A follow-up to the SerialDynasty podcast

Originally, I wanted to write a blog post to discuss some of the disagreements around facts that Bob and I had in his podcast. But when I started to put it together, it just seemed too long and too nit picky. Essentially, I think my views were represented fairly and I’m happy with the way things turned out. Despite the odd insult, which is par for the course with this type of thing, there’s been a lot of positive feedback and I’d like to try and keep the good vibe going.

The one big point I would like to make, however, is that I get the feeling that quite a few people think that if you understand and accept someone else’s point of view, you must also, by default, agree with it, which is definitely not the case. I see all Bob’s points, think some of them are valid, others not so much, and still remain convinced that Adnan is guilty.

So that said, If anyone has any questions in response to the podcast, I’d be happy to try to answer them preferably in the comments section here, but also on Twitter.

Andrew Potter’s Quebec bashing meant he had to go as head of Canada institute

Andrew Potter’s article was not criticism but a malevolent full frontal attack

There are some mistakes that are resignation worthy. And Andrew Potter’s malevolent and unfounded essay about Quebec, published earlier this week in Maclean’s, is one of them. The director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada simply can’t write a hit piece like that and go on to do his job effectively. His credibility was shot. He had to go.

Yet because his target was Quebec, in the rest of Canada, opinion is almost unanimous that Potter, who remains on the faculty at McGill as an associate professor, is the one who has been wronged and that Quebecers are just a bunch on thin-skinned crybabies. McGill is being called cowardly and craven, first, for issuing first a statement saying that Potter’s opinion was not shared by the university, and, then, for accepting Potter’s resignation as institute director.

In the space of a day, the Twitter critics went from criticizing the university for dissociating itself from Potter’s article instead of remaining silent to demanding McGill actively defend Potter’s academic freedom and right to remain the head of the Canada Institute. Rumours were floated that powerful politicians had demanded Potter’s head although they were as unsubstantiated as much of Potter’s article.

To Potter’s credit, he owned up to his article’s mistakes although what prompted the diatribe remains a mystery. For many in the chattering classes, his apology was enough and it was time to move on with Potter keeping his job. But this idea is untenable.

Potter’s article portrayed Quebecers as friendless, ungenerous, duplicitous. It went well beyond criticism deep into attack territory. The reaction it provoked is not about an inability to accept criticism but rather shock at the bigotry being directed at Quebec. And this bigotry was not coming from just anybody, but from the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

Imagine if the director of a North America think tank denounced Canadians as a bunch of whiney, boring losers. Would we all rally round to demand that director keep their job? Or would we say WTF, time to find a new director, that kind of behaviour is not acceptable for someone in that position. 

The fact that so many of Potter’s defenders see no problem with Potter’s portrayal of Quebec is astonishing as is their ability to ignore the almost unanimous chorus of Quebecers saying they didn’t recognize the place Potter described, that he must be living in a parallel universe.

For an academic and journalist, Potter is surprisingly unskeptical when he quotes a Statistics Canada report showing “the proportion of people who report having zero close friends is highest in Quebec … And (that) while 28 per cent of Quebecers over the age of 75 report having no close friends, the average for the rest of the country is a mere 11 per cent.”

An anomaly like that shouldn’t make much sense to anyone not predisposed to view Quebec as some sinister backwater. There’s simply no logical reason for Quebecers to have fewer close friends. I suspect what we’re dealing with here are possible translation issues and different cultures’ interpretations of what constitutes a friend, close friend or acquaintance. And please note, I say this as someone who — like Potter — has questioned Quebecers cherished vision of themselves as full of joie de vivre compared to uptight Canadians.

Many Quebecers would also likely agree with several of Potter’s points had they been presented in context. Montreal should have long ago put an end to a never-ending police labour protest, where cops wear colourful camouflage pants instead of their uniform trousers. But how? Like Toronto does? By caving in and giving cops everything they want? Montreal may have police in clown pants but Potter never mentions that Toronto has a force where almost everyone who is not on the Sunshine List of Ontario public service employees, who make more than $100,000, is only a few thousand dollars away. Here in Ontario we’ve used our non-social capital to buy off the police, hardly a superior solution.

Perhaps this is something Potter will ponder as the snow melts and he ventures out to one of those many two-bill restaurant he alone seems to know. He can drown his sorrows about a future that is temporarily a little less bright and a career that is slightly less charmed than it was last week. Actions have consequences, but if Potter is truly as smart and affable, as his backers maintain, he will rise again having learned to be even smarter as a result of his very serious mistake.

Satoshi Nakamoto: Is it ok to hunt for the identity of the Bitcoin inventor?

To search or not to search for the identity of the mysterious founder and inventor of Bitcoin, that is the question. Do we the public have a right to satisfy our curiosity about who the person behind the Satoshi Nakamoto pseudonym is? Or are we ethically obliged to respect his or her privacy?

Two opposing views on the topic come from Adrian Chen, a staff writer at The New Yorker, whose beat is internet technology and culture, and Emin Gün Sirer, Cornell prof and self-described hacker.

Chen’s argument is that “in investigating the background of an inventor, we hope to learn something about innovation that can’t be gleaned from the thing itself.” He says it’s wishful thinking to argue as many Bitcoiners do that Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity is irrelevant. Somewhat unconvincingly, Chen also maintains that the mere fact that Satoshi holds an estimated half a billion dollars worth of Bitcoin legitimizes the curiosity about who he is or isn’t.

At core though, Chen’s argument seems to be about not letting technology control us. “Turning away from the question of Nakamoto’s identity is a way to deny the fact that bitcoin, like all technology, is ultimately, imperfectly, human,” his brief essay concludes. “The world could use this reminder now more than ever.”

In contrast, Sirer says the spectacle of journalists hunting for Satoshi’s identity “serves only a prurient interest.” He argues that we have no right to make “someone who wants to remain a private individual into a public persona,” especially when what’s brought attention to them is an invention that ultimately benefits the public.

In the case of Bitcoin, Sirer says, being outed as Satoshi could also be dangerous and lead to “extortion attempts from the Russian mafia[.] Everyone known to hold substantial bitcoin, and even those who do not, get extorted by shady characters.”

But, somewhat contradictorily, in the same blog post, Sirer says he thinks he might have identified Satoshi, that people’s “thought patterns and idiosyncrasies form a unique signature, the same way code structure forms a unique signature for developers.”

“Having read Satoshi’s writings, I have a very good idea of his unique mental signature,” he writes.

“So, for some time now, every time I converse with someone new, I have been doing a quick comparison to Satoshi…

“Interestingly, I have come across one person who was a perfect fit. That person had the precise same intellectual signature as Satoshi, someone who could have written, word for word, some of Satoshi’s forum posts.”

Now Sirer says a lot of things that make sense to me about Bitcoin. And as a writer and investigator, I know that people definitely have a writerly signature. I frequently discover people’s identities due to their unique turns of phrase. I am inclined to believe that he might very well have insights into who the Bitcoin inventor truly is.

But I don’t agree with Sirer that the Bitcoin inventor would automatically be in danger from the Russian mob. There are lots of rich people in the world, who get along just fine. While being outed might be majorly disruptive for Satoshi, I am far from convinced it would be perilous. Not to mention that Sirer seems perfectly secure telling the world he believes he has identified Satoshi.

I also don’t think it’s fair of Sirer to accuse the media of conducting a “pointless Satoshi manhunt” when he’s been doing the exact same thing. He clearly wants to know who Satoshi is so why can’t the rest of us?

It’s not good enough to say responsible media don’t do this. There may be a good reason not to reveal Satoshi’s identity or there may not be. There may also be compelling grounds to tell the public who Satoshi is. Without knowing his or her specific circumstances, it’s impossible to say.

On the question of privacy, lt’s my experience as a journalist that people who want to be left alone generally do get left alone. In the Satoshi case, there’s little doubt that a public identification would lead to a media conflagration, but after a stint in the world’s headlines, I think it would be pretty easy for Satoshi to get back to leading a normal life.

I am, however, still undecided on the question of whether the public has a right to know the identity of the Bitcoin creator, as Chen seems to suggest it does.

Ultimately, I think that depends on Satoshi’s very individual circumstances as opposed to what responsible media should do or how we need to be reminded about the imperfections of technology.

Adnan Syed and the systemic dismissal of real violence against women

I have written a number of articles about the troubling phenomenon of how Adnan Syed, a guy rightfully convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, became a poster child for the wrongfully convicted. I’m especially disquieted by how Syed supporters wave away and dismiss all the warning signs of intimate partner violence.

