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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press is a 2017 documentary about the potential threats to the freedom of the press that emerged during the infamous "Hulk Hogan Sex Tape" trial. Those who expect this documentary to be strictly about that trial will be disappointed, as this documentary pivots into the ramifications of American media potentially at the mercy of billionaire oligarchs. While the sex tape is not shown, the salaciousness of it is discussed at length, and there's footage from the trial in which Terry Bollea (the man who plays the Hulk Hogan wrestling persona) answers questions concerning the size of his penis. There's also talk of how Bollea frequently uses racial and homophobic slurs. Some profanity, including "f--k." For teens considering a career in journalism, the second half of this movie should be required viewing on what it takes to be a hardworking and dedicated journalist of the highest integrity. At a time when the integrity (or lack thereof) of the media is under intense scrutiny, this documentary could inspire discussion among families across the ideological spectrum on the role of the media to reveal facts and truths that some would prefer not come out.
What's the story?
In 2012, the celebrity gossip website Gawker published part of a video showing legendary professional wrestler Hulk Hogan having sex with the wife of his best friend, Florida radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge. Hogan -- Terry Bollea outside the wrestling ring -- sued Gawker for, among other things, invasion of privacy and emotional distress. NOBODY SPEAK: TRIALS OF THE FREE PRESS goes into the details of the case and the shocking discovery that Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel covered the millions of dollars in legal fees for Bollea, doing so to bankrupt Gawker for outing him as gay and for delving into one of his failed business ventures. From there, the documentary pivots to show what happened when Republican casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, under a thick cloud of secrecy, purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal. These two occurrences highlight (1) the potential danger that exists when the moneyed elite decide to use their considerable wealth and power against stories, reporters, and media outlets they find to be unflattering, and (2) the impact on the freedom of the press and, by extension, democracy itself.
Is it any good?
The issue of the power and sway of the moneyed elite over our media is a worthy one, but a lack of focus mars this documentary. Time spent delving into the infamous "Hulk Hogan Sex Tape" trial or the pretensions of Peter Thiel could have been spent on the larger issue of what happens (or could happen) when the rich decide to go after reporters and media outlets that publish anything perceived to be hostile to their interests. The alarmist tone fails to take in context. Aside from a brief mention of men like William Randolph Hearst, who used their ownership of newspapers to promote their interests at the expense of enlightened discourse, there is zero discussion of the ramifications of, say, General Electric owning NBC in the 1980s, or even what happened to the quality of our news when the marketplace itself -- ratings, shareholders, profit margins -- took precedence over the duty of informing the public of what it needs to know to be informed citizens. Or the elimination of "equal time" laws. Or the increased monopolization of media and the ascendancy of Fox News in the aftermath of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. And so on.
Had the film stuck strictly to Bollea v. Gawker, to issues of free speech, the internet, privacy, ethics in journalism, and what line (if any) exists between the public persona and private lives of celebrities, Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press would have been a great documentary. Had it stuck strictly to the tireless reporting and deep integrity of the reporters and editors of the Las Vegas Review-Journal (most of whom have since resigned) who stood up to Sheldon Adelson, it would have been a great documentary. With its blending of too many issues, the result is still worthwhile and informative, but just OK overall.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about documentary films like Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press. Some say documentaries should be objective and have no trace of bias, while others contend that bias has always been an aspect of the point of view in documentary films, and that as long as the audience has the critical thinking skills to recognize any bias, it's permissible. Where do you stand? Why?
Getting into the second half of the movie, the documentary pivots away from the celebrity website Gawker and moves into what happened when the Las Vegas Review-Journal was purchased by Republican casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Why do you think the documentary shifted to this story? What would have been lost (or gained) if the documentary had only focused on Gawker and the salacious "Hulk Hogan Sex Tape" trial?
This movie asserts that freedom of the press in the United States is in grave danger when the wealthiest Americans can use their money and influence to squash any story or media outlet they see as hostile to them and their interests. What would be a counter-argument to this? Do you think the website Gawker deserves First Amendment rights, or does the ruling against Gawker set a precedent for a chilling effect on news organizations throughout the country?
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