Hey there, lovelies! As reported last week, SXSW was in full swing and my Film badge was being put to full use. Now that the festival is over and I’ve had time to reflect on everything I saw over the course of the week, I realized that what I watched more than anything else was documentaries. There were so many of them and on such a wide range of topics. Out of all that I saw, I think that the most interesting and the most relevant by far was Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press. Award winning investigative documentarian Brian Knappenberger, known for The Internet’s Own Boy and We Are Legion helmed the project. The thumbnail photo for Nobody Speaks shows Hulk Hogan who is, admittedly, not someone whom I would want to watch a documentary about. However, do not let this deter you for there is something much bigger about this film and what it represents for the free press in our country.
In 2012 Gawker Media published a sex tape of Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) and Heather Clem. Apparently, Clem’s husband likes to film her with other men and watch it back. To each their own, ya know. Anyway, upon the posting of this video, Hogan sued Gawker for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional harm, among other things. The back and forth shown through court clips and interviews with Gawker editors shows how crazy this case was. In the end, Hogan ended up winning and was awarded $31 million which was roughly $100 million less than what the jury had come back with. Gawker did not have this kind of money and filed for bankruptcy last year.
What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, as the story unfolds, we learn that Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel helped fund the case against Gawker. The site had published several unflattering stories about Thiel over the years and he had built up a grudge against the media outlet. He poured millions of dollars into Hogan’s defense allegedly without Hogan knowing who he was or why he was doing it. What is utterly terrifying about this is that there was a man who had a grudge against a digital print outlet, who used his resources to his advantage, and took a step into the legal world that until now no one else had done. This opens up the opportunity for other private citizens and/or corporations to do the same, meaning that if there is a magazine, newspaper, any sort of periodical that prints something that someone doesn’t like there is now precedent for them to take it upon themselves to facilitate a take down.
In addition to the Bollea v. Gawker case, Nobody Speaks also shines a light on the purchasing of one of Nevada’s most notable newspapers, the Las Vegas Review Journal, by the Adelson family. While you might not know the name off hand, the Adelsons are big in the gaming world and are apparently quite corrupt and shady (shocker, I know). The reporters and staff of LVRJ were told that their paper had been bought but not by whom. Good idea…try to hide something from a whole newspaper staff. The reporters start digging and soon unearth the truth of their acquisition. Penning an expose on the matter, they go to print without a green light and then many of them resign, principles and ethics still intact.
What brings these two storylines together, you ask? Apparently there is a connection between Thiel and the Adelson family: they both make huge contributions to the Republican party and most recently, Donald Trump. The significance of this is that Trump is very publicly against mainstream media and honest reporting of any kind and these two stories are instances where men saw an opportunity to influence/shut down a media organization whose ideals they didn’t agree with. While there is enough material for both of these stories to stand on their own, for they are both majorly important, they are tied together with what seemed like a hasty Trump through line. I say hasty because there was video of rallies and press conferences that are incredibly recent. Like since he’s been in office recent.
Towards the end of the film we begin seeing, through still images and voiced over short video clips, the ties that all of these men have with each other. This sort of made the ultimate message about how things lead back to Trump. I think the doc could have been a lot stronger if they had stuck to highlighting these terrifying cases and how they can potentially effect our future. This is my only complaint.
Netflix has reportedly purchased the film however when you search the title you’re not able to click on the result. I don’t know if that just means it is not yet available or what. Whatever the case, you should find a way to watch this documentary. It is incredibly important and impatiently relevant.