In light of his upcoming post-conviction relief hearing on February 4 and 5 and the attention being showered on Adnan apologists, I wanted to put the key links in one place:

Adnan Syed I'm going to kill note

Adnan Syed wrote “I’m going to kill” on the back of the note, which his supporters variously dismiss as a “stray thing” and so much teenage drama

1) Serial podcast rehabilitated a schoolgirl’s murderer, so where’s the feminist outrage?

There has not been one serious feminist critique of Serial in the mainstream US media. Yes, a couple of Brit pundits expressed shock, but that was before Christmas (2014) and they were pretty much ignored and then forgotten. Just like race beat out gender two decades ago at the OJ trial, allowing a wife killer to be transformed into a symbol of justice for African Americans, so, today, can Adnan can be hailed as a representative of the wrongfully convicted despite the plentiful evidence against him and the transcripts that show he had a fair trial. Koenig’s “I nurse doubt” cri de coeur is V.2014 of “if the glove don’t fit you must acquit.” Read complete article

2) Adnan advocate-in-chief Rabia Chaudry responds to my feminist critique of Serial, and I respond back to her

Your crowd, Rabia, has shown no qualms about smearing innocent people including, among many others — Stephanie, Don, Don’s mother, Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary, and, most favourite of all, Jay. In short, pretty much anyone who’s not Adnan. Here’s your own brother suggesting, with zero evidence, that Stephanie might have done it:

Rabia's brother Saad suggests in his Reddit AMA that maybe Stephanie killed Hae

Rabia’s brother Saad suggests in his Reddit AMA that maybe Stephanie killed Hae

Accusations of murder are thrown around like they’re nothing, which is pretty ironic given that the goal of all this is to get a guy out of jail who’s ostensibly been wrongly convicted of murder. Read complete article

3) ‘Injustice porn’ like Making a Murder and Serial celebrates men who kill and abuse women

Injustice porn history is repeating itself with Making a Murderer. The directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos leave out key evidence about Avery’s possible guilt and history of violence against women. They also portray Avery’s parents as kindly homespun hillbillies, showing his father tending to his garden and his mother spending years fighting to get her son out of jail. They skip over the fact that Avery looks like he might have fetal alcohol syndrome and don’t bother to mention that all three of Avery brothers have criminal records including multiple charges for assaulting women.

As a result of these omissions — apparently no big deal in injustice porn land — the abusive and dysfunctional Avery family has developed quite the internet fan following. In contrast, family and friends of the victim have been subject to internet abuse based on their treatment in Making a Murderer. “Mike Halbach seems awfully creepy,” tweets Kinsey Schofield, a tv personality and journalist  to her 286,000 Twitter followers. Read complete article

‘Injustice porn’ like Making a Murder and Serial celebrates men who kill and abuse women

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Yet feminist critics of this new entertainment genre are missing in action

We are in the middle of what, for lack of a better description, I will call a radical feminist moment. Not a day goes by without some poor soul being shamed on the internet for a multitude of sins ranging from mansplaining and manspreading to not fully supporting affirmative consent policies or depriving women of jobs in the gaming industry.

Yet right in the middle of this media-fuelled, girl-power moment, something inexplicable has happened. A new favourite entertainment genre — let’s call it “injustice porn” — has emerged that celebrates the men who kill and abuse women.

Funnily enough, the usual feminist suspects have next to nothing to say about injustice porn’s woman problem. And even weirder, the genre’s most recent hits — the 2014 podcast Serial and the 2015 Netflix documentary series, Making a Murderer — are produced and directed by women who systematically minimize, dismiss and ignore crimes against women.

The result of our current over-fixation on things like everyday sexism and microaggressions has been not just to turn the trivial into the supposedly important but the inverse as well — it’s made the important trivial.

Thus when Steven Avery douses a cat and gasoline and throws it on a fire to watch it suffer, the directors of Making a Murderer suggest their protagonist was just goofing around and the cat mistakenly fell in the fire. Adding insult to injury, online apologists explain that this is how rural folk treat animals.

10 Questions about Making a Murderer

Dr. Drew Pinsky, an addiction medicine specialist, pointed out on the Reasonable Doubt podcast that Steven Avery looks like he suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome, but that doesn’t fit the lovable-Avery-clan narrative (Photo: courtesy of Netflix)

Likewise, when Adnan Syed, the hero of Serial, writes “I’m going to kill” on a break-up note written to him by his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, journalist Sarah Koenig dismisses it as a “a detail you’d find in a cheesy detective novel” and a “stray thing” that could be meaningless. Never mind that 18-year-old Lee actually ended up murdered, her body dumped and half buried in a Baltimore park. Koenig can’t even be bothered to ask Syed about the note.

The Serial journalist also managed to overlook the fact that Hae asked a teacher to help her hide from Adnan and that, in her diary, she described her ex-boyfriend’s possessiveness as a problem, a direct contradiction of what was said on the podcast.  Yet despite Koenig’s consistent minimization of incidents that are classic warning signs of intimate partner violence, there has, in almost a year and a half, not been one serious feminist critique of in the mainstream US media. (Yes, early on a couple of Brits expressed shock, but they were pretty much ignored and then forgotten.) Instead, Serial won the prized Peabody Award for excellence in broadcast journalism.

Screenshot 2016-01-10 at 1.31.35 PM

Hae Min Lee wrote a break-up note to Adnan Syed telling him to move on, accept her decision to end their relationship, and “hate me if you will”

 

Adnan Syed I'm going to kill note

Adnan Syed wrote “I’m going to kill” on the back of the note, which his supporters variously dismiss as a “stray thing” and so much teenage drama

Now, injustice porn history is repeating itself with Making a Murderer. The directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos leave out key evidence about Avery’s possible guilt and history of violence against women. They never explain why he asked specifically for Teresa Halbach, the 25 year old woman he was convicted of murdering, to come to the Avery salvage yard and photograph his sister’s car. They fail to mention how he had answered the door in a towel on one of her previous work visits. Nor do they acknowledge that Avery used *67, which blocks the callers’ name, to phone her twice on the day she disappeared.

The filmmakers also portray Avery’s parents as kindly homespun hillbillies, showing his father tending to his garden and his mother spending years fighting to get her son out of jail. They skip over the fact that Avery looks like he might have fetal alcohol syndrome and don’t bother to mention that all three of Avery brothers have criminal records including multiple charges for assaulting women.

Older brother Charles was charged and acquitted of sexual assault in 1988. And then in 1999, his ex-wife accused him of sexual assault and wrapping a phone cord around her neck. Along the way, he pled guilty to disorderly conduct. Younger brother Earl pleaded no contest to sexual assault and two different sets of battery charges. He was also charged with sexually assaulting his two daughters.

As a result of these omissions — apparently no big deal in injustice porn land — the abusive and dysfunctional Avery family has developed quite the internet fan following. Stop by Reddit’s Making a Murderer forum and you can participate in threads entitled: Anyone else wanna give Steve Avery’s mom a big hug?, “I know you like lettuce.” – The incredibly endearing Allan Avery” and What can we do to help the Avery family?

In contrast, family and friends of the victim have been subject to internet abuse based on their treatment in Making a Murderer. “Mike Halbach seems awfully creepy,” tweets Kinsey Schofielda tv personality and journalist  to her 286,000 Twitter followers.

Screenshot 2016-01-10 at 9.19.25 AM

“My “#MikeHalbach is the worst” tweet is still getting likes. I’m so happy people agree. Mike…you are the worst. #MakingAMurderer,” boasts Seth Lieber, who describes himself as an Actors’ Equity member.

Screenshot 2016-01-10 at 9.21.51 AM

Empathy is not a requirement for injustice porn fans

While the filmmakers aren’t responsible for every idiot on the internet, this reaction was completely predictable. Ricciardi and Demos treated Mike Halbach, Teresa’s brother and the family spokesman, unconscionably. Every time he appears, he’s made to say something that’s just been carefully debunked for the audience. From his very first quote, about how the process of grieving his sister might take days (yes, days!), the directors never miss an opportunity to make him look bad. Halbach doesn’t get so much as one sympathetic quote. The only thing the filmmakers don’t do is play spooky music whenever he appears.

Such are the requirements of injustice porn. When the convicted man is your protagonist, the audience requires and will find someone to witch hunt. After Serial ended, Syed’s advocate-in-chief, Rabia Chaudry, joined up with two other lawyers to start the Undisclosed podcast, which, since its inception, has produced one conspiracy theory after another, smearing a long list of people along the way.

