nominee of the Republican Party and a gay Hungarian Jew who makes his money in part by publishing photographs of celebrity penises.” Perhaps I really am “dimwitted,” but I can’t see why this distinction matters in the slightest. I pressed him on why it is acceptable in one case and not in the other, and he replied:

1) Gawker is not a candidate for president of the United States.

2) It is a problem for Gawker. You should totally write about it!

If it is wrong to arrange your finances through the Cayman Islands, it is wrong to do so whether you are Gawker or whether you are Mitt Romney. Personally, I couldn’t care less how Bain Capital or Mitt Romney or Gawker organize their finances, providing that it is legal. But John Cook does care — enough to write hit pieces about Mitt Romney over it, no less — and unless Cook is suggesting that he is fine with companies indulging in the practice up until the exact point at which its former CEO runs for president then it matters for Gawker too.

John Cook directly benefits from the system he criticizes as being unethical: His salary — perhaps even his job — is supported by the way in which Gawker’s finances are arranged. The employee stock-purchase plan that Gawker offers implicates its worker bees even more directly, since the value of the company’s stock and the size of its dividends paid are affected by its after-tax profits. Cook is not an innocent party here, divorced from the terrible behavior of the suits upstairs and relegated only to rolling his eyes virtuously. If he were genuinely offended by the practice, he’d refuse his paycheck and do something else. He’s not.