When documentary filmmaker Brian Knappenberger set out to make a film about Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Media, he didn’t fully realize the impact of the trial on the future of journalism. It wasn’t until “the revelation that Peter Thiel was behind this”—aka bankrolling Hogan’s lawsuit—that he realized “suddenly this was a very different story, this was about how very wealthy individuals could silence their critics.”
Knappenberger’s past films, Robert Scheer notes, “talk about the possibilities for good and evil in the internet,” and his latest, “Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Trial of a Free Press,” is no exception. In this week’s episode of KCRW’s “Scheer Intelligence,” Knappenberger sits down with Scheer for a discussion of freedom of the press in the age of Donald Trump, and the future of online journalism.
“I found the Hulk Hogan/Gawker case to be really compelling just by itself. It was the first time a sex tape case like this had ever gone to trial, and there was this kind of veneer of tabloid sensationalism to it. You could tell that there were some bigger-picture things going on,” Knappenberger says. “There were some, I think, really important First Amendment versus privacy issues happening here, and so I thought that was just really, really interesting.”
“The movie has resonance beyond whether you like Gawker or not,” Scheer says. “It’s really a question of what’s going to happening now with the free press, when you have all this money sloshing around that can punish people, and you have a president who seems to be quite hostile to the press.”
Knappenberger goes on to explain how Trump has drastically impacted freedom of the press, and notes that Thiel also financially supported Trump’s presidential campaign. “I think they’re kindred spirits, certainly, in their hatred of the media,” he says.
So how does Knappenberger feel about the future of the free press, especially considering the media consolidation happening under companies like Sinclair Broadcast Group?
“There’s a lot of examples, and troubling examples, of big money in news and in media. There’s no question about that,” he says. “I think what we’re seeing here in the last year, and what I’m responding to in the film, is the beginning of this stuff really ratcheting up, and the stakes getting higher and higher.”