Their friend and fellow Serial-obsessed podcaster Bob Ruff devoted show after 2015 show to innuendo and unfounded accusations that Don, the guy Hae dated after she dumped Adnan, was a far more likely killer even though he had something very important that Adnan didn’t — an alibi.

Nor is Injustice porn kind to victims although it often tries to disguise this with hashtags like #JusticeforHae #FreeAdnan, while ignoring the fact that freeing remorseless Adnan would be about the biggest injustice possible for Hae.

Screenshot 2016-01-10 at 9.32.10 AM

Injustice porn fans turn the female victims into props designed to support the most ludicrous and offensive theories. For the purpose of finding her fantasy, anyone-but-Adnan killer, Rabia Chaudry suggested Hae, who took only the occasional puff of pot, was a weed smoker with a big enough habit that she would be visiting shady drug dealers after school, which was how she got killed. Hashtag victim blaming.

In a related vein, Making a Murderer uses footage of Teresa Halbach, talking about what would happen if she were to die, without putting it in context, namely that it was a university video project. As a result, Teresa’s mental health has been questioned and it’s been suggested she might have killed herself although how that would cause her cremains to end up in the Avery salvage yard is never explained. Hashtag more victim blaming.

Yet another fact that Making a Murderer withholds from its audience is that the people Steven Avery’s lawyers would have thrown under the bus — had the judge allowed the defence to name alternate suspects — were his two brothers, his nephew and brother-in-law. That was an inconvenient truth that didn’t fit the adorable Averys narrative and would have taken some explaining. Why bother when it was so much easier just to make Teresa’s brother and ex-boyfriend look bad and serve them up for the online lynch mob?

Essentially, the only reason the filmmakers were able to so successfully mythologize the Averys is because, in 1985, Steven Avery was wrongfully convicted of rape, a crime for which he was exonerated by DNA testing after spending 18 years in jail. The wrongful conviction was a result of tunnel vision on the part of the police, a mishandled identification process for the accused assailant, and the victim’s compelling yet mistaken testimony that it was Avery who had raped and viciously assaulted her. After he was finally released from jail, Avery sued the county for $36 million, but just as it looked like he was about to receive a fat settlement, he was arrested again for the murder of Teresa Halbach. Like all wrongful convictions, it’s a shocking tale — yet something of a challenge for Third Wave feminists preaching that the victim must always be believed.

None of this is to deny that Ricciardi and Demos make a convincing argument that some of the evidence used against Avery in the murder charge might have been planted. And it’s  also hard to disagree with their conclusion that Avery’s 16-year-old cousin was wrongfully charged and convicted, failed by everyone, including his lawyers, at every step of the way. As for Steven Avery himself, I have no idea whether he did it or not. But like his lawyers, I believe that whoever did kill Teresa Halbach was associated with the salvage yard.

In this respect Making a Murderer is very different from Serial, where there was — as the transcripts for Adnan’s trial and the police files of investigation clearly demonstrate — no miscarriage of justice. The prosecutor Kevin Urick was half right when he described the killing of Hae Min Lee as  “pretty much a run-of-the-mill domestic violence murder.”

Where he was wrong however was in his failure to understand that there is indeed a mystery at the heart of Serial. It’s just that it has nothing to do with Adnan Syed, whose unoriginal motive and story are as old as time. What made Serial a mystery was the presence of Jay, a Shakespearean character, who first goes along with Syed, becoming an accessory after the fact to murder, but later confesses his crime to police. His testimony sends Syed to jail for life plus 30, and left every Serial listener puzzling and arguing over why he did what he did.

The post conviction relief hearing recently granted to Syed and coming up in February is the exploitation of a legal loophole and most likely the result of the publicity the podcast generated. The defence is contending that Syed’s counsel was ineffective because she failed to contact Asia McLain, who was presented in the first episode of Serial, entitled The Alibi, as the witness who could have exonerated Adnan had his lawyer done her job. Never mind that Asia’s a total flake who appears to have her alibi days mixed up, she was part of the false groundwork Sarah Koenig laid to convince the audience that something was not quite right about the Syed case and that if they wanted to find out the truth, they would need to accompany her on her emotionally manipulative podcast journey.

The promise was not kept, however. Koenig copped out and never provided the truth. Her “I nurse doubt” cri de coeur was V.2014 of “if the glove don’t fit you must acquit.” Just like race beat out gender two decades ago at the OJ trial, allowing a wife killer to be transformed into a symbol of justice for African Americans, so, today, can Adnan can be hailed as a representative of the wrongfully convicted and the Averys celebrated as exemplary Americans while the Halbachs are trashed.

This is because, in the end, Injustice porn isn’t about either truth or justice. It’s porn, which means it can only supply a cheap frisson. If it leaves you with an uneasy feeling about the women victims, it’s because it should.

Who killed Teresa Halbach if it wasn’t Steven Avery?

A new opinion piece: ‘Injustice porn’ like Making a Murder and Serial celebrates men who kill and abuse women


If you’ve watched the new Netflix series Making a Murderer, you’re probably left wondering who killed Teresa Halbach and why. The 10-part documentary makes a very convincing case that the local police planted evidence and provides a strong motive for why they might have done such a thing.

The filmmakers don’t, however, try to make the case that the police actually killed Teresa. Instead they do something highly unethical and cast suspicion on her brother, her ex-boyfriend and her roommate.

Almost every time Mike Halbach, the brother of the victim and the family spokesman, comes on the scene, he’s made to say something that’s just been carefully debunked for the audience. The camera stays focused right on Halbach to let it sink in just how wrong he is. From his very first quote, about how the process of grieving his sister might take days (yes, days), the directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos never miss an opportunity to make him look bad. Halbach doesn’t get so much as one sympathetic quote. The only thing the filmmakers don’t do is play spooky music whenever he appears.

They also make Teresa’s ex-boyfriend look terrible on the witness stand, suggesting he hacked into her voicemail for nefarious reasons. Ditto the roommate who helped out the ex-BF.

Mike Halbach

Entirely predictable results of unethical filmmaking: Mike Halbach never was nor never should have been a suspect

Ricciardi and Demos are good at casting doubt  and the well-primed audience got their message loud and clear. The internet is now chockablock with justice warriors demanding Teresa’s brother’s head and spreading rumours about her ex-boyfriend and roommate. But there’s a problem and it’s a big one — in the eight years since Steven Avery’s trial ended, the filmmakers don’t appear to have followed up to see if their suspicions were actually merited. Based on their final product, they either didn’t bother to  look or turned up zero.

In other words, they made Teresa Halbach’s brother, her ex-boyfriend and her roommate look bad without having a single scrap of evidence against them. They appear to have provoked a mob for nothing more than narrative tension, which is especially ironic in a documentary about the dangers of witch hunts.

Alternate suspects to Steven Avery

Here are the people the lawyers wanted to point the finger at: No brother, no ex-BF, no roommate. It’s an Avery-heavy line-up

What’s more, the Making a Murderer team did all this without mentioning that none of these three men were included on any list of alternative suspects. All we hear is that Avery’s original defence team was prevented from discussing other possible suspects in court. The filmmakers don’t tell us that those suspects were all related to the Avery clan and the salvage yard and that they included Steven Avery’s brothers, Earl Avery and Charles Avery, his brother-in law Scott Tadych, his nephew Bobby Dassey and — wait for it — Brendan Dassey.

Yes, you read that correctly. All the while Making a Murderer is building a case that the prosecution of Brendan Dassey as a murderer alongside his uncle is a gross miscarriage of justice, they neglected to acknowledge that taht Avery’s very competent defence team was also prepared to throw Brendan under the bus. Turns out real life is way more complicated than even a 10-hour documentary.

The problem for the filmmakers is the lawyers were probably right. If Steven Avery didn’t kill Teresa Halbach, it was likely one or more of the people on their list. That’s not as good a story as leaving it up in the air and implying the cops or the victim’s brother or her ex-BF and the roommate did it. But if you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense that the murderer was connected to the Avery clan.

It explains why no one ever saw the victim again after her stop at the salvage yard, why her cremains were found on the property and why there were multiple calls to her cell phone from Steven Avery’s phone, including calls using *67 to block his ID. As the appeal defence lawyers’ documentation shows, the Avery clan had a long history of violence against women. It’s not unthinkable that one of them might have tried to lure and sexually assault an attractive young photographer. And there’s no reason they couldn’t have done this with Steven Avery’s phone.

Imagine this scenario: One or more of the extended family members got rough with Theresa and ended up murdering her. If the cops hadn’t come a calling, they could have used her murder as a way to blackmail Steven Avery out of some of the multi-million dollar settlement he was about to receive for his false rape conviction. If the cops did start poking around, the real murderers could accuse, even frame, Steven.

