Nick Denton thought billionaire Peter Thiel was secretly funding Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against him.
For months, the Gawker Media owner and people around him had speculated that the pro wrestler had a wealthy backer footing the legal bill for his fight against Denton and Gawker, which had published an excerpt of a Hogan sex tape.
And in recent weeks, Denton had been more specific — he believed that Thiel was the one pushing the case forward, according to people familiar with Denton's thinking.
Now Forbes says Denton is right. Citing "people familiar with the situation who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity," Forbes says Thiel "played a lead role" in funding Hogan's case against Denton and his Gawker Media business.
Forbes doesn't provide any other backup for the claim. But let's assume, for a minute, that Forbes' own lawyers are satisfied that the story is on solid footing. (Denton, via text message, says Forbes reporters "had been digging for a while" at the story, but doesn't have much more to say. Thiel and his reps haven't responded to requests for comment.)
Why did Denton originally believe in a conspiracy? And why did he think it was Thiel?
The first answer is relatively simple: It didn't make any sense for Hogan to take Gawker to court, because Gawker was willing to pay Hogan millions — I've heard as much as $10 million — to go away.
For now, Hogan has won a $140 million judgement against Gawker — a number much bigger than anyone expected. But the publisher is appealing the verdict, and Hogan's payout could end up much smaller, or gone altogether. Game theory says he should have taken the guaranteed payday.
Beyond that, as the New York Times noted in a piece published late Monday night, Hogan's attorneys made it even harder for the wrestler to win a huge victory by removing a claim for "negligent infliction of emotional distress," which meant that Gawker's insurance company wouldn't help pay for any settlement.
"It’s a very unusual thing to do, because the insurance company would have deeper pockets than Gawker," risk management consultant Larry Geneen told the Times.
To spell it out: Denton and his advisers believe that the Hogan suit was more about hurting Gawker than it was about helping Hogan.
But why would Thiel be the one backing Hogan? Here, we have to be much more speculative. But Forbes notes that Valleywag, Gawker Media's tech gossip site, frequently wrote scathing pieces about Thiel, who made his first fortune running PayPal and then made a very lucrative bet on Facebook, where he sits on the social network's board of directors.
Forbes calls out one piece in particular: A 2007 post titled "Peter Thiel is totally gay, people."
And Thiel, in turn, made it very clear that he hated Valleywag. In 2009, he told PE Hub reporter Connie Loizos that "Valleywag is the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda ... I think they should be described as terrorists, not as writers or reporters."
Loizos suggested that the comparison seemed extreme, but Thiel didn't think so.
"Terrorism is obviously a charged analogy, but it’s like terrorism in that you’re trying to be gratuitously meaner and more sensational than the next person, like a terrorist who is trying to stand out and shock people," he said. "It’s an interesting theoretical question, whether, if Valleywag went away, something else would fill in to replace it."
Gawker Media shut Valleywag down in the beginning of the year. Gawker Media's fate is very much up in the air.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.