‘Nobody Speak,’ a documentary revealing the fragility of our rights

Claire Bradford

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“Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press” is a thought-provoking documentary that truly examines how money is used to silence the press. (Angel Harper)

The importance of the First Amendment is not an unfamiliar concept. For years of education, we stand up and put our hands over our hearts as we “pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,” the utopian nation where every constitutional right is proudly supported and defended by its people.


Yeah, I know you weren’t buying any of that nonsense either.

“Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press,” a 2017 documentary by Brian Knappenberger, highlights what has become a sickening reality: Our nation has entered an age where journalism, which is supposed to be protected by the First Amendment, is under the threat of rich individuals and corporations that use money to control the media.

This movie is truly an eye-opening watch for anyone who wants to get a deeper understanding of the complexities of our democracy. What we are taught in grade school is hardly accurate to the harsh truths of how controlling the top 1% can be. If you’re ready to face the truth, this documentary is a great place to start. It’s not heavy, but it’s just dense enough that you can grasp the gravity of what exactly restricting “the freedom of the press” means.

The documentary initially focuses on the Bollea v. Gawker lawsuit, which saw retired wrestler Hulk Hogan (aka Terry Bollea) suing Gawker Media, an online media company, over a sex tape that Gawker published and refused to take down, citing their First Amendment right. It doesn’t matter what you think of Gawker’s decision to publish the article; what matters is what came out of the lawsuit: Gawker Media, an independent newspaper, lost the lawsuit and was forced to shut down not even five months after the conclusion of the case.

All from one article.

What’s worse? It was later revealed that Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel had been funding the plaintiff because he disagreed with Gawker’s nature of journalism. The case was never about Hogan’s emotional damages. It was about ruining Gawker Media because of the type of content its writers produced.

The tense music keeps you hooked as you realize the ramifications of that lawsuit. One man, using just his money, effectively shut down a company and punished its employees. As “protected” as the freedom of the press is, this movie quickly reveals that economic status is a loophole that allows the elite to control the media.

Thiel’s actions opened the door for others to do the same. And of course, they did.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal is another individual publisher that is the largest, most trusted newspaper company in Las Vegas. It prides itself in publishing the truth, as all newspapers should. However, the son-in-law of businessman Sheldon Adelson, who became a billionaire off of casinos in Vegas and Macau, bought out the newspaper and forced its writers to stop writing negatively about the Adelson family or risk being fired. Coverage of anything the Adelsons are involved in is now edited down to fit what they want to be published, which does not necessarily fit the truth.

At this point in the documentary I was curious to see how this would tie in at a more national level. Throughout the movie, clips of former President Donald Trump were teased, and after about an hour of watching everything play out, I was not disappointed.

The journalists who added commentary to the movie began to go into extensive detail about how the then-newly elected president Donald Trump represented a turn for the worse for our nation. I was captivated; I wasn’t even 10 when the events in the movie were playing out. Six years later, now old enough to understand the repercussions of Trump’s presidency, I’m genuinely curious about how such an unprecedented presidency would leave a mark on American history.

Trump was unique in his denunciation of the press, calling reporters “liars” and the press “enemies of the people.” It’s ridiculous. The press is the very thing that holds our government accountable. Journalists have the only job that is actually protected by the Constitution. And yet, in 2016 we elected a president who soars above accountability and completely disregards the First Amendment right. His supporters have followed suit, even putting journalists in danger after newspapers were insulted by the leader of our nation.

Jay Rosen, an associate professor of journalism at New York University, tied everything together perfectly:

“I think the common thread among the Peter Theil story, the Adelson story, and the Trump story is billionaires who are proclaiming, ‘We are not vulnerable to truth. We are invulnerable to the facts. And it simply doesn’t matter what you say, what the press does, we are more powerful than the truth.’”

When the price is right, our rights are easily expendable. It’s a scary realization, and yet it’s one that this movie forces you to sit with and ponder over so that you can then bounce back and ask yourself, “What can I do to fix this?”

“Nobody Speak” is just such an incredibly thought-provoking documentary and is perfect for someone who’s seeking to take a more shallow, beginner’s dive into our nation’s politics. There are so many connections to draw to today, and while the movie is very specific to 2017 events, its message is timeless: journalism is an indispensable part of our nation, and it is journalists who ultimately give the American people power.