Needless to say the cops had a much stronger motive to pin the murder on Steven than they did to go after the other Averys. If Steven was the murderer, the county’s settlement payment problems vanished and their reputations were well on the way to repair. If it was just another Avery or Avery in-law, they still had the settlement and reputation problems.

The documentary makes a convincing case the police helped things along by planting evidence, especially the key. As for the car, that could have been the police or the actual murderers. Steven Avery could have been in on it or oblivious.

Either way, however, having an Avery or Avery-in-law as the culprit puts up some narrative obstacles for the filmmakers. Ma and Pa Avery are portrayed lovingly as salt of the earth types. They’re never asked how they managed to raise three sons with such a long and documented history of violence. And the directors gloss right over the well known fact that before his wrongful rape conviction, Steven Avery doused a cat in oil and threw it on a fire.

Such are the demands, however, of creating a wrongfully convicted protagonist the public will flock to support. It’s far more difficult to be sympathetic to Steven and Ma and Pa Avery, if it was their own dysfunctional brood framing up Steven and Brendan alongside the cops. It doesn’t quite reach the required outrage levels if the family did it. Much better to be vague so that the public can go to town on the  police or the victim’s brother or a mysterious German man.

Not to mention that if the filmmakers had decided one of the brothers, nephews or brother-in-law likely did it, Ma and Pa might have pulled right out of the multi-year film project and left the directors empty handed. A Shakespearian or Faulkneresque tale of a dysfunctional and dangerous family is of no use to anyone if you don’t have the legal rights to tell it.

10 questions about Making a Murderer on Netflix

A new opinion piece: ‘Injustice porn’ like Making a Murder and Serial celebrates men who kill and abuse women


10 Questions about Making a Murderer

10 Questions about Making a Murderer (Photo: courtesy of Netflix)

Things I’d like to ask the filmmakers now

So, I just watched the first six and a half episodes of Making a Murderer, couldn’t stand the suspense, skipped to Episode 10 and started googling. All this to say there are still two and a half hours of the new Netflix documentary, which I haven’t yet seen.

The series is about the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach, who was alleged to have been killed by Steven Avery, a man exonerated by DNA evidence in 2003 after spending 18 years in jail for a wrongful rape conviction. Avery’s nephew Brendan Dassey was also charged with the murder. They were both convicted at separate trials in 20017.

I have to say that I was pretty convinced from the beginning, they didn’t do it, but I certainly have some questions about the filmmakers’ techniques and what they left out. For the record, here they are:

  1. Why did this take until 2015 to be released when the action in the form of the two guilty verdicts came down in 2007? That’s a hell of a long time to wait and I haven’t seen the delay satisfactorily explained.
  2. Why did the filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, deliberately try to make the victim’s brother look suspicious but never deliver the gods?
  3. Ditto the ex-BF and the roommate. If you’re going to cast suspicion like that, don’t you have a duty to follow up?
  4. Why didn’t the filmmakers find out who the phone calls Teresa was avoiding came from? For that matter, why didn’t they independently pursue any other leads? They pretty much confine themselves to the courtroom in what seems to be an odd decision. Are they worried about what they will find elsewhere?
  5. Why did they let the fact that Steven Avery burned a cat go without further questioning about his childhood and psychology?
  6. What was the story of the harassing letters he is supposed to have sent to his ex-wife?
  7. Why did the Innocence Project run away from this story after the murder charges were laid?
  8. Why is the third remains site only mentioned once?
  9. What’s the deal with the idea there was some kind of jury funny business including possible jury tampering?
  10. Did any of the media who seemed relatively sceptical about the prosecution’s case ever follow up, and if so why not?

Update: Read my latest post, Who killed Teresa Halbach?

Nicole O’Shea: Portrait of a ‘Vigilante’ Mom, Serial Tweeter and Chicken Farmer

Nicole O’shea is a modern Vigilante Mom. When’s she’s not chicken farming, cooking up kickass food or collecting good times, she’s out on the internet, hunting prey under the incongruous Twitter handle @lovemultiplies.

As jarring as this might seem, it’s a relatively common phenomenon. Some of the meanest people on Twitter are the self-proclaimed moms and, more recently, their proud Dad allies.

Nicole’s current project is sleuthing out Don, an innocent man accused of being a suspected murderer, stalking his family’s social media, and talking trash about him with her like-minded mean Mom friends including Rhonda Franklin aka @HapiBnBusiMom.

Needless to say, Nicole’s doing this in the name of a good cause, freeing Adnan Syed, the murderer made famous last year by the hit podcast Serial. I’ve written before about why Syed is clearly guilty of killing Hae Min Lee so I won’t bore you with it again.

This blog post is about something different, the weird phenomenon of airhead Moms defending the guy who murdered a schoolgirl, their bully tactics, and their complete and utter lack of self awareness. Nicole O’Shea and her friends make a perfect case study so let’s watch them in action.

Step 1: Inspired by the Truth and Justice podcast formerly known as Serial Dynasty, Nicole and Rhonda tweet and google away a lazy Sunday afternoon while someone else minds the children and chickens, and collects the good times:

Screen shot 2015-10-24 at 5.58.50 PM

A clue!!!

Step 2: Finding that Don’s Facebook account is private, Nicole and Rhonda move on to his wife. Nicole posts her photo and Don’s daughter’s photo too.

Screen shot 2015-10-24 at 6.00.22 PM

Unlike Nicole, I redacted the photo

Step 3: Nicole and Rhonda yuck it up because Don doesn’t look like they expected. Nic Wiseman aka @niwise, who describes himself as “Dad of a girl and husband to a woman (big advocate of their rights),” crashes the Mom party:

Screen shot 2015-10-24 at 6.02.03 PM

Dad role model?

Screen shot 2015-10-24 at 6.02.17 PM

Mom role model?

Step 4: Nicole praises Bob Ruff, the fireman and podcaster who’s deluded himself into thinking Don needs to be investigated, and doing it on the internet is the way to go:

Screen shot 2015-10-24 at 6.05.22 PM

Bob’s just asking questions

Step 5: Nicole takes time out from persecuting an innocent man to think happy thoughts about innocent babies:

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The good mom

Step 6: Fireman Bob airs a new podcast about innocent Don. Vigilante Moms Nicole and Rhonda return to the job:

Screen shot 2015-10-24 at 6.10.14 PM

What were those police thinking?

Screen shot 2015-10-24 at 6.10.28 PM

What were those jurors thinking?

Step 7: Fireman Bob devotes still more airtime to his unsubstantiated and discredited theory that Don forged a timecard to give himself an alibi. According to Bob’s nuttery, Don did this with the help of his mom and her partner, who worked for the same company he did. (The part about Don and his family working at the same company is actually true.) Meanwhile, Nicole discovers during a Twitter break that she forgot to mail her letter to that nice murderer, Adnan Syed:

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Sad face emoji compulsory

Step 8: Nicole returns to Twitter where a whole bunch of Moms — including Kaitlin Armerding — are clamouring for pictures of Don.

Screen shot 2015-10-24 at 6.16.17 PM

 

Step 9: Nicole obliges and pictures of innocent Don spread. When Don’s father takes to Twitter to try and stop the gawking, Nicole tells him in her passive aggressive Vigilante Mom way: “I don’t envy your position. Also I don’t believe you. This must be hard 4 U to go thru.” An anonymous Twitter user with a better understanding of human decency intervenes.

Screen shot 2015-10-22 at 12.50.29 PM

Step 10: Not surprisingly, Nicole and Rhonda don’t get it.

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Nice people, really?

Step 11: Inevitably, the foul mouthed mother of all Adnan Syed advocates, Rabia Chaudry, is asked to comment:

Screen shot 2015-10-22 at 1.07.09 PM

Screen shot 2015-10-22 at 1.06.53 PM

Step 12: Unable to think through a thorny issue, Nicole communes once again with Twitter friends, who betray that this whole Don thing might be more about entertaining their bored mom selves than a fight for truth and justice:

Screen shot 2015-10-24 at 6.17.53 PM

 

My mind’s blown too, Nicole, but for completely different reasons.

The End

Postscript: Two things could happen to this blog post. It could go ignored. Or it could cause hell to rain down on me.

In the event of the latter, let me say in advance that I am aware that by writing about Don — and I want to stress that Don is completely innocent and I don’t think Fireman Bob has a shred of proof of any malfeasance at all — people will accuse me of fanning the flames. That’s a valid point of view and why I’ve pretty much steered clear of writing about Don up until now. However, that said, this has been going on for weeks and things have not gotten better. Instead, they’ve gotten worse. So I think it’s time to really talk about why this is wrong, fix it, apologize and move on. Don and his family deserve that.

