Netflix’s latest documentary, Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, was often colloquially referred to as the “Hulk Hogan” documentary which led many to believe that the sole focus of the film would center on the wrestler’s legal entanglement with Gawker — which ultimately led to the news portal being bankrupted and shuttered after a Florida judge awarded Hogan $115 million in punitive damages.
What actually transpired was a dystopian examination of how a celebrity sex tape — especially one occurring during the surging popularity of then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump — had and still has the potential to cause irreparable harm for the First Amendment, which protects the freedom of the press.
A person might go into viewing this documentary thinking they are gonna have a laugh at Hulk Hogan’s expense. He does, after all, note and then deny that he has a 10-inch penis (to which falsehood he actually testified to in a Florida courtroom).
Despite the surface-level farce, viewing this film leaves a person with a shocking and eye-opening realization of just how the immense wealth of the few can truly change the narrative for hundreds of millions of people.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press.
It Was Really About Racist Language
From the outset, Hulk Hogan and his lawyer, David Houston, made clear that they were willing to retract their lawsuit against Gawker if they simply removed the post, which depicted a small segment of the sex tape involving Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) and the wife of his best friend.
Nick Denton, Gawker‘s co-founder, rejected their claims despite Houston’s relatively easygoing approach, which seemed to be more like two peers working out a small arrangement than hard-fought legal wrangling.
But what ultimately became clear is that this had much more to do with what Hulk Hogan said on the full video than anything related to sexual activity.
When discussing his daughter Brooke’s love life, he spewed, “I mean, I’d rather if she was going to fuck some ni**er, I’d rather have her marry an 8-foot-tall ni**er worth a hundred million dollars! Like a basketball player! I guess we’re all a little racist. Fucking ni**er.”
When the WWE got wind of Hogan’s tirade, they quickly scrubbed all mentions of his wrestling exploits from any company history and terminated his contract.
“WWE terminated its contract with Terry Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan),” said a statement from WWE. “WWE is committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide.”
In response, Hogan commented, “Eight years ago I used offensive language during a conversation. It was unacceptable for me to have used that offensive language; there is no excuse for it; and I apologize for having done it. This is not who I am. I believe very strongly that every person in the world is important and should not be treated differently based on race, gender, orientation, religious beliefs or otherwise. I am disappointed with myself that I used language that is offensive and inconsistent with my own beliefs.”
The crux of the lawsuit was not that Hulk Hogan was embarrassed that he was caught having sex. Rather, it was that he knew his earning potential would be ruined once the racist language was made public.
Peter Thiel’s Vendetta Against Gawker
If there’s a “twist” in the narrative, it’s that Hulk Hogan had a tag team partner for the lawsuit in the form of Peter Thiel — the eccentric venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal and who had been an early investor in Facebook — and whose endless stream of capital was intended to strike a death blow against Gawker.
Owen Thomas’s 2007 reporting in ValleyWag — in which he outed Peter Thiel as being gay — was what fueled him to seek retribution almost a decade later.
While the title of the post, “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people” might suggest the piece was mean-spirited, it was actually full of praise for him, stating, “Peter Thiel, the smartest VC in the world, is gay. More power to him.”
Two years later, Thiel made a strong statement that insinuated that he viewed Gawker like it was a terrorist organization.
“I’m not particularly flattered by being targeted,” Thiel told online publication PEHub. “I actually think it’s sort of the psychology of a terrorist, where it’s purely destructive and that [now-defunct Gawker publication] Valleywag is the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda.”
Prior to the news emerging that Thiel was funding the lawsuit, Nick Denton had suspected a shadowy, Silicon Valley player, was paying Hogan’s legal fees. In speaking with The New York Times, he stated, “My own personal hunch is that it’s linked to Silicon Valley, but that’s nothing really more than a hunch. If you’re a billionaire and you don’t like the coverage of you, and you don’t particularly want to embroil yourself any further in a public scandal, it’s a pretty smart, rational thing to fund other legal cases.”
Shortly thereafter, Thiel released this statement: ““It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” he said on Wednesday in his first interview since his identity was revealed. “I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”
As the film noted, Thiel viewed his destruction of Gawker as if he were doing something to cure the world of a plague, saying it was “one of my greater philanthropic things I’ve done. I think of it in those terms.”
The Sneaky Tactics
As the case was developing, many in the media and legal community questioned why Hogan/Bollea and his team chose to drop a claim against Gawker after having essentially thrown the kitchen sink at the media imprint.
The charge in question, “negligent infliction of emotional distress” seemed well within their right given Hogan’s fear that his public persona would be ruined by his exploits as a private citizen.
Gawker‘s insurance policy covered such items — as they fell underneath the same interpretation as “bodily harm.”
When this charge was abandoned, Gawker‘s insurance, Nautilus Insurance Co., jumped ship, saying: “Nautilus has no duty to defend or indemnify [Gawker] under the Nautilus policy for claims asserted in [Hogan’s] action.”
This essentially meant that Gawker and Nick Denton were financial exposed and basically ensured that if the plaintiffs won, Gawker would be destroyed.
“By reducing their claim, Hulk Hogan doesn’t stand to win so much ultimately, but then we can’t pay the costs through insurance,” Denton said in the film.
Essentially, the suit became less about maximizing Hogan’s financial gain, and more about Peter Thiel’s retribution.
Fiction Versus Reality
As strange as it sounds, the film draws many similarities between the behavior of Terry Bollea and now-President Donald Trump. Both men viewed themselves as “television characters” while performing on WWE or The Apprentice — allowing for “puffery” in their behavior for entertainment purposes.
Bollea made Hogan seem larger than life (ahem, 10-inch penis), testifying, “I was in character. I embellished a little bit about the number of women. I was totally Hulk Hogan — I wasn’t at home in my private house.”
In their ongoing coverage of the trial, Gawker questioned how Bollea could make this distinction when it suits him, writing, “Today in court we heard Terry Bollea state that he’s in character as ‘Hulk Hogan’ virtually 24 hours a day (whenever he’s not home is the way he put it) — also acknowledging that as ‘Hulk Hogan’ he regularly takes ‘artistic liberty’ and does not tell the truth.”
Similarly, President Trump has alleged that his mistreatment of women while on The Apprentice was also as a “character,” stating, “a lot of that was done for the purpose of entertainment.”
Billionaire’s Control of the Media
The last third of the film is dedicated to the trials and tribulations of the staff of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, who were acquired by an unknown entity and refused to make themselves public. Unable to dutifully perform their jobs with this question unanswered, they eventually learned that the son-in-law of Las Vegas casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson, was the one in charge.
Adelson had reportedly purchased the newspaper to simply eliminate any regional reporting which may have jeopardized his lucrative gaming empire.
This opens up a larger question about how men like Thiel, Adelson, and even Jeff Bezos (who owns The Washington Post) have the financial resources to litigate and subsequently eliminate any press entities who stand in their way.
The laundry list of other billionaires who own media properties is staggering; Michael Bloomberg (Bloomberg), Donald and Samuel Newhouse (Condé Nast), Cox Family (Atlanta Journal-Constitution), John Henry (The Boston Globe), Joe Mansueto (Inc. and Fast Company), Mortimer Zuckerman (US News & World Report and New York Daily News), Barbey family (Village Voice), Patrick Soon-Shiong (Tribune Publishing Co.) and Carlos Slim Helu (The New York Times).
If there is an overarching theme in the film, it’s that the allure of money — acquiring it at any cost and then the threat of losing it — makes for a completely upside-down world.
- Featured/Main Image: Netflix