Posted on Wednesday, January 25th, 2017 by Peter Sciretta
Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival on Tuesday afternoon. From Brian Knappenberger comes a documentary about how the Gawker lawsuit might lead to the loss of free press in the United States. It’s an informative, fascinating, and terrifying look at how people with big pockets and large power can silence media.
Read my Nobody Speaks review after the jump.
And of course, this all starts with Hulk Hogan having sex with the wife of his best friend, radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge. If you’ve been paying even the littlest attention to the case, then you know that the sexual act was caught on video and leaked to the blog news site Gawker. Hogan’s lawyers asked that the clip be taken down and Gawker refused. The result was a lawsuit against the web publication that ended up destroying the company.
While the motives behind the lawsuit may have been personal for Terry Bollea (Hulk Hogan), the person funding the lawsuit was billionaire Peter Thiel who had a vendetta against Gawker for publishing gossip about his business ventures and outing him in an article titled “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.”
A lot of this is probably not news to anyone who loosely followed the case, and the documentary acts as a good primer but doesn’t reveal any new groundbreaking information. (It does for this subject what Going Clear did for Scientology.) The documentary does an incredible job presenting the information and explaining why it is so potentially problematic to the future of this country.
The documentary is so relevant to the here and now that it features footage from Trump’s inauguration and the march that occurred just days ago, that must be a record first for a documentary premiere right?
Nobody Speaks makes a case in connecting Thiel’s win against Gawker to President Donald Trump, who said during his campaign that he plans to open up our libel laws, making it easier for news outlets and reporters to be sued. Thiel donated over a million dollars to Trump’s campaign and spoke at the Republican National Convention, and now has a seat at the table with the leader of the free world.
Does the fact that Thiel was able to help Hulk Hogan take down Gawker media mean that anyone with big pockets could do the same to another independent publication? That’s where this argument seems to lose me. I agree that no matter how despicable Gawker is, they should still be protected under free press laws as far as news is involved. But is footage from a Hulk Hogan sex video really considered newsworthy? The lawsuit argued that Hulk Hogan is a character that Terry Bollea plays in public and that the person in the video is Terry Bollea, and publishing it is an invasion of his privacy.
It’s easy to laugh at the clips they show of Hogan from vintage wrestling shows, but I find it hard not to feel sorry for the man. His lawyer even admits they contacted Gawker asking to remove the video (which seems reasonable anyway you look at it), but they wouldn’t comply. If Gawker found Nick Denton would have just removed the video, none of this probably would have happened. Denton argues that Hogan was trying to protect the release of the other sex tapes which included the wrestler using racial slurs. Those transcripts were later leaked to the press but were not part of the court case.
I think it is important to clarify that this was about a piece of private video content, and not a news story about Bollea committing a sex act with his best friend’s then-wife. Other news outlets initially reported those details and, as far as I know, he has not gone after those publications over the reported details.
On the other hand, the documentary explores Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which it certainly seems like a huge conflict of interest in terms of free press. But the clips of Trump, most from not so long ago, seemingly waging a war against journalists and news outlets is by far the most worrisome. Freedom of the press is important for the democracy of this country, and I think the minute we lose it we are in trouble.
The Gawker story is a fascinating one for sure, and if you find anything about this case to be of interest, this is a must-see. Netflix acquired the documentary before it premiered at the festival, but there is no word on when it will start streaming on the service. Knappenberger was the director of We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists and The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (he seems to love really long film titles with subheaders).
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10Cool Posts From Around the Web: