Selective Editing Sinks Press Freedom Documentary ‘Nobody Speak’

The new Netflix documentary, Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, sets out to defend the media. However, its deceptive editing undermines any sympathy that a careful viewer might have had for the film or its subject.

Directed by Brian Knappenberger, Nobody Speak’s thesis is that the First Amendment and press freedom are being threatened by litigious and power-hungry billionaires. The film’s main focus is the the 2016 bankrupting of the website Gawker by former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan. For those who didn’t follow the saga, Gawker published a private video showing Hogan, whose real name is Terry G. Bollea, having sex. Hogan sued for invasion of privacy and won a $140 million judgment against Gawker effectively bankrupting the site.

After the court decision it was revealed that Peter Thiel, the billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur and libertarian, was financing the lawsuit. In 2007, Gawker had outed Thiel as a homosexual. Thiel’s lawsuit and the expense of an appeal forced Gawker out of business. Nick Denton, the site’s founder and chief executive, was also out of a job.

Nobody Speak features media defenders like NPR’s David Folkenflik and The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan arguing that the Hogan verdict is an attack on freedom of the press and a danger to democracy itself. As constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams says in the documentary, “We don’t pick and choose what sort of publications are permissible because once we do, it allows the government to limit speech.”

Abrams is wrong. Libel laws exist precisely so that we can decide if a media outlet has abused its power, lied, or broken the law. This single truth is avoided in Nobody Speak. The most appalling example is a clip from a 2007 video featuring Emily Gould, who was then an editor at Gawker, appearing on CNN, where she was interviewed by comedian Jimmy Kimmel. Joining Kimmel and Gould was P.R. expert Howard Bragman and celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos.

In Nobody Speak, this is the clip used from that interview:

Jimmy Kimmel: I noticed there was something [on Gawker] about Kevin Costner. I went on to see what was there today. And it just said how fat Kevin Costner was and it had a picture of Jabba the Hutt next to him.

The director of Nobody Speak then cuts to this exchange:

Kimmel: I’d just want you to think about your life and you know, weigh your options.

Emily Gould: Wow!

Kimmel: And I mean because I would hate to see you arriving in hell and somebody sending a text message saying, guess who is here? You know what I’m saying?

This clip was chopped to shed the best possible light on Gawker, which is depicted as the spunky kid on the playground who irreverently and harmlessly pokes the famous and powerful.

But here is a fuller excerpt of the same interview:

Jimmy Kimmel: My problem is you post things that simply aren’t true on the site and you do no checking on your stories whatsoever. I’ll give you an example. There was a story about me that popped up on my Google search. It said “Daily Gawker Stalker, when isn’t Jimmy Kimmel visibly intoxicated?” And there’s a story about me being visibly intoxicated.

Emily Gould: [laughs]

Kimmel: I know it may be funny to you, but I didn’t find it that amusing.

Gould: Okay.

Kimmel: And a matter of fact, the story that talks about me being drunk, I was coming home with my cousin’s – my one-year-old cousin’s birthday party with my elderly aunt and uncle and my kids and my cousins and I was – I may have been loud but I was far from intoxicated and you put these things on there. I mean I know you’re an editor. What exactly are you editing from the website?

Howard Bragman: There’s also a big contradiction. She said citizen journalism. She used the word journalism and then said, everybody knows not everything is true. Most journalists at least try for the truth. It’s a goal.

Gould: I mean do you read U.S. Weekly and expect that everything in it is true or the Star?

Howard Bragman: I expect that they try. I get calls from them fact checking and I don’t from your website.

Mark Geragos: That’s absolutely true. U.S. Weekly at least has a legal department that vets things.

Kimmel: And our photographers at least are taking photographs of things that are happening, as opposed to – I mean I’d just want you to think about your life and you know, weigh your options.

Gould: Wow!

Kimmel: And I mean because I would hate to see you arriving in hell and somebody sending a text message saying, guess who is here? You know what I’m saying?

Knappenberger’s edit of this exchange is so dishonest that it destroys any sympathy he may have hoped to elicit in Nobody Speak. And it suggests that his approach to important issues regarding the First Amendment and press freedom are too blinded by ideological bias to be trusted. Note to future documentarians: If you’re going to make a film about freedom of the press and supposedly truth-telling journalists, don’t selectively edit out the arguments that challenge your thesis.

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