Gawker, the website that devoted itself to gossip, sometimes of the mean-spirited variety, now plans to devote itself to politics.
But it will cover the 2016 campaign with an unabashedly opinionated point of view—one that dismisses every Republican candidate as a calamity for the country.
Well, no one can accuse Gawker of hiding its bias, which is the charge most often hurled at the mainstream media. It’s being announced with neon signs and a brass band.
Those who don’t obsessively follow the media culture in Manhattan, Malibu and Georgetown may not care much about Gawker, but lots of sites have copied its snarky, mocking style. Gawker grew into a mini-empire, including Jezebel and Deadspin, but some of its lesser sites, such as Valleywag, are now being shuttered, with some staffers are being laid off (along with a pledge to hire six new reporters).
The rebranding comes four months after Gawker’s lowest moment, a report on the CFO of Conde Nast allegedly soliciting sex from a gay porn star. This amounted to outing the man, who was not well known but is the brother of an Obama administration official. Company founder Nick Denton responded to an outcry by apologizing, taking down the story, and saying the site had to be more restrained and 20 percent nicer.
Diving into campaign coverage is more like a 90 percent change, and Gawker.com editor-in-chief Alex Pareene told his staff in a memo that his site is independent:
“We’re in the tank for no candidate, but we’re not faux-objective self-styled ‘centrists’…we aren’t cheerleaders or partisans.”
Well, that’s a relief.
“Gawker is (obviously) not a Republican site, but it’s definitely not a Democratic site either. We can attack the Democratic frontrunner for the presidency–and our bizarrely under-appreciated Hillary Clinton reporting has been quite tough on her without going over-the-top into conspiratorial World Net Daily territory–but still agree that every single one of her Republican opponents would be apocalyptically disastrous presidents.”
Not just disastrous, but apocalyptically disastrous. That’s a key distinction—as in one of them getting elected could well mean the end of civilization as we know it.
Pareene, who once wrote for Wonkette and Salon, made a pitch for “clever but informed commentary and reporting”—while also unloading on two online rivals:
“The problem with Vox is that it’s utterly humorless and the problem with Buzzfeed is that so much of it is utterly stupid.”
Now this is sounding like the Gawker of old. As is the tone when the memo shifts to particular GOP candidates:
“We are needed now more than ever. It’s utterly unacceptable that Donald Trump is a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination and there’s no prominent national publication even attempting to embody the puckish spirit of SPY.”
Translation: You’re all a bunch of wusses for letting Trump get this far.
“We have the spectacle of Dr. Ben Carson taking his followers for an epic ride as he prepares the ultimate cash-out. We have the ongoing collapse of the Bush dynasty at the hands of its own GOB Bluth. We have, in Ted Cruz, an actual Reddit Troll Face comic come to life.”
Pareene told HuffPost that if his reporters “burn someone’s press secretary, it’s not going to be the end of the world. We don’t have to rely on access.”
A sample from yesterday: “Ted Cruz Would Like to Know Why Obama Won’t Insult Him to His Face.”
This was based on the senator challenging the president to “insult me to my face” after Obama said those who would admit Christian refugees from Syria but not Muslim refugees—as Cruz proposes—are being “shameful.”
“The senator’s tough talk in response culminated in a WWF-style challenge to the president: you and me, buddy, debating the merits of your policy on Syria on live TV—I’ll even let you pick the venue.
“That will never happen and Ted Cruz knows it, but at least he gets to look like a badass in front of reporters.”
Now it’s a big tent out there, and the media do tend to take themselves too seriously. So a little balloon-puncturing and eye-poking could be welcome.
This may be a move forced by the marketplace. Much of what was once unique about Gawker has now been usurped by Twitter and by the gossipy precincts of sites ranging from the Huffington Post to the Daily Caller.
But if the new and improved Gawker relentlessly ridicules Trump and his GOP rivals, it could be in danger of looking like just another liberal site with funnier writing—albeit one that doesn’t much like Hillary either.
I'll try a non-snarky ending: Maybe the badass approach will surprise us all.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.