‘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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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Dad role model?

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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:

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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:

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What were those police thinking?

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.