I’m also prepared that I will be accused of doing unto others what I don’t want them to do unto Don, and I want to point out why this is not the case.

Please understand that I don’t have a problem with people being named and critiqued for things they have actually done. For example, Vigilante Moms deserve to be taken to task for their unthinking and perhaps unintentionally cruel actions. You can also criticize me while you’re at it and if you’re so inclined.

But you can’t attack Don and say he should be a murder suspect, because he has done exactly nothing wrong. He had the tragic misfortune to be dating a young woman who was murdered. He was thoroughly investigated at the time and was found to be innocent. He was a witness for the prosecution at the trial. That’s it, that’s all.

In 16 years, nothing has changed. There is zero proof that anything funky went on with Don and his time cards as Bob Ruff wishfully maintains. And it’s beyond bizarre to see people, who claim to be fighting for the rights of a man they believe to be wrongly accused, celebrate the unconscionable smearing of Don:

Screen shot 2015-10-22 at 2.16.33 PM

Fighting wrongful convictions Rabia style

Sadly, Chaudry’s tactics and this type of character assassination work. More recently, the smearing has started spreading well beyond the Vigilante Moms, who, like Nicole, need to conjure up villains for their #FreeAdnan world.

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More role modelling

If only Nicole would stop for a moment and spare a thought for Don’s actual mama who, when Don was grown, adopted a child with special needs and cared for him for years, until he was returned to health. Is this really the type of person who would conspire with her son and spouse to concoct an alibi and remain silent while a wrongfully convicted man was sent to prison for life?

Because if you are foolish enough to put your faith in the people who lead the #FreeAdnan movement, that is what you are being asked to believe.

Full Disclosure: I appeared on Fireman Bob’s podcast. It was an amicable enough discussion but a few weeks later, Bob called me disgusting, and some of his supporters falsely accused me of hijacking his old @serialdynasty Twitter handle. This is, after all, a crowd that’s big on false accusations.

I have said that I find it strange and uncaring that neither Don nor Adnan Syed tried to contact Hae Min Lee after she went missing.

Is François Bugingo the biggest fabulist journalist yet?

François  Bugingo in Israel. No, it's not Photoshop, he did actually go there.

François Bugingo in Israel. No, it’s not Photoshop, he did actually go there.

I keep up to date on tales of journalistic make-believe and I’ve got to tell you this
François Bugingo story out of Quebec is the most unbelievable tale of a journalist/fabulist I’ve seen so far. It’s Brian Williams meets Stephen Glass meets Boot of the Beast meets Walter Mitty. Bugingo makes other fabulists look like unadventurous amateurs. The character he portrayed  was a superman among war correspondents — not just reporting from hot spots like Somalia, Sarajevo and Iraq but carrying out a top-secret missions for the European Commission in Egypt, negotiating the release of hostages in Mauritania, and training journalists in the Ivory Coast.

In short, the story of François Bugingo defies belief. It is not something any self-respecting journalist should ever have believed, and yet until Isabelle Hachey exposed his massive fraud in La Presse this weekend, no one seems to have questioned the crazy Bugingo narrative.

I can think of three possible reasons why François  Bugingo survived as long as he did but before I go there, here are some of the many stunning examples Hachey reported:

Bugingo claimed in 2014 that a top Libyan torturer, whose execution he witnessed in Misrata, defecated in his pants before turning to Bugingo and crying: “I hate the bad man the Guide made of me.” Problem: Bugingo was never in Misrata, according to La Presse.

Also last year, Bugingo, now 41, recounted a reporting trip he made to Sarajevo in 1993 when he would have been just a teenager. He told the tale of a sniper who spent the whole day shooting, shooting, shooting. Then, evenings, he transformed into an “exceptional artist” strumming his guitar with a bottle of Slivovitz by his side. Problem: Bugingo was never in Sarajevo at that time, according to those he said he was with.

After Sarajevo, Bugingo claims to have made his way to Rwanda in 1994, but there are no records of him ever having been there nor any archived examples of his reporting.

As the vice-president of Reporters Without Borders, Bugingo said he undertook hostage release negotiations for journalists captured around the world and engaged in other secret missions. Problem: The former secretary general of the organization says none of this ever happened.

I left Quebec in 2008 before Bugingo became famous so I have to cop to never having heard of him until today, but apparently he had developed a huge presence: a daily radio commentary on international affairs, regular spots on the TVA nightly news, a hosting job at TéléQuébec, contract gigs with Radio Canada, a blog and a column at the Journal de Montreal. Prolific doesn’t even begin to describe it. In volume, Bugingo’s journalistic output is almost as hard to fathom as the content.

But by now you get the point. The Bugingo story is unbelievable in every way, which raises the question of how on earth it took so long for someone like Isabelle Hachey to come along and blow it to pieces.

I can see three possible explanations:

  1. He was a super nice guy and/or too well connected so no one wanted to do the dirty work of investigating him. Journalists are major gossips so I find it hard to believe there was not talk about Bugingo’s — cough, cough — exploits. In cases like these, there is almost always muttering about the stories that are too good to be true and the reporters known to play it fast and loose with the facts.
  2. No one actually paid much attention to his work despite his high profile. The web stats at various news organizations provide proof that there are quite a few big name journalists whose articles actually never get read. Maybe Bugingo was one of them.
  3. He was one of very few visible minorities in a prominent role in Quebec journalism so no one wanted to take him on. Yes, I know I’ll likely get hammered for this explanation, but there it is. You’re free to pick either explanation one or two, or provide your own in the comments if you will.

Once again, life proves stranger than fiction. Or life incorporates fiction. Or, well, you get the point.

If you don't know about Boot of the Beast, it's not too late. The funniest ever book about journalism. And it holds up 75 years later.

Talking about fiction, Boot of the Beast stars in the funniest ever book about dodgy journalism — and it holds up 75 years later.

Rabia Chaudry responds to my feminist take on Serial podcast, and I respond back to Rabia

Earlier this week I received the following email from Rabia Chaudry about my essay criticizing Serial from a feminist perspective:

Dear Ann,

I just read your recent blog post and want to bring a couple of things to your attention. First, you are by all means entitled to being offended by my potty mouth, my best friend 25 years ago declared I have Tourettes (clearly I don’t and neither of us even knew what it meant, but it was a way of explaining my proclivity for profanity), and certainly my mouth leaves much to be desired.

That, however, has nothing to do with things called “facts”. The charge that I falsely accused someone of child molestation is, in fact, false. I accurately pointed out that Mr. B was someone who had been accused by his then wife, in public at the mosque, of such acts. I can connect you with her. You know, so you can actually investigate. Attached you’ll find a clip from Susan’s blog noting his arrest. If you’d like the actual report of the arrest, I can connect you with Susan who can provide it. The community had heard of it back in 1999, and had even internally identified the victim, but since it seems it wasn’t prosecuted in exchange for him not testifying in Adnan’s favor, no one ever understood what happened.

I suggest, as “private investigator”, you’d be better served to find out who this man was and whether he had in fact molested a child before defending him. It doesn’t behoove a PI to make pronouncements about anonymous figures. Kind of defeats your purpose.

I am appalled that someone who calls themselves an investigator would find the attention to autopsy reports “ghoulish”. Isn’t the job of an investigator to do exactly that? Find and then analyze the evidence? Instead of talking about the merits of the lividity issue, this is a rhetorical, baseless attack for the sake of — what, blog hits?  If you have issues with the SUBSTANCE of Colin and Susan’s analysis, that would be worthy to see.  Ad hominem attacks are easy, where’s your analysis on these issues?

When cell tower experts from across the country are calling us to say “hey that evidence was totally misused in Adnan’s trial” and medical experts are telling us Hae was not buried for at least 8 hours, would you have us ignore these experts? When the state’s only witness has once again changed his timeline, rendering the state’s use of the cell phone evidence useless, who do we believe now? The State? Jay?

Jay, who in fact has domestic violence charges on his record, perhaps needs a bit more scrutiny. And certainly the man who killed another young woman in a similar fashion six months prior, from the SAME SCHOOL, does too.

As for Imran’s note, I can connect you with him personally and you can ask about it. If it had any merit at all, the police and prosecution would have used it.

Lastly, as for the Baltimore City Police conduct, you may want to revisit much that’s been written about their corruption, take note of the pending DOJ investigation, and take a listen to our upcoming episode on Monday.

