Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (2017)
The branding of this makes it out to be a documentary about the Hulk Hogan-Gawker trial, and that would be about half right, but it is really a patchwork of four stories: (1) the facts of the Hogan trial; (2) Peter Thiel's funding of said trial as representative of wealthy infringement on justice and free press; (3) a case study in wealthy figures directly purchasing control of media; and (4) the broader effect of a crisis in free press in the age of Trump. Though each links to the next in a reasonably clear way, I am not sure it quite holds together as a logical case.
In their effort to sell the end point, they build up the Gawker trial as being clearly about a free press. In this I think they miss the dismount and thus have a crack in the foundation. I think Gawker was wrong. Increasingly in the age of revenge porn, we recognize that the non-consensual distribution of sexually explicit material is a wrongful action. I am not convinced there should be a public figure or newsworthiness exception to this. When "The Fappening" happened a couple years ago, we don't argue that because the people whose photos were hacked are famous, it entitles outlets to publish without fear of retribution. I don't see any difference when it comes to Hulk Hogan. Perhaps you can report on the content of the tape, the fact of the affair or his use of racial slurs, but you don't get to post pictures or videos from the private recording. So Gawker should have lost, though the size of the damages and subsequent impact on Gawker as a media outlet was probably undue.
Then we turn to Peter Thiel's role in funding it. I guess I don't have a problem with it. The ACLU and NAACP are noted as third-party funders of litigation that fits their legal agenda. They are great organizations that have accomplished much good. Just because Thiel's motivations are suspect doesn't preclude him from acting in a similar manner. He is, or at least should be bound by the typical legal ethics as it relates to these instances, the decisions over cases must remain with the actual client and not the funder and the filing of cases should not be made to harass or discriminate, they must have legal basis. If someone like Thiel can meet these standards, it is on the potential defendants to meet their legal obligation as journalists.
The third story, regarding the purchase and gutting of the Las Vegas Review-Journal is finally a portion that taps into something truly concerning. Arguably the role of major corporations or wealthy individuals buying media outlets is inherently problematic because they are naturally newsworthy and one doesn't expect an entity they own to be introspective. This is hard to police on the individual scale of one newspaper or one news station. The solution of that is supposed to be competition. The problem, one that this section does not sufficiently delve into, is the concentration of media that significantly cuts down on the competition.
Can the media survive in an age where the President directly calls it out as an enemy of the state, where wealthy conspirators attempt to silence the dissent either through acquisition or litigation? Under the laws of 2016 I'd say yes. But if the Trump Administration is able to begin changing policy in substantive ways such as making it easier for people to win suits against the media or failing to enforce antitrust laws, it could cripple the media landscape enough to take the resistance to the authoritarian turn with it. As a documentary, this puts too many eggs in the Gawker case basket, overplaying the injustice in that specific case and leaving insufficient time to properly expand on the broader aspects of the threat to media in the current era. While it tells some interesting stories capably enough, as a documentary clearly coming with an argument to make, it does so less than convincingly.