If freedom of the press includes the right to print all-caps headlines with exclamation points, it also includes the right to make a cinematic exposé so bombastic that it poorly serves its own cause, however important.
Brian Knappenberger’s documentary “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press,” which is being released simultaneously in theaters and on Netflix, draws a through-line from Hulk Hogan’s privacy lawsuit against Gawker Media to the journalistic challenges posed by the presidency of Donald J. Trump, with three overarching points to make.
The first is that whatever you think of Gawker’s decision to publish an excerpt from a sex tape featuring Mr. Hogan, a professional wrestler whose real name is Terry G. Bollea, the case had potentially far-ranging implications for the news media’s ability to cover public figures. The $140 million judgment against Gawker, which filed for bankruptcy and was later sold to Univision — the suit was ultimately settled with Mr. Hogan for $31 million — sets a precedent that the movie argues could snuff out significant reporting. (Not all legal experts are so sure.)
The second is that the lawsuit itself, subsequently revealed to have been bankrolled by Peter Thiel, the PayPal founder and Silicon Valley billionaire, represented a disturbing instance of a powerful figure secretly using wealth to stifle a voice he regarded as adversarial. The movie suggests that while moguls meddling in the news is at least as old as William Randolph Hearst, hidden puppeteering of this sort is new. About an hour in, the movie clumsily shifts focus, introducing former staff members of The Las Vegas Review-Journal who recount Sheldon Adelson’s secretive acquisition of that paper, a publication that could theoretically serve as a check on Mr. Adelson’s dealings.