Nobody Speak

Sean O’Neal, with one hell of a lede for A.V. Club:

You wouldn’t assume there’s a connection to be made between Donald Trump and Hulk Hogan’s penis. But such is the world we live in now — a garishly stupid, casually surreal cacophony of professional wrestling posturing, corporate authoritarianism, and open hostility toward the journalists whose job it is to decry those things, guided by the whims of billionaires pretending to be populists, and carried out by people so sick of bad news, they’ve decided news itself is the problem. It’s that ugly morass that writer-director Brian Knappenberger aims to capture with his compelling if slightly lopsided documentary Nobody Speak: Trials Of The Free Press. And it’s a subject that should appeal to anyone who doesn’t wield the words “the media” as an insult.

I watched Nobody Speak over the weekend. I wasn’t particularly impressed with it as a film: it’s clunky and jarring, and is soundtracked with a thumping synth that might have come with whatever editing software was used to make it. But, even with its faults — and there are many — it is an important documentary about the ways wealthy individuals are trying to suppress critical news stories. It’s a topic I’ve covered fairly regularly here — from the Hogan/Thiel/Gawker case to Shiva Ayyadurai suing Techdirt — because I think it’s among the most grave dangers to a well-informed democracy.

As I was writing this, Kate Wagner — creator of McMansion Hell — announced that she had received a cease and desist letter from Zillow. I’m not a lawyer,1 but the architectural critique Wagner offers would almost certainly fall under fair use as held up by a similar 2013 decision. But the only way for Wagner to confirm that her critique falls under fair use is for her to fight Zillow — a company valued at over $9 billion — in court, which would be extremely expensive for her. Zillow can fight Wagner all they want and they’ll come out ahead — even if they lose in court, they will have cost her a fortune in legal fees or force her to abandon her livelihood.

It’s a bullying tactic, plain and simple. I can’t think of a greater threat to independent writers and journalists than wealthy individuals and companies threatening legal action over critical articles.

  1. Great start, I know. ↥︎