Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Recent Documentaries Look to Restore Faith in a Storied Free Press

A slate of four films highlight journalists' ongoing quest to share truth.

In Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, New York University associate professor Jay Rosen describes good investigative journalism as that which “exposes things that powerful people don’t want known.” Through much of its history, America has celebrated efforts to speak the truth about power; however, the current social and political moment is one in which journalists who attempt to do so are sometimes demonized and even threatened. A slate of recent documentaries attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of the free press while reminding viewers of its role in protecting democracy by exposing the words and deeds of powerful people to public scrutiny.

Nobody Speak, which premiered at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival and is now playing on Netflix, uses the case of Bollea v. Gawker to highlight the ways rich and powerful people can attempt to undermine and discredit the free press. Terry Bollea (a.k.a. Hulk Hogan) sued Gawker for posting excerpts from a sex video in which he appeared, eventually prevailing in a Florida court even after attempts to sue in federal court were dismissed.

No one comes off well in Nobody Speak. Gawker appears to have legal precedent on its side, but it makes itself an easy target by wallowing in the journalism of personal destruction. Nick Denton sums up Gawker’s mission by saying they wrote the news “without access, favor, or discretion.” Gawker writer John Cook is blunter, saying he wanted to write “true things about bad people.”

But even as Gawker’s mission and attitude help explain why they were a lightning rod for anti-press forces, they still come off as more honest and sincere than the people who vilify and punish them. Bollea, who the film intimates ...

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