Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press is the right message told through the wrong story.
Give it a gawk.
While I was on my way towards GLOW I spotted this doco. I’m someone who is endlessly fascinated with media, particularly news media. So this seemed like a bit of me.
Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press is a documentary about attempts to control the media of America, with a particular focus on the Hulk Hogan vs Gawker trial. Gawker, a well known internet gossip site, published a Hulk Hogan sex tape . Hogan filed a lawsuit and successfully won damages, enough to bankrupt and shut down Gawker permanently.
There’s a lot of good stuff in Nobody Speak, and even a lot of good stuff said by the founder of Gawker, Nick Denton. I’m a big believer in a free press, and as the film demonstrates further down the line, free press is under attack.
But, I think that the whole Hulk Hogan thing is the worst example to use for that argument. It’s kind of hilarious that it’s the story at the forefront of a documentary about the need for a pristine Fourth Estate.
For me, one big gap in the documentary was the red top tabloid journalism legal goings on in the UK from 2011–2014. It’s very similar to what was going on with Gawker — the “journalists” over there were making very similar arguments to the ones in Nobody Speak. It’s news, it’s in the public interest, and you can’t pick and choose the publications and stories you support. The lawyer in Nobody Speak says as much whenever he appears.
Well, no. You can. And that’s where a bit of cultural difference comes in. In America they have the Constitution and its amendments, which are considered inflexible (unless you disagree with them). But as someone unencumbered by the 1st Amendment, I can comfortably say: no matter how much other public good Gawker did, publishing the Hulk Hogan sex tape was muck-raking, and I’m absolutely fine with it being shut down. Maybe not to the point of closing the doors on the entire publication… but then, they’re the ones who decided to fight to keep the sex tape up.
The other side of the documentary is the notion that the press is being influenced by the wealthy elite, and that’s where things got interesting. It’s revealed that a Silicon Valley investor named Peter Thiel funded Hogan’s lawsuit. He’s a scrupulous fellow, with a strange bunch of (very public) beliefs. Including support of Donald Trump. Thiel also had past run-ins with Gawker, giving him a motive to go after them.
There’s also a look at the clandestine purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal by billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Which was very strange, as the staff were not allowed to know who did the purchasing and were told to “just do your jobs”. Yep, a group of people whose job it is to turn over every stone for the truth were told to pretend like nothing was happening. Great move.
They ended up investigating and publishing an article about the purchase, which got the journalists who took part fired. Now that’s a worrying situation, and the documentary does a great job linking it to the current situation with Donald Trump. Where the press are just ridiculed and shunted aside, where people with money run things.
So it’s probably the documentary that has torn me in two the most. On the one hand, I don’t care who funded who — I’m in full support of Hulk Hogan defending himself against scumbag journalism. If it makes a tabloid muck-raker think twice before betraying someone’s privacy or releasing some salacious bit of gossip, brilliant.
On the other hand, the idea that the Fourth Estate is being influenced and run by billionaires who suppress criticism is very disturbing. Basically it seems like they picked precisely the wrong story for precisely the right message. Don’t use The Book of Henry in a documentary about the value of movies, and don’t use Gawker publishing a wrestler’s sex tape in a documentary about the value of journalism.