New on Netflix is a documentary that sent shockwaves through Park City when it premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Screening the film for a crowd made up of mostly journalists and other media/ industry folk, the now infamous Gawker Media case flipped the script on the way that controversial and boundary pushing journalism was held accountable. When Gawker made an enemy out of Terry Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan) by publishing a clip of his sex tape, they inadvertently dug their own grave. In an eye-opening look at the power and consequences of wealth and free speech, director Brian Knappenberger’s documentary “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press” is a terrifying exposé at how the media can be controlled by the right (rich) people and the true cost of preserving one’s integrity, for better or for worse.

There is no doubt that Hulk Hogan is regarded as one of the most popular wrestlers of all time. From action figures to having his own reality TV show on MTV, Hogan’s public persona has saturated pop culture for decades. It’s no surprise then, that when the online gossip tabloid Gawker posted a grainy black and white clip of an allegedly leaked sex tape in 2012, the public was devastated. This man who was seen as an American icon had now been caught not only sleeping with his best friend’s wife but spouting off racial insults. This revelation went against everything that made Hogan so likable, but the man who appears in the tape in Gawker’s possession wasn’t Hulk Hogan– at least, that was the response that came from his camp of powerful attorneys.

Hulk Hogan and Terry Bollea are not the same person. One is a flamboyant caricature of a man while the other is a private and sensitive individual. This difference is at the pinnacle of what ignited a fierce debate throughout the media, raising the question of where does one draw the line between privacy rights and the First Amendment?

It set a frightening precedent for journalists everywhere, can the First Amendment be thwarted if there is enough money involved?

What makes this case even stranger is what happened next. Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Donald Trump supporter Peter Thiel had been anonymously funding the legal fees for Bollea and had a very pointed agenda aimed at Gawker– to bankrupt them and shut the site down for good. Thiel had a longtime feud with Gawker and saw Bollea’s case as the perfect time to strike. Years earlier, Thiel had been outed by Gawker as being gay, and despite it being true, he considered the exploitation similar to an act of terrorism. It turns out that Gawker was no match for the power of a very vengeful and rich Peter Thiel, and in true David vs Goliath fashion, was forced to shut down. In this case, money was all it took to shut down independent journalism and set a frightening precedent for journalists everywhere, can the First Amendment be thwarted if there is enough money involved?

“Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press” uses Bollea’s case as the prime example of the exploitation of the First Amendment, but his is not the only case examined. The secretive purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal by the politically divisive billionaire Sheldon Adelson is told firsthand by the journalists who stood up for what they believed in, which ended up costing them their jobs because they did not want to play by Adelson’s rules. And there is no shortage of footage showing President Trump undermining and disrespecting journalists with every opportunity. Aside from ridiculous and repetitive claims of the media being “fake news,” his treatment of this American right and freedom is a very real threat to democracy and a terrible message to send to the American people.

The Gawker case drew attention for many reasons, not just because it was another case of a “leaked” celebrity sex tape. Bollea vs Gawker is now regarded as one of the most important First Amendment cases in U.S. history. The blurred lines of a public person’s private life vs his on-stage persona, coupled with the deep pockets of a bitter billionaire, caused a well-established news website to sink, and the scariest part is that this could easily happen again. Watching Knappenberger’s documentary will hopefully raise awareness about the state of jeopardy independent journalism is currently in and possibly prevent a situation like Gawker’s from happening to another outlet. As a journalist myself, I can only hope. 

“Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press” is not rated. 95 minutes. Now streaming on Netflix.