Best,

Here is my reply:

First off, let me get this out of the way. I’m not personally offended by your potty mouth, Rabia. I mentioned it as an example of why you’re a polarizing figure. Some people love a feisty woman keeping it real as she drops F-bombs in the fight against injustice. Others not so much. As I see it, the swearing is just how you roll.

Since you wrote me a frank email, I’m going to give you my honest answers. I’m also going to try really hard not to confuse people who aren’t up on every detail of this case while, at the same time, adding some background to my original blog essay.

The Adnan critic I referred to, who was accused of being a child molester by your friends, was sachabacha. He was attacked on Reddit after he posted anonymously there — making the allegation, later verified by Serial, that Adnan stole from the mosque, and another accusation, not featured on Serial, that Adnan’s brother had called him a “masterful liar.” This resulted in a vicious pile-on designed to shut sachabacha down.

sachabachaaccusedof beingBilal

On Reddit, Rabia and co. originally accused sachabacha, a mosque insider, of being Bilal, an alleged child molester. Above is a deleted quote from Adnan’s brother, Yusef.

Correct me if I’m wrong, Rabia, but I think it’s conceded now that sachabacha is not nor never was Bilal, so the ugly accusations levelled against him, by Adnan’s brother and others, were completely out of line. Luckily for sachabacha, he’s just an anonymous internet person because your crowd has shown no qualms about smearing innocent people including, among many others — Stephanie, Don, Don’s mother, Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary, and, most favourite of all, Jay. In short, pretty much anyone who’s not Adnan.

Here’s your own brother suggesting, with zero evidence, that Stephanie might have done it:

Rabia's brother Saad suggests in his Reddit AMA that maybe Stephanie killed Hae

Rabia’s brother Saad suggests in his Reddit AMA that maybe Stephanie killed Hae

Accusations of murder are thrown around like they’re nothing, which is pretty ironic given that the goal of all this is to get a guy out of jail who’s ostensibly been wrongly convicted of murder.

Perilsoffingerpointing

The problem at the heart of Serial

Now, I’m not suggesting that all this finger pointing at innocent people is your fault, Rabia. People are going to do stupid things and you can’t stop that or be held responsible for every idiot on the internet, but if Saad were my little brother, I would have had a word with him. And if I were you, I also wouldn’t be praising Susan Simpson for her irresponsible exposure of Don’s completely irrelevant employment records.

You and Simpson both say you believe Don’s innocent and then you send out tweets like this. Sure, your official line for putting confidential information about him on the internet is that these were documents filed in court and you need to show that the police were lax in their investigation of Don. Well, in answer to point one, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Here’s an NYT article on the problem with people posting documents from court cases on the internet. And two, Simpson has in no way established that the police did not properly investigate Don. They interviewed him multiple times, they searched his home and workplace, they checked his alibi. (Unlike Adnan, he actually had an alibi.) It’s just ridiculous to argue they should have investigated him more because he had some bad employee reviews. The police do not have unlimited resources and they had a far more likely suspect in Adnan Syed.

Dragging Don through the mud was the example I originally gave of Simpson crossing ethical boundaries yet you accused me of launching baseless ad hominem attacks on her and Colin MIller to get blog hits. Well, yes, I am a journalist so I do want my work to get read, but my critiques were neither baseless nor ad hominem. And since you asked, I’m happy to elaborate on Simpson’s and MIller’s bad habits.

Let’s start with Simpson who specializes in producing reams of irrelevant data, can’t see the forest for the trees, and doesn’t recognize the difference between an assumption and a fact. Here’s a classic example of the latter from one of her first Serial blog posts. For some reason she can’t wrap her head around the idea that Jay might have noticed that Hae’s corpse had no shoes. To show how preposterous this is, she writes:

Sure. Some time during Jay and Adnan’s post-murder road trip through western Baltimore, Adnan could have turned to Jay and said, “By the way, I’m leaving Hae’s shoes in her car.” But does that really sound plausible? Adnan told Jay about what he had decided to do with Hae’s shoes? Of all the things they could talk about, of all the things Adnan might have told Jay, one of them was, “Oh by the way, Hae’s shoes are in her car”? Of course, there’s another explanation for why Jay knows where Hae’s shoes were left. Because he’s the one that left them there. And saying “Adnan told me” is simply Jay’s way of answering everything every question the detectives ask about things only Adnan should have knowledge of.

Do you follow the lack of logic there? In Simpson’s opinion, it’s crazy that Jay would have known about Hae’s shoes therefore Jay was involved in murdering Hae. Not just as an accessory after the fact but as something more. This is a completely unjustified accusation based on a flawed leap of logic. What’s more, this type of magical transformation of assumption into fact happens multiple times in every one of her blog posts  as well as on Undisclosed.

Here’s a more recent example from your podcast. Simpson believes that Cathy has the day that Adnan visited her house wrong, which is important because it’s also the day of the murder. Cathy says she remembers it was that specific day because she went to a conference. Simpson finds a “workshop” related to Cathy’s field of study that  took place on a different day. She assumes, based on nothing, that Cathy must have been confused and attended this other workshop aka conference on another day. The Undisclosed crew declares Cathy is wrong. Again, an assumption is transformed into a fact.

You mentioned I’m a private investigator. I am and I’m also a journalist who writes about crime and courts. One of the things I’ve learned over decades in this business is that when you test your beautifully imagined and constructed theories in the real world, you often find out they’re wrong because people will give you facts and evidence that contradict them. Maybe, unbeknownst to Simpson, Cathy’s conference on January 13, 1999 was written in her diary. Maybe Cristina Gutierrez and her investigator double checked Cathy’s alibi because at trial Adnan’s lawyer references the building in which the conference was held. Maybe the prosecution checked it too, as is standard practice, because you don’t want your key witnesses blowing up on the stand. Maybe Simpson needs to actually talk to Cathy before declaring her a muddled mixer-upper who testified incorrectly 16 years ago.

But enough about Simpson. Let’s talk about Evidence Prof Colin Miller. You’re miffed that I called him ghoulish. Well, frankly, I thought it was better than creepy, which I also considered. You also suggest that I shouldn’t criticize him for investigating autopsy reports and analyzing the evidence. I actually have no problem with Miller playing amateur coroner if that’s his thing. My problem is with him posting his half-baked theories on the internet.

Although you chose to ignore it, I did explain in my essay that the issue with Miller’s blog posts is that there is no purpose to them. Take the one devoted to explaining why Hae’s head injuries demonstrate she couldn’t have been killed in the driver’s seat. In the prosecution’s closing arguments Kathleen Murphy argues that Hae was killed in the passenger seat. It’s only Jay, who wasn’t even there, who says Adnan told him Hae was killed in the driver’s seat. Basically the whole post, like all his other gruesome autopsy posts, is beside the point.

If this is some kind of intellectual exercise for Miller, he should go do it in privacy of his basement. Unless he reveals truly exculpatory evidence, there is simply no justification for putting this type of post on the internet without the permission and blessing of Hae’s family. It’s disrespectful and a violation of a murdered girl’s privacy in every possible way.

The other point that I should make while I am on the subject of Miller and Simpson is that the forensic evidence they discuss is open to interpretation. Their MO is to suggest an improbable hypothetical and show that it’s possible. They then try to demonstrate, unconvincingly, that the prosecution’s version of events must be wrong and theirs must be right. Sometimes, they even drag an expert in to help, which ultimately ends in a case of which lividity or cell phone expert are you going to believe?  The whole exercise is futile and irrelevant. One expert’s interpretation of complex data is not going to spring Adnan from jail. Once a jury of your peers has found you guilty of murder and the appeals court has rejected all but your very last avenue of appeal, you need to find either a large legal loophole or major evidence that proves you innocent. Nothing else matters no matter how many supposedly fishy red herrings Simpson and Miller spot.

Unfortunately for Adnan, he’s been looking for that elusive proof of his innocence for 16 years with no success at all. Even now, with the Innocence Project and This American Life on his side, no one can suggest a remotely plausible version of who killed Hae Min Lee other than Adnan Syed. Your email suggests, Rabia, that you’re grasping at the straw that it was Roy Sharonnie Davis who strangled another Woodlawn high school student in 1998 but wasn’t convicted until 2004 on the basis of DNA. (Not to be confused with Deirdre Enright’s Ronald Lee Moore straw.)

Enright's pinning her hopes on Ronald Lee Moore (above) as Hae's killer. Chaudry thinks it's more likely Roy Sharronie Davis. I think it's neither.

Enright’s pinning her hopes on Ronald Lee Moore (above) as Hae’s killer. Chaudry thinks it’s more likely Roy Sharonnie Davis. I think it’s neither.

