When I sat down to watch this documentary, I was completely unaware of the existence of the events it addresses. As the documentary went on, I was intrigued by the series of events that were unfolding in each story.
It opens with Hulk Hogan, a professional wrestler, filing a lawsuit against Gawker Media for the release of a sex tape featuring him and Heather Clem. This lawsuit dominates the first half of the documentary and highlights every truth and lie in detail. It deals with invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional stress.
Gawker Media was a company that wasn’t afraid to have enemies. They were reporting what they thought the public deserved to know. They were the ones who exposed the sides of people that weren’t usually talked about. It is possible to say that controversy was usually discovered or generated on their page. When Hulk Hogan filed his lawsuit, Freedom of Speech was immediately in question.
Are journalists not allowed to publish something that was clearly true because it hurt someone’s reputation?
This question is posed directly at the viewer quite early on and is omnisciently present throughout the documentary. As a viewer, I was constantly wrestling back and forth between the moralities and ethics involved in such a situation. Soon enough I was able to reach a decisive conclusion, one that the documentary presented itself as well. No matter what the situation, the press has a duty to the public that must be fulfilled.
Once that was made clear, the documentary started to present different ways that this duty could be halted. The introduction of Peter Theil presented a valid and relevant argument to the story. It is an established fact that people with wealth and fame have a certain amount of influence over things. Peter Theil funded Hulk Hogan and his legal team anonymously with vengeance against Gawker Media for an article they published about his sexuality almost a decade ago. This reveal was quite fascinating, to me personally, because it showed how easy it was for someone to undermine the press without getting directly involved with the legalities.
At this point, the documentary posed a statement that grabbed the attention of a lot of viewers even further. People with power can cause problems for the press and twist the information that goes out to the public according to what suits their needs.
When it comes to the First Amendment, this situation is in direct violation of it. Nobody Speaks: Trails of the Free Press makes sure that this point is heard, using multiple interviews that repeat the same phrase one way or another. Trump’s ruthless treatment of the media also features a lot in this documentary, tying in with Peter Theil’s comments about Gawker Media. This connection helps push the narration forward into a more controversial realm as the current President’s legitimacy is questioned subtly. He is shown reciting his oath and his vow to defend the Constitution is brought to light.
Of course, this was in direct contradiction to his actions and tweets regarding the media. This section of the documentary was crucial as it presented the man with the highest level of authority in the country. It directly connects to the statement made earlier. I started thinking about the plethora of stories that had been hushed because it affected the status of someone powerful. The legitimacy of the press was being questioned at this point. Trump’s followers are pushed away from the truth being published in the media because of the way the President thinks.
The final stretch of the documentary focuses on Las Vegas and Sheldon Adelson’s initially anonymous purchase of the Review Journal. The employees were told that the investors were anonymous and just “wanted them to do their jobs”. After doing some detective work, the reporters discovered the names involved in the transaction and wrote an article about it which led to a lot of employees stepping down as that was the right thing to do. The reason for the purchase was traced back to a lawsuit that was filed regarding a sentence in a book written by one of the employees at the Review Journal. It was so that nothing more could be said about the Adelson’s in the Las Vegas newspaper.
After watching the entirety of the documentary one thing had been made clear to me. The news we see published every day is influenced by a variety of factors, factors that can twist the truth significantly. A vital pillar of democracy was being challenged. Journalists are being threatened daily by people of power so that nothing “bad” comes to light. The effectiveness cannot truly be tested because the cover ups are usually extremely elaborate. If the press succumbs to corruption, where is the public supposed to go to find the truth. There is a certain faith in the press and its words which needs to be upheld, no matter what kind of power tries to destroy it.
The press needs to stand proudly next to the First Amendment and claim the power that it has. Alongside the claiming of power, it needs to understand the responsibility on its shoulders. A balance needs to be achieved if the public is to receive the truth it deserves under a democracy.