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In “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press,” Gawker vs Hogan is a Modern Day David vs Goliath

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Hulk Hogan aka Terry Bollea in “Nobody Speak.” Courtesy of Sundance

By Morgan Rojas for Cinemacy.com

There is no doubt that former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan (real name Terry Gene Bollea) is regarded as one of the most popular pop culture figures of all time. From action figures to reality shows and beyond, Hogan’s public persona has been a part of pop culture for generations. It’s no surprise then, that when the online gossip tabloid Gawker posted a grainy black and white clip of a personally compromising and embarrassing video of Bollea in 2012, the public was shocked. The revelations in the tape contrasted everything that made Hogan so likable. But the man who appears in the tape in Gawker’s possession wasn’t “Hulk Hogan” – at least, that was the response that came from Bollea’s camp of powerful attorneys.

In an eye-opening look at the power and consequences of wealth and free speech, director Brian Knappenberger’s new documentary Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (now streaming on Netflix) is a terrifying exposé raising the question of where does one draw the line between privacy rights and the First Amendment, and how the free media can be controlled by the people with the most influence and resources.

But what makes the Gawker vs Hogan case even stranger is what happened next. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel had been discovered to be anonymously funding the legal fees for Bollea and had a very pointed agenda aimed at Gawker: to bankrupt them and shut down the site for good. Thiel had a longtime feud with Gawker and saw Bollea’s case as the perfect time to strike. It turns out that Gawker was no match for the power of a very vengeful and rich Peter Thiel, and in true David vs Goliath fashion, was forced to shut down. In this case, money was all it took to shut down independent journalism and set a frightening precedent for journalists everywhere, asking themselves: can the First Amendment be thwarted if there is enough money involved?

Nobody Speak uses Bollea’s case as the prime example of the exploitation of the First Amendment, but his is not the only case examined. A secretive purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal by the politically divisive billionaire Sheldon Adelson is told firsthand by the journalists who stood up for what they believed in, which ended up costing them their jobs because they did not want to play by Adelson’s rules. And there is no shortage of footage showing current President Trump undermining and disrespecting the “fake” news media with every opportunity he gets.

The Gawker case drew attention for many reasons, but not just because it was another case of a “leaked” celebrity personal tape. Hogan vs Gawker is now regarded as one of the most important First Amendment cases in U.S. history. The blurred lines of a public person’s private life vs his on-stage persona, coupled with the deep pockets of a bitter billionaire, caused a well-established news website to sink, and the scariest part is that this could easily happen again. Watching Knappenberger’s documentary will hopefully raise awareness about the state of jeopardy that independent journalism is currently in, and hopefully prevent a situation like Gawker’s from happening to any other member of the press – such as myself.

“Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press” is not rated. 95 minutes. Now streaming on Netflix.

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