“This is just something that I’m caught in the middle of,” says A.J. Daulerio.
This “something” the former Gawker editor is referring to is the $100 million lawsuit filed by wrestling personality Hulk Hogan in response to an article featuring scenes from a private sex tape. An article that displayed Daulerio’s byline.
Such contrarian comments make up around an hour of Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press‘s 95 minute running time, ultimately miring insight into a prevalent and disturbing attack on the sanctity of the media in the fetid by-product of celebrity culture.
The suit ultimately ended with Hogan being awarded $140 million in damages, a sum which sent Gawker and its founder, Nick Denton, into bankruptcy. It also raised questions about the rights of journalists to report the truth, especially when it conflicts with the interests of the powerful.
Hogan’s interest, the film claims, is not in affirming his right to privacy, but an attempt to protect his reputation. In the second sex tape, it was revealed, Hogan could be heard using racial and homophobic slurs. Though other celebrities were quick to declare he wasn’t a racist, the damage had been done – Hogan was pulled from the WWE Hall of Fame and banned from participating in related events.
Denton claims the slurs would never have been published if Hogan hadn’t sued. Coming after scenes in which a cavalcade of Gawker writers declare the publication a bastion of those who want to reveal the hidden truth, it’s hard to believe him.
The hypocrisy only thickens when in the following sequence, Daulerio talks about the worst day of his life: when he was called to the stand and forced to explain why, in his initial testimony, he commented that he would consider any celebrity sex tape newsworthy, so long as the participants were over the age of four. Of course, he’s not condoning child pornography! It was just a joke! Clearly the prosecution just don’t have a sense of humour.
It’s an utterly perplexing decision by director Brian Knappenberger, who has built his career by shining a light on controversial figures including Aaron Swartz and groups like Anonymous. Whether he thought including the scene would deflect the criticism that would undoubtedly come from omitting it is unclear, but it only serves to prove Gawker’s refusal to accept any culpability throughout the chain of events.
When it moves past the Gawker case, Nobody Speak does a much better job of laying out the agenda against adversarial journalism.
A look at how journalists for the Las Vegas Review-Journal responded to the shady purchase of the company by infamous billionaire Sheldon Adelson, as well of a montage in which Donald Trump attacks and abuses the media in front of his followers reveal the true threat to honest and open media. But both are far too brief. The Review-Journal case in particular only has time to skim over the concerns involved when someone like Adelson can control the news from behind the scenes.
This is where Nobody Speak‘s focus should have been, not on a case that would have been labelled as nothing short of revenge porn if not for Hogan’s celebrity status.
The media is facing an unprecedented attack. Now, more than ever, its ability to reveal truth will provide critical hope not just for Americans, but people around the world.
Due to its obsession with the Gawker trial, Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press fails to deliver this message. Here’s hoping someone else will while it can still make a difference.
Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press is available on Netflix.