My goal has always been to get this story right
January 5, 2015 9:18 PM   Subscribe

Jay Speaks: The man that many listeners to the popular podcast Serial consider the antagonist and even prime suspect for the murder that is its subject speaks to the Intercept in a 3 part interview, in which he describes the events of the day of the murder, his interactions with Sarah Koenig, and what its like to be hunted by Reddit.

Response from the producers of serial (in part): "It’s been interesting to read what Jay has to say about what happened on January 13, 1999. Although like so much of our experience over the past year, this new information also opens up a door to a new room filled with questions."

Response from Adnan's lawyer Rabia Chaudry (in part): "There are too many other inconsistencies between the Intercept interview and Wilds’ sworn testimony to enumerate here – and others have done it quite well – but, suffice it to say that, in my opinion as an attorney, there may be enough evidence for the state of Maryland to pursue a perjury charge against Wilds."
posted by Potomac Avenue (250 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
 
Once again, I am impressed by the blend of friendly professionalism and diplomacy in Sarah Koenig's emails. That woman can compose an email like nobody's business.
posted by redsparkler at 9:24 PM on January 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


We've been discussing these interviews for the last week or so on the last episode's Fanfare page.

I think it's really likely that Jay ratted out other drug dealers in order to take a sweet plea bargain. Things don't look good for him right now. Reddit and the rest of the internet seem to hate him for being squirmy and a liar, but I do think he's very likely a genuine victim.
posted by painquale at 9:29 PM on January 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Here's what I find interesting in this: Jay's insistence that Adnan opened the trunk to Hae's car to show him her dead body. He is fairly convincing that that particular event happened, at least to me. I don't really believe any of his story, but that detail stands out like even he's admitting some other things may not be factual but that part is.

And that's the thing, judging by the bits of testimony played, I'm not sure I would believe him as much if they played audio of him saying that.
posted by dogwalker at 9:31 PM on January 5, 2015


Does this plot ever stop thickening?
posted by edheil at 9:32 PM on January 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


Once again, I am impressed by the blend of friendly professionalism and diplomacy in Sarah Koenig's emails.

Most reporters I've discussed Serial with think Koenig did something unethical by broadcasting before she finished investigating. In the first episode, she said that it was crazy to open up her reporter's notebook to the public. And yes, it is kind of crazy. The rest of us were entertained, and we got an education in what it's like for a journalist to investigate a case. But she also made an internet suspect out of someone who very likely might deserve no animosity at all. Showing up on Jay's door out of nowhere and then recording her impressions right afterward is really, REALLY aggressive journalism. She could have tried emailing him instead of confronting him in front of his family! But no, she didn't want him to duck and run.

I don't find her e-mails professional in the least. Jay is right to see her as the villain of his story.
posted by painquale at 9:36 PM on January 5, 2015 [37 favorites]


Imo this interview read to me like the truth and everything else just sounds like lawyering. And those emails and her behavior make me wonder if Koenig wants the truth or the story, if you know what I mean.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:36 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


IIRC she tried to reach him through other ways including email multiple times.
posted by bq at 9:40 PM on January 5, 2015


I don't think that's right. Jay said he only heard rumors about some reporter snooping around asking questions, and the next thing he knows, she's at his door.
posted by painquale at 9:43 PM on January 5, 2015


Yeah, just listened to the podcast again. SK says that she knew it was "a dick move" not to warn Jay, but that she thought they'd have the best chance of "success" if they met him face to face. There's no discussion about having tried to contact him through other means, and the implication is that this is their first attempt.
posted by painquale at 9:48 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Man, from the very first episode Jay sounded fishy to me. From my Internet Detective point-of-view, the fact he knew where Hae's car was and his apparent fear of somebody in the wake of the murder indicates his own involvement. But from the first my guess was that person wasn't Adnan, it was someone who scared Jay enough to coerce him into pinning the blame on Adnan. I wonder if that is why some details are so vivid while others are so hazy--Jay wove things that actually happened into the fake story to lend credence.
posted by schroedinger at 9:53 PM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm with painquale. Showing up at his door unannounced as your first contact? Definitely a bullshit move.

And all that "The story will be about you anyway so it's better if your voice is part of it!" stuff is a classic line journalists use. It's not always, or even often, true.
posted by mediareport at 9:53 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also, I thought in previous episodes Koenig said she'd been trying to contact him and he hadn't responded.
posted by schroedinger at 9:53 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Response from Adnan's lawyer Rabia Chaudry (in part):

Rabia is Adnan's long time friend, but I don't believe she actually represents him.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:57 PM on January 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


schroedinger, producer Julie Snyder's response to the interview (at the end of part 3) just says, "On seven separate occasions over the last five months, we have requested an interview with Jay, either on the record or off" and notes they first contacted him before the podcast started to air in October. That's consistent with Jay's claim that their first contact was knocking on his front door unannounced.
posted by mediareport at 10:05 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just can't bring myself to feel all that much sympathy for Jay (it is unfortunate if his family is being harassed, though). He was, at a minimum, an accessory after the fact to a murder and didn't serve a day in prison.

