Venture capitalist Peter Thiel was schedule to appear alongside Silicon Valley heavyweights like Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings at The New Yorker's TechFest conference in October, but those plans are now in flux, Inc. has learned.
The magazine advertised Thiel as a speaker when it announced the conference in June. The announcement of his inclusion was close on the heels of a revelation by Forbes writers Ryan Mac and Matt Drange that it was Thiel who had secretly funded pro-wrestler Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea's lawsuit over Gawker Media's publication of a sex tape the wrestler had made.
Now, Thiel is not listed as a speaker at TechFest. The New Yorker says the billionaire PayPal cofounder encountered a scheduling conflict and is no longer on the agenda, although he hasn't ruled it out 100 percent*.
"It's just a matter of whether Peter Thiel can make it work with his schedule, which has changed since he accepted our invitation earlier this year. The offer stands, and we hope to have the opportunity to include him in the program," New Yorker director of communications Natalie Raabe tells Inc. in an email.
Inc. has contacted Thiel's outside public relations firm, Torch Communications, and will update if a representative responds.
Pulling out of a conference because of a time conflict might not be news if the person in question were someone other than Thiel, but given the Silicon Valley titan's relationship with the press, his decision to avoid an event full of journalists and sponsored by a magazine was bound to attract notice.
Thiel has admitted that he funded Bollea's lawsuit as part of a "secret war" (as the New York Times put it) on Gawker Media, which in 2007 ran a post stating Thiel was gay. Thiel has maintained that his privacy was violated and he was outed against his consent. Many argue Thiel's sexual identity was journalistically relevant in the context of him being a public figure and that, besides, it was already general knowledge in Silicon Valley by the time.
The revelations of Thiel's vendetta against Gawker, which filed for bankruptcy under the weight of the $140 million ruling in Bollea's privacy suit, coincided with news that the libertarian entrepreneur was serving as a delegate for presidential candidate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
Thiel gave an endorsement speech for Trump at the convention, and his speech marked a historic moment when he told the crowd, "I am proud to be gay." It was the first time a speaker at the GOP convention had taken such a stance.
Around the time Thiel made his address, gay politics and culture blog Towleroad reported he was slated to attend a meeting of the Property and Freedom Society, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center reports is known for condoning discrimination in the name of "unconditional free trade" and for featuring white nationalists at its conferences. Thiel has since reportedly pulled out of the conference, slated to end today in Bodrum, Turkey.
Prior to the GOP convention, tech blog Recode invited Thiel to speak at its Code Conference occurring outside Los Angeles. Thiel did not attend the conference.
Not that Thiel shies from all media attention--he recently penned an editorial for the New York Times in which he framed a proposed bill against revenge porn as being connected to the Bollea case.
While it's far from clear there's any connection, it's worth noting that The New Yorker has in the last year hired at least two of Gawker's previous star writers--Adrian Chen and Jia Tolentino. Tolentino, former editor of Gawker feminist blog Jezebel, is listed as one of the writers involved in the conference.
Editor's note: The original version of this post said that Thiel had pulled out of the conference. After publication, a spokeswoman for the magazine clarified that Thiel has a conflict that could prevent him from attending but has not ruled it out. The language of this story has been updated to reflect that.