Friday, July 07, 2017

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (2017)

You may not have heard of King Pyrrhus of Epirus.  He beat the Romans in the Battle of Heraclea, but suffered a greater proportional loss than the Romans did.  Thus, the term pyrrhic victory has come to mean a situation where one technically wins, but comes at a cost so high as to undo any advantage gained.

Terry Bollea may have suffered a similar victory in suing the gossip site Gawker.  If you’ve never heard the name Terry Bollea, either, you can be forgiven.  You may know him better as Hulk Hogan.  Gawker made public a sex tape of Hogan.  (Interestingly, the sex tape has its own IMDb page.)  Hogan then sued Gawker out of existence.  It’s natural to sue over something like this.  It’s a violation of his privacy.  He did win, but it ultimately cost him his relationship with the WWE.

The question isn’t so much if Hulk Hogan was correct in suing.  The documentary focuses on the role of an independent press.  Did Gawker have the right to publish the sex tape?  Since Hulk Hogan is a celebrity, then yes.  Not only would the tape be relevant, but there were parts to it that eventually came out and proved more damaging to Hulk Hogan than the original clip.

The documentary then pivots to the sale of the Las Vegas Review-Journal to a mysterious group of investors.  The reporters for the Review Journal suspected Sheldon Adelson of being part of that group.  The reporters investigated and found that they weren’t far off.  They ran with the story, which resulted in a lot of said reporters leaving the newspaper.

You’re probably wondering why I’d give away so much of the documentary.  Part of it is that it is history.  You may or may not have noticed Gawker going away.  You may or may not have read about the case in the paper.  However, I don’t consider it spoilers if it was a news story.  There is also the issue of the documentary making a good case.

When I added the documentary to my list on Netflix, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to watch it.  I’ve never been a fan of Hulk Hogan or wrestling in general.  I had come into it thinking that Gawker had done something sleazy and was now facing the music.  The documentary does make a good point of showing how even something as salacious as posting a sex video is worthy of protection under the First Amendment.  If we don’t protect Gawker, it sets precident for other media to be sued.

The important things for a journalist are accuracy and relevance.  Was it actually Hulk Hogan in the tape?  Yes.  All claims made by Gawker were accurate.  Was it relevant?  As it pertained to a celebrity, the answer is also yes.  I would agree that Gawker could have used some discretion.  Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

The point that the documentary makes is that a free press is necessary for a free society.  Part of their charge is to call out the excesses and misdeeds of those in charge.  This is why it’s so disturbing that President Trump would disparage the press.  He’s discrediting those who are supposed to be keeping an eye on him.  This is exactly why not interfering with the free press is engrained in the First Amendment.  Newspapers cannot be afraid of the government.



1 comment :

Lee Thompson said...

Trump disparages the press because they repeatedly, deliberately, and with malice, publish provably false reports, so much that several have been retracted in recent days. They also deliberately refuse to report relevant negative information about Democrats and Liberals, and deliberately leave facts out of stories that might reflect well on conservatives in general and Trump in particular. The is no reliable journalism any more (if there ever really was. Mark Twain is credited with saying "Those who don't read the papers are uninformed. Those who do read the papers are misinformed.")