If the worst that happens to him as a result of the show is some unwanted attention from internet detectives...uh, too bad? Don't help your casual acquaintance bury his ex-girlfriend's body, I guess. Whatever else he is, he's not the victim here.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 10:06 PM on January 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


Don't help your casual acquaintance bury his ex-girlfriend's body, I guess.

If his story is right, he was coerced. And then he ended up doing the right thing anyway at great personal risk to himself. It's still very possible that he is a victim.
posted by painquale at 10:12 PM on January 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I caught up on this podcast, and then went and checked out that subreddit. It's like a drawn out search for the Boston Bombers over there.

My opinion listening to the podcast was that it's all an oddly unethical work of entertainment. SK paints herself into the story frequently, with the frequent calls from jail she weaves her wavering trust of Adnan into the narrative far too much. And then, from my recollection of it, she hews closely to the state's (possibly flawed) afternoon timeline of events, which has Adnan at a track practice that no one specifically remembers him at. A timeline that these interviews with Jay seem to call bullshit on.

It's called a con because you gain your mark's confidence, Sarah. More and more it seems this podcast is just a document on how well you've been played.
posted by Catblack at 10:17 PM on January 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


I made a similar comment in the Fanfare thread about this, but it seems the motivation for Jay to do this interview is that he feels he was wronged or misrepresented in some way by Serial, yet doesn't make a compelling argument to bolster his point. The worst thing Sarah Koenig says about him in Serial is that his retelling of the story about what transpired the night of the murder changed every time he was questioned about it, a fact Jay readily admits to in the interview. His primary complaint seems to be that Koenig put Serial into the universe at all, which doesn't feel to me like a fair criticism (just because you made a deal with prosecutors doesn't make you immune from a journalist looking deeper into the case).

It is unfortunate and troubling that internet sleuths have made life difficult for Jay and his family, but I don't know how much of the responsibility for that lays at Sarah Koenig's feet.
posted by The Gooch at 10:30 PM on January 5, 2015 [26 favorites]


If his story is right, he was coerced. And then he ended up doing the right thing anyway at great personal risk to himself. It's still very possible that he is a victim.

He did the "right thing" because he was identified by the police as a suspect. He didn't voluntarily come forward. As far as being coerced...even if that was true, he couldn't have gone to the police immediately? I'm not saying he's some kind of monster. I'm saying that, at a minimum, he was faced with a moral dilemma and made a very bad choice. He was extremely lucky to have walked away without a prison sentence.

So, yeah, even assuming that he's not lying about his involvement in the murder, I have a tough time seeing him as any kind of victim.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 10:31 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


And then, from my recollection of it, she hews closely to the state's (possibly flawed) afternoon timeline of events, which has Adnan at a track practice that no one specifically remembers him at. A timeline that these interviews with Jay seem to call bullshit on.

huh? Not sure what I'm missing here, but she spends most of the podcast test and ultimately rejecting the state's version of the events, which Jay's courtroom testimony helped establish.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 10:32 PM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


I hope that Serial: II isn't about finding out which drug dealers from the old neighborhood shot Jay when he was out for a walk with his kids.
posted by craniac at 10:54 PM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately there seem to be a lot of people who hope the opposite.
posted by fullerine at 11:11 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's bullshit to say Sarah painted him as the villain. He's *the* key witness in this case and his story changed multiple times (including in these interviews, btw). All Koenig had done is laid out the various stories and tried to make sense of them. She's cast more doubt on the unverified things Adnan has said than Jay. She has been unwaveringly fair to him, given he much hinges on his story.
posted by dry white toast at 11:34 PM on January 5, 2015 [17 favorites]


Most reporters I've discussed Serial with think Koenig did something unethical by broadcasting before she finished investigating.

I find this objection really strange, since the point at which one has finished investigating is fundamentally arbitrary; lots of big newspaper stories have unfolded in the form of a story here, a story there, as people finally agree to talk on the basis of earlier instalments of the story, or new tips come in, etcetera, etcetera.

An exception to this would be if the reporter was making a serious claim about somebody and failed to contact them to offer any right of reply at all within that "episode" of reporting. But as others have said, that doesn't seem to be the case here.
posted by oliverburkeman at 11:38 PM on January 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


If the worst that happens to him as a result of the show is some unwanted attention from internet detectives...uh, too bad?

Nope, we have laws and courts for a reason: The court of the people has the collective intelligence of a highly inebriated chimpanzee.
posted by smoke at 12:08 AM on January 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


We've been discussing these interviews for the last week or so on the last episode's Fanfare page.

Other materials linked there:

- Slate podcast with impressions on Jay's interview

- Observer interview with Natasha Vargas-Cooper (author of the Intercept interview)

- anonymous Reddit post, claiming second-hand knowledge that Adnan confessed the murder to three members of the Muslim community; Rabia Chaudry's tweet, relative to this.
posted by progosk at 1:00 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Don't help your casual acquaintance bury his ex-girlfriend's body, I guess.

If his story is right, he was coerced. And then he ended up doing the right thing anyway at great personal risk to himself. It's still very possible that he is a victim.
posted by painquale at 10:12 PM on January 5 [1 favorite +] [!]



