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More on the Gawker Lawsuit Involving Gayheart Sex Tape

from Things are getting a little rugged out there on the frontiers of digital journalism. Marty Singer, the go-to guy for star-crossed stars, usually takes on big MSM targets when he or his clients feel they have been oppressed by the media, so perhaps it is a sign of arrival for Gawker that they were sued for $1 million by Mr. Singer on behalf of Eric Dane, an actor from “Grey’s Anatomy” and his wife Rebecca Gayheart, also an actress.

A month ago, the Manhattan gossip site published a tape showing the pair lounging about in various states of undress and apparent inebriation with former beauty queen Kari Ann Peniche. (If you want to see the tape, you will have to nose around at Gawker. Decoder is less concerned about legal exposure than keeping his job and helping you keep yours by not displaying a video of nekkid people at work.)

Gawker has been sued before, but the appearance of the legendarily pugnacious Mr. Singer could raise the threat level. Perhaps Gawker’s growing traffic and clout make it a more worthy target.

Nick Denton, chief of Gawker Media, seemed like he was taking the suit in stride in an instant message interview:

“Gawker is a relatively unfettered journalistic enterprise. If we weren’t ever sued by embarrassed story subjects, I’d wonder whether we were performing our function.”

Decoder asked if he paid for the tape:

“Well, obviously we paid our contributor (and from the traffic, you can suppose quite handsomely!)”

Gawker Media, which also includes Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel and Deadspin, has a steady steam of drive-by’s from readers, but as this chart demonstrates, it gets a huge spike when it breaks news, including an items about Erin Andrews, Josh Hamilton, or, say, the Church of Scientology. The digital publishing racket is much like the rest of the media business, driven by hits. But one of the consequences of posting tangy, salacious news is that every once in a while, a subject is going to fire back in the form of a lawsuit or other legal efforts.

“I take all suits seriously — though I confess to finding the simple cease and desist from the Church of Scientology last year the most intimidating,” Mr. Denton wrote. (In conversation and in a post here, Mr. Denton added that visuals tend to drive all the big stories: “One interesting thing about biggest recent Gawker Media scoops — Pink phone (Gizmodo, yesterday), Scientology marketing vid, Erin Andrews peephole, Microsoft tablet, Josh Hamilton falls off wagon and McSteamy threeway. All the breakout stories revolve around pictures. No surprise to anyone from TV or the celebrity magazine world, I’m sure.”)

E! Online called the most recent lawsuit“not much of a surprise,” while Mr. Denton tweaked his legal pursuer by tweet, writing, “To quote the great Marty Singer — Eric Dane’s lawyer — if you don’t want a sex tape on the Internet, “don’t make one!” ”

Mr. Dane, who has been dubbed “Dr. McSteamy” for his role as a heart-throbbing M.D. on “Grey’s”, is shown shambling about the apartment of Ms. Peniche, discussing what their porn names might be, and then taking over camera duties when the pair enters the hot tub. Decoder is no judge of cinema, but it’s less interesting than it sounds, with lots of spacey, unconnected chatting that reminds him of those fallow years after college when he did a lot of talking about nothing. It is not a sex tape, but a tape of people talking without their clothes on. According to E! Online, Ms. Peniche blames distressed country star Mindy McCready, for the leak. Ms. McCready was the former beauty queen’s roommate on “Celebrity Rehab,” VH1’s reality show.

Peniche was the first to point fingers at the disaster-plagued country star last night, telling TMZ (no doubt playing catch-up after getting scooped on the video’s existence by Gawker) that she and McCready were roomies on the VH1 reality show Celebrity Rehab and that McCready stole Peniche’s hard drive after a heated argument over money matters.

Peniche claims she lodged a stolen-property report with the Los Angeles Police Department over the missing piece of hardware, but the LAPD tells E! News there is no record of such a filing.

So, for those of you keeping score, an actor couple spent quality video time with a former Miss United States Teen — she was dethroned after posing for Playboy — and then a frenenemy of hers from televised rehab is alleged to have stolen her hard drive and disseminated a tape of the romp. We’d like to tell you more, but we gotta find some Purel.


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