Writer/Director Brian Knappenberger’s latest might look like an waning celebrity suing a clickbait online magazine for damages but what boils underneath is an incendiary indictment on how big money influences the legal system, agendas influence the media, and how the greatest casualties are truth and democracy.
We live in an age where, increasingly, this interests of the fiscally powerful few are constantly manipulating, silencing or buying out independent voices to protect their interests. In this Trump age, where we see daily the consistent unbridled attacks against the U.S. media that critiques the administration’s agenda (namely the Commander in Chief), journalism is wholly under attack. You may laugh and dismiss the soundbites and tweet-storms that permeate from the U.S., you may shrug your shoulders at the clips and sloganism from local politicians jumping on the back of it, but what you shouldn’t do is ignore how the ridiculing, undermining and personal attacking of the media is corroding the very thing that our society is based on. Democracy.
In the case of Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, we turn our gaze to the smutty legal case that wrestling icon Hulk Hogan (née Terry Bollea) brought against Gawker, a sniping gossippy tabloid, when they published part of a sex tape on the site. Knappenberger deftly illustrates how the trial was established with media bias in mind from the outset. From the anti-media judge appointment of Pamela Campbell who, whilst opening up the jury selection condemns the elitist media, to prosecuting the case in Hogan’s own state of Florida (this should have been in New York where the Gawker offices are), the whole exercise is inherently wrong.
As the trial progresses it becomes achingly apparent that the Gawker defence is never going to be fully permitted. The defence is constantly silenced or dismissed while we hear deposition from Bollea about how hurt he was, yet his character of Hulk Hogan freely talked up the tape in the media on shows like Howard Stern. When more and more revelations from the tape expose racial slurs (something Gawker didn’t have nor published), it brings into question the true intent of this case.
As the silencing of the Gawker defence continues, Nick Denton (Gawker owner) begins to suspect that there is someone or something behind the trial that is financing this overly drawn out process and they are out to destroy Gawker (and its subsidiaries) altogether.. The investigation begins… Then the verdict on the case is announced. $141m in damages – more than enough to bankrupt and decimate Gawker and her assets.
From there the documentary reveals the money trail leads back to silicon valley and the players involved. We get an inside view into another example of corporate agenda taking over an independent press in the Las Vegas Review Journal where the paper’s journalists frequently and openly reported on billionaire magnate, Sheldon Adelson for his actions in the town. A shadow company recently bought out the paper and when that money trail led back to the very man they were exposing – the staff all but quit.
And it doesn’t stop there. This kind of practise of big money buying out independent voices or muzzling them now is so rife through politics, the media and the law, it is poisoning the very information that the population feeds on to make informed decisions in the democratic process. It’s the truth that dies, it’s the rights of a free press to hold the establishment accountable that gets lost and it’s your right to make decisions with arguments for and against that gets corroded.
An intoxicating, frightening and wholly engrossing film, Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press is essential viewing for anyone who wants a birds eye view into how corruptible the U.S. legal system is, how fragile independent journalism is, and how susceptible your democracy is to compromise.
NOBODY SPEAK: TRIALS OF THE FREE PRESS is now STREAMING on NETFLIX