I got bored quite quickly of Serial and stopped listening a few episodes in , but I remember being baffled by Sarah's initial mention of this part - it sounded like he agreed to help bury the body very casually and without thinking about it much. Like he was helping his friend move a piano or something. And I kept wondering what the hell is up with that over the next few episodes.
Or rather, that's what came across from the way Koenig told that part of the story initially. I know she was saving the detailed explanation for a later episode but, like, many people aren't going to get to that point
posted by Bwithh at 2:22 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I know it's a true-crime staple, but the journalist-as-protagonist role of the genre, being amplified by the serial-radio-fiction approach to this makes me weirdly uncomfortable. Reading this makes it worse. This isn't a well thought out position for me, other than to say the whole project gives me the willies and I'm not sure why.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:36 AM on January 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


I won't go so far as to attest to Jay's honesty, deception, guilt, victimhood, or respective lacks thereof. Nor will I do so for Adnan. Regardless of the facts of the crime, I'm still just reeling from the revelation that we sentenced a teenager to life in prison based on the evidence that was presented.

It's no wonder our plea system is so out of control; you clearly can't trust the court and the jury to treat you fairly based on the facts of the case, and you can't trust the adversarial system to compel them to do so. At least a plea makes your punishment a known quantity (it's just too bad we artificially inflate sentencing guidelines in order to pressure people to take plea deals).
posted by Riki tiki at 4:57 AM on January 6, 2015 [24 favorites]


Regardless of the facts of the crime, I'm still just reeling from the revelation that we sentenced a teenager to life in prison based on the evidence that was presented.

Completely agreed. I have no idea whether Adnan is guilty, and unfortunately, neither does the state. The case they put forth should never have resulted in a conviction, and it's a tragedy of justice that it managed to do so.

As for Jay ... the only people I feel bad for are his wife and kids. Jay's best case argument is, bluntly: "I committed perjury to put a man in prison for life, but I swear I did it for good reasons, and he really deserved it!". Even in that argument, Jay is an admitted accessory after the fact to a murder, and he had no intention of ever telling anyone about what he says Adnan did until the cops showed up at his door.

The fact that such actions might continue to be viewed negatively years later is not something I find unfair.
posted by tocts at 5:56 AM on January 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


"she also made an internet suspect out of someone who very likely might deserve no animosity at all."

Are we talking about the guy who was convicted as an accessory to murder and served no time?
posted by MrJM at 6:20 AM on January 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


>If the worst that happens to him as a result of the show is some unwanted attention from internet detectives...uh, too bad?

>>Nope, we have laws and courts for a reason

And those laws and courts found that Jay was an accessory to murder.
Don't let the fact that he served no time for his crime distract from his guilt.
posted by MrJM at 6:24 AM on January 6, 2015


Response from Adnan's lawyer Rabia Chaudry

Unless things have changed substantially, Chaudry is not Adnan's lawyer. She's a lawyer who is the sister of a friend of Adnan's and who has been fighting on his side for years.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:38 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


"If the worst that happens to him as a result of the show is some unwanted attention from internet detectives...uh, too bad? Don't help your casual acquaintance bury his ex-girlfriend's body, I guess. Whatever else he is, he's not the victim here."

This is pretty representative of an attitude I take issue with: The notion that because someone committed a crime they have lost the right to the safety and security the rest of us have a right to even after serving the sentence for his crime. . As though, having crossed over from the privileged territory of "good guy" into "bad guy" territory it's now ok for redditors to post his private information online, sit outside his house photographing him and confronting him on the street. It's like, shit man if you don't like the sentence handed down to him by the court of the city of Baltimore, then please let us know how much more suffering he should endure in his private life before he becomes a human being again. Because that's the point right? Suffering? Like, because he's unsympathetic he should suffer, right? Ok cool, so now let's just determine how much of that is appropriate and then we can go tell reddit to only stalk him that much.
posted by shmegegge at 6:38 AM on January 6, 2015 [50 favorites]


These three parts of the interview put me on the "Jay is a huge lying liar" train, even more than I was before. There was no reason for him to tell yet another story.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:43 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ha, roomthreeseventeen, the interview totally swayed me the other way - I thought for sure Jay was a killer after listening to the podcast but now I'm not so sure it didn't happen more or less as he told the cops. I found his explanation for why he lied to police very plausible (although obviously not laudable).

The most annoying thing about all of this is that we will never know anything else unless somebody confesses. Or unless Adnan's DNA is on that bottle at the crime scene, I guess. I keep reading the threads here and elsewhere on the internet hoping somebody will say something to convince me of The Truth, but it's all ultimately pointless speculation.
posted by something something at 7:09 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think the stalking and harassment are horrible things and even if Jay murdered Hae (not saying that he did), this shouldn't be happening. (Especially to his entirely innocent family.) But I don't see that this means that Serial shouldn't've focussed on Hae's murder, or that it is Sarah Koenig's fault that Reddit went nuts for the story.

I also don't think that she was wrong for broadcasting before she was done investigating. That was the point of the entire podcast, first of all, but also I think it's useful for people to have a better view of what these kinds of investigations take. There were problems with the podcast, but I do not think that it is inherently unethical to broadcast a story as you are developing it given that you are open about doing this.
posted by jeather at 7:12 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Don't help your casual acquaintance bury his ex-girlfriend's body

Maybe it's the casual acquaintance bit, but isn't that one of the jokey-but-serious definitions of a real friend ? Someone you can call at 3am to help you bury the body..
posted by k5.user at 7:18 AM on January 6, 2015


For those interested in amusing, entertaining meta-content, a Reddit user by the name of NippleGrip has been espousing an alternative narrative since the earlier episodes of the podcast: Jay as the honorable folk hero, Sarah as the naive and unethical journalist. His posts nearly always get down-voted immediately (I imagine that's a point of pride for him), so you have to search them out to read them; they don't make the front page.