The big problem with yours and Deirdre Enright’s third party theories is that there’s zero reason for Jay to be protecting some loser serial killer, be it Roy or Ronald, and even less reason for the cops to be framing Adnan and Jay to protect said serial killer. Not to mention that it’s highly unlikely that, after 16 years, nothing about this would have come to light. People almost always talk and this is exactly the stuff that lowlifes talk about.

Rabia, you make a big deal about how Jay’s a lying liar, which he is, but I’ve got to tell you that I find Jay a whole lot more credible than Adnan, who’s also been lying from the very beginning. On the day Hae disappeared, he told the police he asked her for a ride. Then he said he didn’t. Then he couldn’t remember the day at all, claiming it was just a regular day six weeks ago even though it was the very unregular day the police contacted him about his ex-girlfriend, who he had called three times the night before. And on and on.

Imran email re death of Hae Min Lee

One week after Hae disappeared and five weeks before her body was found, Adnan’s friend Imran wrote this email

Which brings us to the police. You ask me to believe the police didn’t think Imran’s email was important because they didn’t use it in court. Say what? Now, I’m supposed to put my faith in those same bumbling police who didn’t investigate  Don properly and used Jay to frame Adnan to protect some rando serial killer. The same police you accused of corruption on your last episode of Undisclosed?

Rabia, I’m not naive about police. In my work, I criticize them when they deserve it and praise them when they do a good job. I’ve watched The Wire and read David Simon’s Homicide, which BTW features some good and dedicated Baltimore cops. I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary engaged in any kind of misconduct whatsoever. Sarah Koenig said they both had good reputations. Jim Trainum said the Hae Min Lee investigation was above average and that they investigated three suspects. Ritz told Koenig that, knowing that Jay was a liar, they corroborated every part of his story.

Unlike most people on the #FreeAdnan boards, I’ve also actually read those court cases involving Ritz that keep getting cited as proof that he’s the devil incarnate. In the Mable case, Ritz was one of dozens of people being sued: Screen shot 2015-05-16 at 3.15.44 PM It was a civil case which never even made it to the discovery phase before the plaintiff dropped out so we have no idea how Ritz would have responded. Then there was another case where Ritz is mentioned in passing for using an interview technique practised by police forces across the country until the courts ordered it modified. That hardly sounds like a black mark agains his character. And most recently, another civil case came out, where Ritz has yet to respond to the allegations against him. Screen shot 2015-05-16 at 3.25.43 PM So what to make of all this? It doesn’t strike me as at all out of the ordinary that a homicide cop in Baltimore would be named in a handful of lawsuits after decades of service. It comes with the territory just like getting snarked on by Susan Simpson. In the name of balance though, you might also want to consider this Baltimore Sun article about Ritz raising money for a child abuse center:

“He solicits all the golfers single-handedly and all the donations single-handedly,” said Ritz’s son, William. “He talks about it all year long, and then he stresses about it the last couple of months leading up to it.” Sometimes, like in police work, his diligence comes at the expense of his health. Last year, while canvassing Inner Harbor businesses for tournament sponsors and after working nearly 36 hours straight on cases, Ritz, physically spent, passed out on the street outside Power Plant Live. He regained consciousness as a few pedestrians helped him to his feet. But rather than seek immediate medical attention, he brushed himself off and headed home, only to continue fundraising later. (He subsequently sought medical attention.)

When I listened to Ritz on the latest episode of Undisclosed, I was struck by how much he sounded like a decent guy, unable to comprehend Jenn’s callous reaction to Hae’s death and Adnan’s plan to kill her. He had the same disbelieving reaction to Jay in episode one of Serial, asking him why he didn’t try to stop Adnan. Where you, Rabia, hear taps and rustling papers and conspiratorial corruption, I hear veteran homicide cops blown away by the casual cruelty and immorality of these kids. Imran’s awful email was yet another example. Hae’s life meant so little to Jay, Jenn and Imran. And to Adnan, who actually killed her.

In her attempt to explain away the Imran email, Simpson told a convoluted tale of two Imrans, claiming erroneously that the writer wasn’t really Adnan’s good friend but another Imran altogether. This is a perfect example of tunnel vision.  Imran’s email looks bad for Adnan so Simpson dismisses it and, worse yet, starts making stuff up to fit her Adnan is innocent theory.

Thanks for offering to put me in touch with Imran H, Rabia. If the offer still stands after this article, I would love to take you up on it. I would like to hear why he wrote what he did and see the apology email he’s rumoured to have sent. I’m a believer in redemption. It’s one of the reasons I feel far more sympathetic to Jay than Adnan — because Jay actually owned up to what he did. While I wish he had gone to jail for his part in the crime, he didn’t so time to let it go. As far as I’m concerned Jay has paid his debt to society. What’s more he’s apologized and shown remorse.

You mention the domestic assault charges he later faced, and say they deserve more scrutiny despite being dropped. You are right that we absolutely do need to hear his ex-girlfriend’s side of things before swallowing the explanation he gave the Intercept.

Since I wrote my essay, there have been more than 500 comments about it. A number of people agreed with me that Sarah Koenig was indeed wrong to brush off well- documented warning signs of intimate partner violence, but argued that wasn’t proof Adnan killed Hae. They were right, of course, but my essay wasn’t about laying out the entire case against Adnan. It was about the oddness of Koenig’s unfeminist ouevre being so lauded at this particular point in time, where we are supposedly so concerned about women’s issues.

So, for the record, let me tell you why I’m convinced Adnan is guilty.

  1. Adnan should remember what happened on that very un-normal day. He was called by police the same day his ex-girlfriend disappeared. He was interviewed by police two weeks later. The whole “I can’t remember that normal day six weeks ago” schtick is total BS. And Koenig was a sucker for believing it. There is no good explanation for why Adnan has no alibi. He was aware the day Hae went missing something was seriously wrong.
  2. Jay has no reason for framing Adnan nor does anyone else let alone Roy Sharonnie Davis or Ronald Lee Moore, who, between the two of them, probably have the combined IQ of a cactus plant.
  3. Adnan has no explanation whatsoever as to how he landed in this position. Yes, I know Deirdre Enright said innocent people often can’t help their case. But she was talking about not being able to find a body in a field as opposed to having no idea whatsoever why your buddy Jay might want to frame you for murder. People who work with killers will also tell you that this vaguey-vague “someone must have framed me but I don’t know why” explanation is a pretty common one among the guilty.
  4. Adnan has consistently lied about how people reacted to Hae’s disppearance, claiming it was no big deal, which is completely implausible. Hae had a new a boyfriend, a class trip to France booked, and university to look forward to. There was no way she’d take off to California in the middle of her senior year.
  5. Adnan’s good friend Imran appears to have been actively trying to discourage Hae’s California friends from looking for her a week after her disappearance, when, according to Adnan, no one was concerned she was gone.
  6. Adnan had no reason for lending Jay his car. The idea that he was concerned about Jay getting a birthday present for Stephanie is laughable.
  7. Adnan lied about asking Hae for a ride, contradicting the testimony of Krista and Debbie.
  8. Adnan wrote “I’m going to kill” on a break-up note from Hae telling him to back off. (If you think that’s no biggie, let me know how you feel about it when you see your daughters writing a note like that and then discover the recipient’s decorated it with “I’m going to kill.”)
  9. Adnan exhibited other stalkery behaviour towards Hae. She hid from him at school and wrote in her diary that he was possessive.
  10. Adnan never tried to contact Hae after January 13th even though he called her three times the night before.
  11. There is no explanation for the Nisha call other than an improbable butt dial.
  12. Adnan’s cell phone records place him in Leakin Park burying Hae’s body.

So that’s it for now, Rabia, 12 points and counting. I’ve probably left something off the list and if I remember it, I’ll add it later. But the bottom line is, just like the jury, I’m convinced way beyond a reasonable doubt that your guy is guilty.

If you ever find some evidence that shows I’m wrong — like the stuff you said a while back that your PI has dug up — let me know. Likewise, if  Adnan decides to admit to his crime, show remorse and ask for forgiveness, I’d like to hear.

Otherwise Rabia, I don’t think this is a gulf that can be crossed. I just can’t get behind the campaign to free a guy who killed his 18-year-old ex-girlfriend and has never once said he feels a single bit of remorse.

There was no miscarriage of justice in the case of Adnan Syed. The fact that he’s in jail is justice.

Serial podcast rehabilitated a schoolgirl’s murderer, so where’s the feminist outrage?

We are in the middle of what, for lack of a better description, I will call a radical feminist moment. Not a day goes by without some poor soul being shamed on the internet for a multitude of sins ranging from mansplaining and manspreading to making us all live in a rape culture and depriving women of jobs in the gaming industry.

