Everyone Should be Listening to Nobody Speak

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Hulk Hogan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Terry Bollea, aka Hulk Hogan, sued Gawker Media for invasion of privacy, infringement of personality rights, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, the suit’s chief effect was to amplify the “news” that Bollea had been caught on video having sex with another man’s wife. Par for the course as salacious popular culture goes, and most of us treated it that way: As something of a joke.

The laughter came to an abrupt halt when a jury found in Bollea’s favor, bankrupting Gawker with judgments totaling $140 million. In his new film, Nobody Speak, director Brian Knappenberger delves into the case and what it portends for the future of a free press in America. If you subscribe to Netflix, you need to watch this documentary. If you don’t, the film is worth your first month’s subscription fee (no, I don’t work for or own stock in Netflix).

A few key facts that should whet your interest:

The truth of the Gawker “story” was never at issue. Bollea did, in fact, have sex with Heather Clem (wife of entertainment personality Tod Alan “Bubba the Love Sponge” Clem). That the encounter happened and that the video of it was authentic was not something Bollea ever disputed.

Nor, so far as I can tell, did Bollea ever claim that Gawker commissioned the video in advance, or sought after it once it was made. Gawker received it, found it “newsworthy” by their standards (not an unreasonable finding given the site’s focus and audience), and ran with it.

Bollea’s legal argument boiled down to “my feelings are hurt — don’t let Gawker get away with telling the truth.”

For this, he was awarded $115 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages (he “only” received $31 million — Gawker declared bankruptcy and sold off its assets to pay him that much).

But there’s more: It turns out that Bollea’s lawsuit had an angel investor, someone willing to pay for his lawyers with the express intent of killing Gawker. That investor was Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, who had a similar bone to pick with Gawker. They’d told the truth about him, too — that he is a gay man — and his feelings, like Bollea’s, were hurt.

Nobody Speak segues, perhaps a bit strangely, from the Bollea/Thiel/Gawker fight to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s 2015 takeover of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a newspaper with a record of writing critically about his business and political ventures. The connecting thread between the two sections of the film is the threat that personal wealth might represent to press freedom. I found the latter topic less compelling. Your mileage may vary.

There are lessons to be learned from Nobody Speaks. If we learn them, Terry Bollea and Peter Thiel will go down in history not as a well-known entertainment figure and a successful tech innovator, but rather as two evildoers who manipulated the legal system to punish the publication of true and accurate information. That portends a fight the public can’t afford to lose. Watch the film.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:[email protected]) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences

Dashcam video of police officer Jeronimo Yanez shooting Philando Castile
Dashcam video of police officer Jeronimo Yanez shooting Philando Castile

 

On June 16, a jury acquitted St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez of all charges in the 2016 killing of motorist Philando Castile. That acquittal was, in a sense, also a death sentence — not for Yanez, but for future motorists unfortunate enough to encounter cops like him.

No, this is not a “bad cop” story. It’s a sad tale and I actually feel sorry for Yanez. But the facts are what they are.

Yanez killed Castile. The killing was caught on video and neither Yanez nor his attorneys denied it.

His defense (that he feared for his life) was based on ridiculous grounds relating to the smell of cannabis and the presence of a child  (“I thought, I was gonna die, and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing, then what, what care does he give about me?”).

Reasonable fear of death or grievous bodily harm justifies a self-defense claim. Yanez’s fears were far from reasonable, especially in a trained law enforcement officer whose partner was mere feet away and whose subject of interrogation was peaceful and compliant right up to the moment Yanez shot him.

Castile had informed Yanez that he possessed a concealed weapon and a permit for it, and was following Yanez’s orders to produce the permit when Yanez panicked and fired.

Key word: Panicked. His fear wasn’t justified. It wasn’t reasonable. It was unthinking and irrational. That made him culpably negligent in the killing.

Jeronimo Yanez should have never been issued a badge, a gun, a patrol car, and authority to pull over and interrogate motorists. But he was. That’s a failure of pre-employment psychological screening.

Once Yanez DID receive those items and that authority, the responsibility for what he did with them became his as well. Yes, it was a heavy responsibility, but one he voluntarily assumed and failed to fulfill.

The jury, in relieving him of the consequences of that failure, continued a sad tradition of holding law enforcement officers to a lesser standard of conduct than ordinary Americans. In doing so, they made the world a safer place for cops who shouldn’t be cops — and a more dangerous place for the rest of us.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:[email protected]) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Mere Anarchy: The Center Cannot Hold

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A spectre is haunting Earth — the spectre of freedom. All the powers of the existing order have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Drug Czar, Tillerson and May, European progressives and Chinese financial police.

Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as anarchistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of anarchism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?

Yes, I’ve swiped those first two paragraphs from Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and reformulated them for our day. Whatever Marx’s faults as an economic, social and political theorist (and they were many), he was on to something when he took notice of the convulsions wrought by the Industrial Revolution.

One side effect of that revolution — which raised the standard of living in what we now call the “developed” nations so much that the monarchs of the 19th century look like paupers compared to the average middle class American of today — was centralization. Production moved from home workshops into factories. The fragmented political and economic power of small feudal fiefdoms was consolidated into the hands of national political classes and central planners.

Three quarters of a century into the Information Revolution, its ramifications are finally becoming clear. We’re decentralizing.

With the press of a button, a writer can make her work available to a global audience without the large centralized publishing company she’d have had to beg for help  even 25 years ago.

Taxi monopolies find themselves in mortal combat with apps which connect individual riders to individual drivers; hotel monopolies with apps which connect lodgers to spare rooms in homes.

The political class and its cronies have effectively lost the war to save the centralized “intellectual property” monopolies, and are now losing their grip on money as cryptocurrencies begin to limit their ability to regulate and tax commerce.

This revolution is far from finished, but it is in principle already possible for a retail clerk in Wichita to talk, share, and trade with a chef in Smolensk or a mechanic in Singapore — without the permission of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, or Lee Hsien Loong.

When Theresa May calls for Internet censorship to “stop terrorism” or Charles Schumer tries to suppress Bitcoin “to protect the consumer,” the above is what they are actually fighting desperately to reverse.

They know they’re losing their power over you. They want it back. But their only weapon is their ability to convince you that you need them. You don’t.

Government as we know it is disappearing, and that’s a good thing. What’s next? Who knows? I look forward to finding out.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:[email protected]) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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