Some highlights:

--After episode 6 and before "What's the Deal With Jay"
--His first comment in that thread, anointing Jay a "folk hero"
--His most recent post: Serial After Midnight
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:24 AM on January 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


I've got I guess a kind of rosy view of things, but from a macro perspective, I see Serial as something that's on the whole good. Is it perfect? No. Can a world of armchair journalists and analysts decide they could have done a better job than Sarah Koenig? Sure.

But journalism's been getting it in the teeth for the last decade. The gutting of the great print papers has carved a huge swath through what was once a robust estate for fact-seeking and truth-telling. A lot of people now think that journalists exist mainly to ask Brad Pitt about his breakfast, or even worse, consider people like Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh "truth-tellers" when all they do is misunderstand scant facts and regurgitate venom.

Serial's huge popularity has had some unintended consequences, and I genuinely feel bad for the people who wound up on the short end of the Reddit stick.

My broad view, though, is that this thing has caught on like wildfire, not only amongst the beard-stroking armchair sleuths and self-appointed media critics, but also among a lot of people who haven't given journalism much thought before. And it conveys two things really well:

(a) good journalism is really fucking hard, and
(b) there is a lot more going on behind a "simple" story in a newspaper or magazine than you might think.

I feel bad for Jay, and for Hae's family, who are suddenly getting a lot of attention because they ironically did not seek it.

On the other hand, I applaud Serial for generating a ton of interest in journalistic effort, process, and methods. If this means the millions and millions and millions of people who have listened to it now look at a newspaper story and understand that there's a lot more to it than just calling the mayor, and start investing more of themselves in analyzing the news and supporting actual deep journalism, I think there's a massive net good here that's getting overlooked in the micro-scrutiny of whether or not Koenig should have doorstepped Jay.
posted by Shepherd at 7:25 AM on January 6, 2015 [16 favorites]


Also, if you don't think every word Jay said was massaged by a lawyer, including possibly the version of the interview that went to print, I want to pinch your cheeks.

Not that I blame him. He should. But my point is that this interview is a clearly calculated move to make Jay sympathetic to Serial listeners.
posted by dry white toast at 7:55 AM on January 6, 2015


Also, if you don't think every word Jay said was massaged by a lawyer, including possibly the version of the interview that went to print, I want to pinch your cheeks.

Uh, no. Your condescending cynicism aside, no competent lawyer would advise Jay to contradict his sworn testimony in order to gather support from a bunch of powerless podcast fans.
posted by skewed at 8:24 AM on January 6, 2015 [20 favorites]


it seems the motivation for Jay to do this interview is that he feels he was wronged or misrepresented in some way by Serial, yet doesn't make a compelling argument to bolster his point.

Most Serial listeners conclude the podcast in a state of deep agnoticism: it's possible Adnan committed the murders, but it's also disturbingly possible he did not. The only thing we do know is that Adnan probably didn't get a fair trial, and that Jay is probably lying about something. We shrug our shoulders and turn off the podcast and when people ask us who we think did it, we shrug our shoulders and think we're being fair when we say, "I don't know."


But imagine, for a minute, that you are Jay, and that you saw Hae's body in the trunk of the car, and Adnan standing over it. You know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Adnan committed murder. You know that justice has been served. In fact, given the lack of unequivocal evidence in the case, you are one of only two people in the world who knows that - the other five billion people are just choosing what to believe.

Given that, what possible motivation would you have to talk to Sarah Koenig when she comes digging around? To the extent that she wants to say anything other than 'Adnan is guilty,' you know unequivocally that she is only going to cloud the issue. You have no way to prove your story, but you still know that to the extent that she raises any questions about Adnan's guilt, she'll only be moving the discussion further and further away from the truth. Of course you shut the door in her face!

And now, six months later, the podcast is a bigger deal than Jay could ever have guessed. Imagine what that must feel like! That deeply agnostic place we're all in - the place where we're trying to even handedly divide our suspicions between Jay and Adnan, and we're frustrated because Jay won't play ball...to Jay, with the knowledge that Adnan committed the murder, but without the ability to prove it, all these carefully meted-out attempts at fairness must seem like an existential joke. From Jay's perspective, anyone who is still agnostic is wrong, as wrong as if they would be if they were sure Adnan was innocent. Jay knows that we're all being duped into doubting... and yet he knows he can't change our minds, and that Sara Koenig, warrior for even-handed journalism, has just given a murderer twelve hours of sympathetic air time, raised a thousand unkillable doubts about something that shouldn't be doubted and that the cumulative force of all these doubts run the risk of setting this murderer free.

And yet he can't prove it; he can't prove any of it. He's not a person with any kind of authority; he doesn't know how to tell his story persuasively enough; he's not the kind of person armchair detectives on Reddit are inclined to listen to. He is the only person other than a convicted murderer who knows the truth...and now, thanks to Sara Koenig, more people believe what the murderer is saying than they believe him. I can't imagine the amount of anger he must feel towards her, and how frustrated and terrified he must be.

The comforting alternative, of course, is that an innocent man has been in jail for the past twenty-five years.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:28 AM on January 6, 2015 [29 favorites]


Let me say this even more concisely:

Assume that Jay knows Adnan is the murderer.

Prior to the podcast, Adnan is in jail, and most everyone believes he did it. SK shows up and wants to do a podcast that will give both sides equal air time and treat the subject even-handedly. Jay has no reason to participate: from his perspective, a podcast that treats the subject evenhandedly will still be 50% lies.

Now the podcast has aired, and a large percentage of the population has doubts about Adnan's guilt, and these doubts may lead to him being released. From Jay's perspective, the podcast has done only harm. He is deeply hostile towards SK, whom he sees as acting in the interests of a murderer. He speaks out against her and reiterates his story.

Again, not saying that this is what has happened, only that it's one of two possibilities, and that in this scenario, Jay's behavior seems deeply legible to me.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:43 AM on January 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


That's a very empathetic take on Jay's predicament, pretentious illiterate. I'm in the "Jay is shady as hell" camp myself and find it hard to forgive a man for burying a murdered young woman's body and then telling no one about it. But maybe he was coerced, and maybe Adnan really did it, and if so then your explanation makes sense.

Jay being confident Adnan would do it also explains why Jay is taking the risk of talking to anyone at all. It seems terrribly risky, legally, for him to say anything in public. At best he's contradicting himself and even if a perjury case is incredibly unlikely why stick your neck out? And maybe more comes out and someone starts looking at other crimes related to you. Or maybe the new physical evidence tests come back and some of your DNA is on Hae's corpse. There's so much legal jeopardy for Jay now, any lawyer would advise him to shut the hell up. But maybe he's 100% sure he's right and can't understand why no one believes him. It's still foolish to talk, but it's an understandable mistake.
posted by Nelson at 8:58 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is why I enjoy NippleGrip's reddit posts. Filling a vacuum, he acts as Jay's advocate, countering Rabia's advocacy. I see Jay's interview as a very ill-advised "nobody will speak on my behalf, so I must do it." And also, projecting any sort of suburban middle-class morality onto his decisions is the wrong way to judge him, in my opinion. Considering his family life, economic status, and the decisions he made as a juvenile, Jay didn't have much of a chance at a happy, stable life. The fact that he's made something approximating that is to be lauded, not derided.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:11 AM on January 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Nope, we have laws and courts for a reason: The court of the people has the collective intelligence of a highly inebriated chimpanzee.

This is pretty representative of an attitude I take issue with: The notion that because someone committed a crime they have lost the right to the safety and security the rest of us have a right to even after serving the sentence for his crime.

What has happened to him, exactly? We know he's been talked about on Reddit, and apparently people have driven by his house and taken his picture. Maybe someone said something to him?

He absolutely has a right to not be threatened or stalked. If that happens, he should go to the police and have it dealt with. He has no right, however, to be completely free from public scrutiny for the murder he was involved with. Should Sarah Koenig have not made the show on account of Jay, of all people? The fact that he has been made to feel uncomfortable does not make him a victim.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 9:12 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


He is the only person other than a convicted murderer who knows the truth...and now, thanks to Sara Koenig, more people believe what the murderer is saying than they believe him. I can't imagine the amount of anger he must feel towards her, and how frustrated and terrified he must be.

I think if I felt that he at all understood that this situation has come about through his own actions, I would have more sympathy for this position. He never tells the same story twice, he picks and chooses which facts he wishes to reveal, remains vague about his reasons for doing so, and then when given the opportunity to open up about all of that he chose to remain silent. Koenig was very clear that she wanted him to own his own story and let it be told his way, and for whatever paranoid reasons he chose not to believe her. True, he couldn't have known what this story would turn into - Koenig didn't know either or she might have presented the situation differently. But I think tons of listeners (or at least this listener) would find even his newly time-shifted story more believable if he'd told it to Koenig in the first place.

The guy clearly has a paranoia streak a mile wide. I don't think he's given us the full story here of what that's about. It shows most clearly in his wild overreaction to Koenig's email. She pretty nicely states that she wants to give him the chance to present his side fairly, and he reacts like she's said "talk to me or I'll tell everyone you did it." She didn't say that, she didn't do that. He says he did this interview to clear his name, and I understand that impulse, but then he goes and shifts his story again, and also appears to have an agenda to smear Koenig. That doesn't have the effect of clearing his name, it just adds to the existing list of things he's done that cast doubt on him.

(Regarding his new version of events, some of it I feel is overlookable - he gives everything a different time of day, for example, which could just be memory slippage over the years. Except - for me, anyway - he makes a huge change in when the burial happened and who called who at what time to do it. That's when I started to feel like no, we still don't have the full truth out of this guy.)
posted by dnash at 9:18 AM on January 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


The trial transcripts reveal that Cristina Gutierrez stated in her opening remarks (in the second trial) that there was a payphone in the Best Buy. So, not sure why we spent an episode on that point.