Yet right in the middle of this media-fuelled, girl-power moment, something inexplicable has happened. It is Serial, last year’s blockbuster of a podcast all about loveable, enigmatic Adnan Syed, who back in 1999 murdered Hae Min Lee, the 18-year-old girl, who had just dumped him. Serial, which led many people to conclude — despite piles of evidence to the contrary — that Adnan did not receive a fair trial, was brought to you not by the usual misogynists and rape apologists but by the impeccably liberal staff of This American Life. It was fronted by Sarah Koenig, radio reporter and earth mother extraordinaire.

Adnan Syed I'm going to kill note

Sarah Koenig consistently minimized the warning signs of intimate partner violence, including Adnan Syed’s writing “I’m going to kill” on a break-up note from Hae Min Lee telling him to back off.

As I write (April 20, 2015), the accolades for Serial’s innovative investigative journalism keep rolling in. Earlier today it was announced that it had won a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting and last week Koenig was named one of Time magazine’s most influential people of 2014. When she isn’t working on the next season of Serial, Koenig’s out being fêted on the speaker circuit. Mysteriously, there are no trigger warnings and calls for safe spaces when Koenig arrives on campus despite her iffy perspective on the very sensitive subject of intimate partner violence.

As an example, consider that in November 1998, two months before she was strangled to death, Hae Min Lee wrote a break-up note to Adnan Syed telling him to move on, accept her decision to end their relationship, and to “hate me if you will.” On the back of this note, Adnan Syed wrote: “I’m going to kill.” The police found the note when they searched the Syeds’ house after his arrest.

Koenig waved this all away, describing it as “a detail you’d find in a cheesy detective novel” and a “stray thing” that could be meaningless. Too bad that we’re talking about real life here and Hae Min Lee did, you know, actually turn up dead. But then Koenig also managed to overlook the fact that Hae asked a teacher to help her hide from Adnan and that, in her diary, she described her ex-boyfriend’s possessiveness as a problem, a direct contradiction of what was said on the podcast.

Teacher testimony transcript Hae hides from Adnan

Teacher Hope Schab helped Hae hide from Adnan but this was never mentioned on Serial. (Trial 1 transcript)

Yet despite Koenig’s consistent minimization of incidents that are classic warning signs of intimate partner violence, there has not been one serious feminist critique of Serial in the mainstream US media. Yes, a couple of Brit pundits expressed shock, but that was before Christmas and they were pretty much ignored and then forgotten.

Just like race beat out gender two decades ago at the OJ trial, allowing a wife killer to be transformed into a symbol of justice for African Americans, so, today, can Adnan can be hailed as a representative of the wrongfully convicted despite the plentiful evidence against him and the transcripts that show he had a fair trial. Koenig’s “I nurse doubt” cri de coeur is V.2014 of “if the glove don’t fit you must acquit.”

I’m not sure, however, that Koenig would have gotten away with the rehabilitation of Adnan Syed, had she not been aided and abetted by the Innocence Project — an organization that pre-podcast I had always respected, but about which I now, to borrow a handy expression from the Serial songbook, nurse some pretty serious doubts. Deirdre Enright, director of investigations for its University of Virginia law school branch, deals a serious blow to Innocence Project credibility every time she opens her mouth about Adnan.

Take, for example, the final episode of Serial in which she asks Koenig: “What makes mores sense? That little 17-year-old, never-been-in-trouble-with-the-law Adnan killed someone or that Ronald Moore, rapist and murderer who got out of prison 13 days before Hae disappeared, that he killed someone?”

“Right, I know,” says a dumbfounded Koenig instead of, “Hold on a minute there, Deirdre. Isn’t it way more likely that a woman will be murdered by her intimate partner as opposed to some random serial killer? And BTW, how does Jay fit into your wild third party strangler theory?”

Oh wait, Koenig did actually ask about Jay and here’s what Enright replied:  “Big picture Sarah, big picture.” The big picture, to put it bluntly, is that Enright is talking like a freaking crazy lady, and if it weren’t for her impressive credentials, no one would be paying the slightest bit of attention to her theories. Emperor, new clothes and all that.

Which brings me to still more lawyers spouting nonsense — Rabia Chaudry, Susan Simpson and Colin Miller, who have been keeping Adnan Syed’s story in the news since Serial ended. Their new Undisclosed podcast made its debut last week, burning its way up the iTunes charts.

As a result of their newfound status as quasi public figures, the Undisclosed lawyers have come in for quite a bit of criticism, some of which is crazy and unhinged, and has, of course, been chronicled in the media. What the MSM fails to mention, however, is that these lawyers have, in a number of instances, demonstrated a startling lack of respect for ethical boundaries.

Chaudry, a polarizing figure with a potty mouth, set the tone right at the beginning of Serial when she and her gang accused an Adnan-critic from the Baltimore Muslim community of being a child molester.

Simpson is more cautious, sticking to innuendo and classic just-asking-questions tactics. She recently published the unflattering employment records of Hae’s last boyfriend Don in a misguided attempt to show police hadn’t done their job (sorry, I don’t want to link to this one), all the while conceding Don didn’t do it. So what’s her excuse for dragging him through the online mud 16 years later then? It’s to make one of her hallmark illogical points — that the police should have devoted more time to investigating an innocent dude.

Miller, meanwhile, has been ghoulishly poring over autopsy reports, a subject in which he has zero scientific training, and talking to “experts” apparently unwilling to attach their names* to his tenuous theories that prove nothing. I can’t help but wonder if he’s ever spared a thought for how Hae’s family might feel about his futile ramblings over her corpse.

Perhaps it’s just coincidence but the debut of Undisclosed and the latest round of Serial plaudits coincided with the arrival on the internet of various documents discrediting the #FreeAdnan movement. Over the weekend, an email written by Adnan’s good high school friend, Imran, made its way on to Reddit. It shows that one week after Hae’s disappearance, before anyone knew she was dead, Imran wrote to a friend of Hae’s in California, who was concerned about her:

Imran email re death of Hae Min Lee

On her blog, Rabia Chaudry brushed this highly troubling email off as a “sick joke.” Other Adnan supporters, a number of whom remain Facebook friends with Imran, also dismiss it as a failed attempt at humour, the type of thing crazy teenagers do — just like Adnan writing “I’m going to kill” on a note from Hae. It’s not clear whether Sarah Koenig ever saw the email although I’ve been told but can’t confirm that Imran was one of the people she interviewed in the Rumours episode of Serial. Imran did not respond to my requests for an interview.

As someone who doesn’t think your average teen is down with joking about a friend’s death, I’m going to suggest a non-humourous interpretation of this callous misogyny: Imran, an Adnan acolyte who doesn’t seem at all moved by the gruesome murder he describes, was clumsily trying to help with a cover-up. I would further suggest that my theory is supported by the fact that after Adnan is arrested, Asia McClain — who is being touted by #FreeAdnan as their new star witness — describes Emron (sic) as upset and looking like “crap.”

Evidently the much maligned police — who Simpson and Chaudry constantly accuse of failing to do their job — were concerned enough about this email to subpoena information about the IP address from which it was sent in an effort to confirm the identity of the sender. That’s a strong indication they didn’t believe it was a joke but rather potential evidence.

It’s pretty obvious to anyone able to confront facts that the Imran email undermines the whole premise of Serial’s first episode, that Adnan couldn’t remember January 13, 1999, the day of Hae’s murder, because for him it was just another regular day in the distant, six-weeks-ago past. The email shows that, as far away as California, friends were talking about what had happened to Hae and trying to get information. No one was blowing off her disappearance as Adnan preposterously claimed to Sarah Koenig in Serial and she audibly nodded along.

As more and more non-Serial sanctioned information comes to light, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the  #FreeAdnan movement is little more than a collection of useful idiots fooled into fighting against an imaginary miscarriage of justice. Their goal is to spring from prison the remorseless killer of a young woman, who had her whole life ahead of her until Adnan Syed stole it away.

Amidst all the publicity and noise, it’s important to remember that Serial is not the new Thin Blue Line and never will be. The right man is behind bars and that’s a good thing, no matter what Adnan Syed supporters want to talk themselves into believing.

 


Read Rabia Chaudry’s response to this essay and my response to Rabia.

*The day after I published this post, Colin Miller quoted his first and only named expert in months of ghoul blogging. Probably just a coincidence.

May 9 Update: This article got linked on Reddit yesterday and has generated a lively discussion.

Avoid guys like Adnan. Read The Gift of Fear and then pass it on. It’s a great book: