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By Nick Denton, Source : nickdenton.org

The recent torrent of public allegations against celebrities such as Harvey Weinstein, Terry Richardson and James Toback is unprecedented. But the stories have been circulating on the industry grapevine, and on blogs and social media, and among women especially, for years.

The headlines are shocking — unless you read Gawker before it was shut down, in which case this may feel like a throwback, to a time when sexual aggressors roamed the land, but had not yet occupied the presidency.

Kevin Spacey, the actor who recently admitted he might have molested a 14-year-old boy while drunk, was noted on the news and gossip site as a regular at Bryan Singer’s notorious Hollywood parties and known by the reader community for aggressively propositioning young men. (When asked about his sexuality in an interview, Spacey responded: “No one’s personal life is in the public interest,” Mr. Spacey said. “It’s gossip, bottom line. End of story.”)

Film director James Toback, now target of accusations of sexual misconduct from hundreds of women, was a Gawker staple going back to 2010 and earlier. Gawker collected reader’s tales of his attempted pick-ups, including incriminating voicemails and one possible encounter with an under-age girl.

Photographer Terry Richardson’s sexual forwardness with models was an open secret in the fashion world, though he continued to be hired by Conde Nast and others. Here’s a 2010 account of his depredations by Jenna Sauers at Jezebel, Gawker’s feminist spin-off site. As late as 2014, he was still receiving loving treatment in New York Magazine, attacked here by Gawker’s Tom Scocca.

Also published on Gawker’s sports spin-off, Deadspin, were the first big stories on Kevin Johnson, the NBA star who became Mayor of Sacramento before sexual scandal ended his political career.

Gawker writers also explored sexual advances by Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel, and the company’s policy of hiring women based on looks. (Hey, Ryan.)

Scocca also reopened the public discussion — in a 2014 essay published on Gawker — about entertainer Bill Cosby, accused of drugging some of the women he slept with.

Gawker called Harvey Weinstein’s casting couch an open secret back in 2015, and began a fishing expedition that would not be concluded before the site was shuttered.

Gawker’s investigative team dug into the connections of Jeffrey Epstein, another prominent supporter of the Clintons, convicted of soliciting an underage girl.

Gawker was as alert to abuse of power among conservatives. (Some would argue writers’ appetite for the embarrassment of the Right was even greater.) John Cook never had the story of endemic sexual harassment at Fox News, but was such a thorn in the side of Roger Ailes that he was followed, and the team revealed Bill O’Reilly’s bullying of his own wife and her new partner. (Both Ailes and Weinstein were represented by Charles Harder, the lawyer backed by Facebook’s Peter Thiel to bring down Gawker.com, who is now threatening Anna Merlan over her reporting on Superstar Machine.)

Let me stipulate a few points. Gossip can be gratuitous, without any purpose beyond entertainment. It’s fertile ground for media hypocrisy. It provides cover for politically-inspired character assassination, and witch-hunts. Touching on the private sphere of even the most public of figures is morally and financially risky: famously, jurors in his hometown did not see the relevance of Gawker’s expose of Hulk Hogan’s extramarital affair in 2012, and the site’s adversaries took advantage of that weakness.

And credit where it is due. It has taken time — and a late entry from organizations with the reputation and resources of the New York Times and New Yorker — to finally burst the dam, and reveal abuse of power in entertainment, media and the other commanding heights of modern society.

But those first accounts of sexual harassment — even if anonymous or thinly sourced — give confidence to victims that they are not alone. Gossip, though it draws those motivated by envy and resentment, is also a tool of the powerless. It’s a mechanism for coordination.

They say that news is the first draft of history; well, as we used to say at Gawker, gossip is the first draft of news. The official channels have long failed those with allegations of harassment; the unofficial channels, largely internet word-of-mouth, have finally prodded news organizations and employers into action.

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