The revelations from the transcripts have been interesting, to say the least. I thought that the school nurse's testimony was particularly interesting: she claimed that Adnan appeared to be faking sadness/catatonia after learning of Hae's death. It could have been confirmation bias, of course, but her recollection was very specific, and she pulled no punches.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:34 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


He is the only person other than a convicted murderer who knows the truth...and now, thanks to Sara Koenig, more people believe what the murderer is saying than they believe him.
pretentious illiterate

The problem is that Jay is a liar. This isn't my gut feeling or my impression of him, it's a demonstrable fact. He lied multiple times when speaking to the police, which he admitted. If this interview is correct, he also lied in court during his testimony. It's impossible to tell which, if any, part of this new version of events in this interview is the actual truth.

Now he gives reasons as to why he did so, but the fact remains he is on record lying repeatedly. This is why many people have a problem with him.

Set aside how you feel, or beliefs about his Jay's situation, or any other concerns: Jay, the key witness in this case, has demonstrably lied over and over about what happened.

That is why he is being doubted, and rightfully so.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:38 AM on January 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


And your condescension aside, the possibility that an innocent man has been in prison for the last 15 years isn't very comforting at all. Even the possibility that a guilty man was convicted when he shouldn't have been is pretty shitty, and Jay's duplicity is at the center of everything.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:45 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


In what way were pretentious illiterate's comments condescending? He/she offered a thought experiment to rationalize Jay's past and present behavior. He/she admits that he/she doesn't know if that's what happened.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:49 AM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I never finished the series, but my main takeaway from it was how squishy the margins of law are for conviction, how much unreliability is allowed to be brushed under the rug with an, "eh, good enough," shrug of the shoulders and a, "horseshoes and hand grenades" verdict. Every single character's story spoke to this.
posted by rhizome at 10:13 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The court of the people has the collective intelligence of a highly inebriated chimpanzee.

A drunk...kimp..?
posted by dephlogisticated at 10:25 AM on January 6, 2015 [27 favorites]


In what way were pretentious illiterate's comments condescending?
(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates

I was referring to this part:

The comforting alternative, of course, is that an innocent man has been in jail for the past twenty-five years.
pretentious illiterate
posted by Sangermaine at 10:58 AM on January 6, 2015


Sangermaine: I wasn't being condescending. I was being sarcastic.

As terrible as this would be for Jay if Adnan is guilty, the consequences for Adnan, if he is innocent, are much, much worse.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 11:03 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


There's a few things about this case that I just can't wrap my mind around:

1. To those people who think Jay did it: what would have been his motive?

2. If your good friend disappears, and you had nothing to do with it, why wouldn't you try to call her?

I am in the "yeah, Adnan probably did it, but maybe not enough to prove it in a court of law" camp. Maybe I've watched too many Dateline episodes, but it's allllllways the ex-boyfriend. Not some guy who was sort-of acquaintances with the ex-boyfriend.
posted by desjardins at 11:45 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


2. If your good friend disappears, and you had nothing to do with it, why wouldn't you try to call her?

I mean, sure, and I agree and share your basic reaction, but (if I'm understanding correctly) the new boyfriend, Don, didn't call her after the disappearance either.

It's not that I don't find that mystifying - I do, but I sort of lump it all together into a bucket marked "I've never had a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend disappear, so I don't know what reaction is normal."
posted by Myca at 11:59 AM on January 6, 2015


My issue with the "why didn't they call?" is that both Don and Adnan didn't call. If it's evidence for one guy who's slept with Hae, it's evidence for the other guy who slept with Hae.

Jay testified because he didn't want to go to jail. He got a sweetheart deal. No time for drugs or burying a woman's body(if he did). He's not a credible witness. And maybe that's because he wanted to save his own ass, or he wanted to avoid snitching on some bigger fish, or he wanted to save his grandma, or whatever.

I feel sorry for him, because he seems to be under the impression that he can regain that credibility. And that he can tell people on the internet they are wrong, and have them shrug their shoulders and go about their lives. But that end game was never on the table. Instead he just fed the flames and gave reddit another week or two of Serial-bait.
posted by politikitty at 12:10 PM on January 6, 2015


I think if I felt that he at all understood that this situation has come about through his own actions, I would have more sympathy for this position. He never tells the same story twice, he picks and chooses which facts he wishes to reveal, remains vague about his reasons for doing so, and then when given the opportunity to open up about all of that he chose to remain silent

All of his inconsistencies were given when he was a teenager, when he had just admitted to Baltimore cops that he was a drug-dealer and helped bury a body, and when he was likely ratting on other drug dealers. He must have been scared out of his mind. SK played a recording of him at the times in tears. If his current story is true, then of course his story at the time was a mess of inconsistencies.

What do you think that he should have done? How do you think this should have played out? I can't begin to presume what it would be like to be a black, drug-dealing teen in nineties Baltimore forced to selectively divulge information to a corrupt and racist police force about drug-dealing confederates, especially when raised in a culture in which snitches get theirs. You think he was in a place to be fully honest and forthcoming with Baltimore cops?

In this scenario, of course he deserves sympathy. A lot of sympthy. He's another victim. If Jay's story is right, Adnan was banking on the fact that Jay was not effectively in a place to come clean. He was banking on the fact that Jay couldn't say very much to the cops without suffering serious repercussions. Adnan was intentionally abusing Jay's inability to be forthcoming with the police.

If Jay's story is right: Jay isn't the one who is responsible for all those lies and inconsistencies. Adnan is.
posted by painquale at 12:11 PM on January 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't find her e-mails professional in the least.

I agree. I've spent some time in and around journalism and almost every journalist I know would say the same. Her persuasion tactics are actually a bit oddly wheedly to me, but she has been working in an unusual milieu for a long time. At the same time, I see the argument that it's gotten many more people interested in what the work of journalism really is about - though I would modify that to say that it's really been people who hang out on the internet, many of whom concluded some time ago that they had little need for journalism. Serial is not that big a phenomenon outside those who spend a lot of time online. I realize that's a big category, but I think it's important, because the basic principles behind a show like this aren't new at all - just unusual for online-only media. And reddit both loves a mystery and hates the unknown.

And those laws and courts found that Jay was an accessory to murder.
Don't let the fact that he served no time for his crime distract from his guilt.


I agree with those who are tiring of seeing this emphasized. We have a justice system. It penalized Jay. It's done. No, he didn't serve time for his conviction as accessory, but that conviction is on his record forever. He lost his right to vote, to serve on juries, to join the military, to gun ownership, and to certain kinds of employment; in Maryland, the state can deny food stamps and other welfare benefits to convicted felons. Even where employment is not expressly prohibited by law, Jay would not pass a background check for the vast majority of entry-level jobs, nor be eligible for many scholarships and loans. He didn't "get off." He wasn't not punished. No, he didn't serve time, but it's concerning that so many people think that means he was not sentenced. You may disagree with the sentence, but being branded a felon for life is not what is meant by "getting off."
posted by Miko at 12:20 PM on January 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'm in the "Jay is shady as hell" camp myself and find it hard to forgive a man for burying a murdered young woman's body and then telling no one about it. But maybe he was coerced, and maybe Adnan really did it, and if so then your explanation makes sense.

This is a great example of what Serial has done for/to Jay. He's got an army of pseudo-intelligent, NPR-parroting, internet sleuthin' human lie detectors casting judgment on who he was at, like, 17 and who he is now. No offense, but all I have to go on is what the internet tells me.


"Jay is shady as hell"


That starting point exists because of Serial.

...find it hard to forgive a man for burying a murdered young woman's body and then telling no one about it.

So you believe that he did that? Because he said so? But he's a liar!?! Oh, but he did tell the cops and a courtroom and an interviewer who didn't ambush him, presumably. But other than than, total silence.

But maybe he was coerced

Because he said so? But he's shady as hell!?! Oh, that's why it's a maybe. So that leaves room for the equal possibility that it was HIS idea. Exhibit "A."

and maybe Adnan really did it

So you believe that Jay buried the body, despite his shady, but you're fuzzy on whether or not Adnan did it. Which leaves only one mind-numbingly simple conclusion. Jay did it. It's the only explanation that fits the parts of his statements we've collectively decided are the truth and lies based on the podcast to which we all listened intently. Because Adnan couldn't have done it. Because he's the protagonist. He's the victim. He's the client.

Adnan has never waivered on his innocence. "Shady" Jay has admitted culpability. Case Closed.

Another one in the books for the Koenig & Co. detective agency. They did a wonderful weaving of enough contradictory threads together so that we, as the audience, may pick and choose which ones we wish to follow.

Seriously, No Offense. Would I lie to you?
posted by SinisterPurpose at 12:32 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


FWIW my saying "Jay is shady as hell" is not the same thing as saying "Jay killed Hae". I have no personal conclusion on whether Adnan committed the murder and I'm disappointed Serial didn't do a better job shining light on the subject. But I stand by thinking that Jay, with the inconsistent testimony and small lies and an admission of drug dealing and an admission of digging the hole for a murdered woman is "shady as hell". I think I would have come to that conclusion with or without the help of Sarah Koenig.

I will admit to being imprecise in my language. I should have said "Jay was shady as hell", referencing Jay at the time of the murder. I don't know or much care about Jay in 2015 other than my opinion it's unwise for him to be talking to the press now. I hope he has the benefit of legal advice.
posted by Nelson at 12:41 PM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thinking that it's a bad thing to be an admitted accessory to murder, or to help bury a body, is not "suburban middle-class morality," whatever that might be. (And they were hanging around malls and Circuit City, already.)
posted by raysmj at 1:14 PM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


SinisterPurpose, you're doing that really crappy rhetorical trick where you take the least charitable reading of someone's comment and use that interpretation to weave out a whole string of damning conclusions.

We know that Jay lied in the police interviews. We know he lied at trial. It's not a leap to guess that he might be lying in this latest interview. Acknowledging that fact is not the same thing as accusing him of the murder.

