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Gawker CEO Nick Denton challenges Peter Thiel to a public debate

Denton proposes an open discussion about the battle that could end up costing Gawker more than $100 million.

Pool, Getty Images

Gawker's founder and CEO wants to publicly debate the Silicon Valley billionaire who secretly spent millions of dollars on a lawsuit against him.

Gawker Media's Nick Denton issued his challenge to PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel in an open letter on Thursday, a day after Thiel admitted he was the bucks behind a defamation lawsuit that Terry Bollea -- better known as former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan -- brought against the online publication. Thiel reportedly paid roughly $10 million to back Hogan, who won more than $115 million from Gawker in a Florida jury trial in March.

"The best regulation for speech, in a free society, is more speech," Denton wrote. "We each claim to respect independent journalism and liberty. We each have criticisms of the other's methods and objectives. Now you have revealed yourself, let us have an open and public debate."

Thiel did not respond to a request for comment.

Denton and Thiel have a history of animosity stretching back at least a decade. In 2007, Denton's Gawker attempted to out Thiel, who is gay, before he was open about his sexuality. Two years later, Thiel told PEHub that Gawker's now-defunct Valleywag was "the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda."

The heavyweight fight seems to have left a mark on Gawker. Faced with significant legal expenses of its own, the media company said Thursday that it has hired an investment banker to review its options. That kind of maneuver often signals a potential sale, but Gawker played down the possibility.

Thiel carries a great deal of heft in Silicon Valley. Besides being in at the start of PayPal and Facebook and his continued connection to the social network, he is active as an investor, leading a number of venture capital firms.