“HULK-A-MANIA IS RUNNING WILD, BROTHER”
Yes, we never thought we’d introduce a report with that blast-from-the-past phrase, but, there is a first for everything people. Media, business and the legal observers all turned their attention to none other than Hulk Hogan last week. In a surprising revelation, the world learned that Peter Thiel, the CEO of PayPal, heavily funded an invasion of privacy lawsuit that “The Hulk” successfully waged against the media gossip website, Gawker. For those of you who don’t own a television, recently, the Hulk was awarded $140 million against Gawker for damages resulting from the site leaking a tape of the former pro-wrestler in what we will describe as, well, personal activities. So why did Thiel, one of Silicon Valley’s successful leaders, opt to fund The Hulk? Turns out, Thiel has a longstanding feud with Gawker, resulting from invasive reporting the site did about Thiel’s own personal life years ago – and seemingly sought to inflict financial damages to the gossip site. Payback from Paypal is apparently pretty pricey.
Perhaps the most interesting headlines about the Hulk’s legal dramas is that third-party litigation financing happens regularly. In fact, there is an entire industry and set of firms dedicated to it. This is because trial attorneys who work on contingency fees often cannot absorb upfront costs of litigation, so wealthy funders provide money, usually in exchange for a percentage of the settlement or judgment. This often happens in lawsuits brought against drug companies. Are funders relevant in a fair judicial hearing? Usually not according to the rules of evidence, but this case will draw attention to such practices in the court of public opinion.
“IT’S A NOT-SO-SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL” (ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU’RE MIC’D)
We often say in the Issues Management Practice that timing can be everything… especially bad timing. And few would argue that the week leading up to Memorial Day was particularly poor timing for Veteran’s Affair Secretary Robert McDonald to compare the lines at Veteran’s hospitals to the queues at Disney World. McDonald infamously said to a room full of reporters that “When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? What’s important? What’s important is: what’s your satisfaction with the experience?” This very unfortunate analogy was part of his broader comment about measuring the satisfaction of experiences at VA hospitals. Perhaps more damaging than the words themselves was McDonald’s refusal to apologize. While speaking on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports, Secretary McDonald neglected to take advantage of multiple opportunities to make amends and it wasn’t until Tuesday that he released a statement.
An interview is no place for an original thought, and Secretary McDonaldd’s was a particularly catastrophic musing. And the poor timing added insult to injury. Last September, it was widely reported that hundreds of thousands of veterans may have died while waiting for their applications for care to be processed, forcing then VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. While hospital officials often consider wait time as a metric of patient satisfaction, down-playing the fatal impact the issue has had in conjunction with the VA was a serious gaffe—and waiting to apologize left much time for stakeholders to throw stones. Had the Secretary corrected himself sooner, he might have been able to avoid the sharks and shift focus to where it should be: improving veterans’ care.