Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press confronts relevant subject matter - specifically, the importance of the institution of journalism as the Fourth Estate - without much grace. In fact, the denouement has a few of the interview subjects defining journalism in broad terms, which is an irony in the face of the film's clarion call for specificity in such terms. It takes us through the motions of a highly-publicized court case and a company buyout to make two distinctive points about the institution of journalism (that, because it is protected by the First Amendment, it is essentially unimpeachable and that it cannot be bought), and then there's the matter of the political backdrop.

The court case is the focus of the first half of the film: Gawker Media released a candid celebrity sex tape starring Terry Bollea (more commonly known as his WWE persona Hulk Hogan) and the wife of his best friend, a radio personality known as Bubba the Love Sponge. Bollea, believing the tape to be an invasion of his privacy, hired high-powered lawyers to seek $100 million in damages (The real number turned out to be a bit higher). Gawker's editor-in-chief believes that the tape is newsworthy, and a Constitutional lawyer, reminding us of the fine print of the First Amendment, agrees.

Writer/director Brian Knappenberger places much of his focus in this first segment upon the broad facts of the court case and what those facts broadly represent. This means that some of the specifics of the twists in the case - some audio of a racist rant, the extent to which Bollea knew of the existence of a camera during the sexual encounter - become inessential to the general thesis. The film then halts everything to investigate behind-the-scenes funding of the prosecution by examining the activities of Peter Thiel, a billionaire famous for investing early in Facebook, so thoroughly it borders on facile character assassination.

The company buyout was the complicated case of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the biggest journalistic voice in Nevada, being sold to a media conglomerate with an Illuminati-like management oversight. The news sent shockwaves through its staff, who decided, regardless of their job security, to investigate the corporate ladder, discovering the connection to Sheldon Adelson, an 11-figure billionaire who places Republican leadership into his pocketbook. This is perhaps the stronger segment of the two overarching ones, simply because Knappenberger's focus is more pointed toward vindicating the investigative efforts of the reporters than toward a political point.

That focus is once again knocked off course by a denouement that solidifies the political background of the movie's setting, which is the period between Donald Trump's announcement of candidacy for President of the United States and his election in November 2016. The same general points made on every political social media account are made here: This Presidency is dangerous for facts, truth, and discourse. We've gotten it for a while, and Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press falters when trying to add more talking points.

Film Information

A documentary directed by Brian Knappenberger.

No MPAA rating.

105 minutes.

Released on June 23, 2017.

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