A juror in the Hulk Hogan lawsuit against Gawker shocked the courtroom on Monday by asking Emma Carmichael, current editor in chief of Jezebel and former managing editor of Gawker, whether she had ever slept with her bosses.
2nd jury question: Have you ever had an intimate relationship with Mr. Daulerio or Denton?— Anna Phillips (@annamphillips) March 14, 2016
Carmichael: no#hulkvsgawk #wtf
(That's A.J. Daulerio, the former editor of Gawker who posted the sex tape that Hogan is suing over, and Gawker founder Nick Denton.)
Carmichael replied with a simple, "No," and didn't seem rattled by the question. But observers were shocked, Anna Phillips reported for the Tampa Bay Times:
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.
Florida requires judges to let jury members submit written questions for witnesses. But while Judge Pamela Campbell dismissed other jury questions as irrelevant, for some reason she allowed this one.
Never seen that before, a jury asking a witness if she's slept with her bosses. Amazing. Would that ever happen to a guy? #hulkvsgawk— Anna Phillips (@annamphillips) March 14, 2016
The question cast doubt on Carmichael's professional competency as a woman, and particularly as a young woman. She is 26 now, and became Gawker's managing editor when she was 23.
Nothing about the facts of the case suggested that improper affairs might be going on at Gawker. So it's hard to see any reason, other than sexist stereotypes about successful young women, that the juror might think to ask the question in the first place. And it's painfully ironic that the juror would ask this of Carmichael, who now edits a major feminist website.
It's also tough to see why the judge would allow the question. True, Hogan's team is trying to paint Gawker as a morally bankrupt organization that didn't actually care about the public's right to know when it published the tape. Improper affairs might bolster that narrative — but, again, there was no actual reason to think that such an affair might have happened.
Carmichael had testified more broadly about Gawker's editorial culture and the popularity of the Hogan post. She was also asked about a joke she made to colleagues over chat, instructing them not to discuss Hogan "while our legal department processes his giant (hard return) lawsuit."
But Carmichael wasn't the only one who made jokes about Hogan over chat. And none of her male colleagues were asked about their sex lives, even though some of them made worse jokes — including Daulerio's bizarre quip about child pornography in a taped deposition.
Women journalists in particular struggle with inaccurate narratives about sleeping with sources and other unprofessional conduct. Our culture often assumes that if a young woman is successful, it's more likely because she slept her way to the top than because she is good at her job. And no matter how irrelevant to the subject at hand, women's sex lives always seem to be fair game for scrutiny.
Update: Attorneys told Anna Phillips at the Tampa Bay Times that it was "unusual" for a judge to allow questions from the jury. Florida law suggests otherwise, however.