We also know that he did play at least some part in the aftermath of the murder, as he knew the location of Hae Min Lee's car. We know that he's changed his story multiple times as to the degree he was involved with the hiding of her body. I don't think that it's such a stretch of imagination to assume that he's still downplaying the role of his involvement with the murder.
posted by arcolz at 1:22 PM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also please note: I've been a juror three times, twice on petit juries and once on a grand jury that worked months past its regularly scheduled end date to work with state assistant AGs on a jail investigation. I have a respect for the jury system, and a decent amount of faith in it. But it's mindless to say, Oh, that's all over, the jury's word is always final, especially if you've read anything about myriad tossed-out capital murder convictions or seen "The Thin Blue Line," which will forever be flabbergasting and/or rage-inducing or depressing, depending upon your perspective. What's up with people here today?
posted by raysmj at 1:23 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Thin Blue Line is one of my all-time favorite films. While I wouldn't call the cases similar, I do see some similarities -- two guys who might have done it, might have done it together, one says the other did it, one proclaiming innocence. However, the big difference is that the guy who was actually guilty went on to live a life of crime and kill again, something that Jay, the man who some claim is a cold-blooded strangler, has, uh, managed not to do. But really the big difference, for me, is the effectiveness of TTBL and the ineffectiveness of Serial. Morris researched his ass off and mounted a goddamned defense of an innocent man, even going so far as eliciting a confession from the man who did commit the murder. In comparison, Serial does little more than slice open an old wound and ask us to ponder the nature of the criminal justice system. It's lazy. Well, lazier. Less focused. Serial would probably do well not to be considered alongside TTBL.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:32 PM on January 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


Unless there was going to be some unearthed revelation (which I didn't expect), I did think the point of Serial was to compare the fallacious ideas people have about the criminal justice system from media to an actual case. I was excited they went as far as getting the interest of other agents like the Innocence Project and a credible detective, to show what could be done, but it doesn't sound like most people thought about it as anything more than anything else they reduce into a sports event, pick a side, pick a team, which is so depressing, as it's mostly people with little interaction with the law as anything other than entertainment. Listening to the jury reveal how many of them had close interactions with the law, I think there is a lot people don't get about context of the court case.

Reading the article when he clearly states the bit about Adnan and the body did more to convince me Adnan may be guilty than anything else anywhere so far. Phone calls or lack thereof, word choices, nothing else so bluntly states a side.

The court case was undoubtably screwy. I don't think there's a question there and most things aren't really concerned with actual guilt or innocence as much as technicalities and lines crossed, but as so many people have forced people involved to take sides, it's going to be very interesting to see how this shakes out. I was hoping Serial would get people more interested in really examining cases, other cases and the state of the system, now it seems like people just want to flog the last inch out of the one.
posted by provoliminal at 2:00 PM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I never thought Jay was akin to the actual murderer, David Harris, in "The Thin Blue Line," so I don't get the comparison there.
posted by raysmj at 2:03 PM on January 6, 2015


FWIW my saying "Jay is shady as hell" is not the same thing as saying "Jay killed Hae".

Of course not. I twisted the statement to fit the narrative I wished to project. Kind of like Serial did with its presentation. And it only took a gentle leap of pseudo-logic. Story logic isn't real logic because generally it's based on knowing the motivations of characters. You can make it demonstrable. You can make it feel real. But it isn't. It just isn't.

Adnan's innocence is the "story" of Serial and the entire podcast is structured around that. Serial starts by teaching us to doubt our own senses and faculties by forcing us to question how well we would remember some day some weeks in the past. This also immediately builds empathy with the "protagonist," Adnan, because that's the reason he didn't have an alibi. We could be unjustly jailed too if our memory fails us. That would be awful. Poor Adnan.

I don't think Metafilter, on the whole, would appreciate me pulling back the curtain on each storytelling manipulation in the painstakingly step-by-step process that my all too obsessive brain allows, so I'll stop.

SinisterPurpose, you're doing that really crappy rhetorical trick where you take the least charitable reading of someone's comment and use that interpretation to weave out a whole string of damning conclusions.

No. I'm cherrypicking statements and using something that looks like logic on them. Kind of like Serial did with its presentation.

We know that Jay lied in the police interviews. We know he lied at trial. It's not a leap to guess that he might be lying in this latest interview. Acknowledging that fact is not the same thing as accusing him of the murder.

Do me a favor and imagine everything in CAPS as being said by Christina Gutierrez.

Perhaps. I'd say that none of us "knows' anything in regard to Jay's statements. I've said things that weren't true thinking that they were true. I've obfuscated the ABSOLUTE TRUTH of situations in order to manipulate the outcome on behalf of others. I've made incosistent statements when under DURESS. If only two types of human utterances can occur, those which can be labeled TRUTH (This Absolute Truth, Now. Not that pesky percieved truth.) and those which can be labeled LIE, then most of the time we're all LYING. And, in case I'm being two subtle (which if you think about it, is kind of like lying), I think that means it is QUITE A LEAP to presume present lying based on previous lying. Lying we can't really understand the scope or intent of with the information we've been given.

I don't think that it's such a stretch of imagination to assume that he's still downplaying the role of his involvement with the murder.

That's exactly what it is given that you are basing this supposition on podcast hearsay. It's exactly a stretch of the imagination based on information artfully twisted by a third party.

And in case I've been too subtle, Jay is set up as the direct antogonist by the narrative. Which, I think, is sad and wrong because he's not a character in a WHODUNIT.

I should have said "Jay was shady as hell", referencing Jay at the time of the murder.


Yes, because JAY the interviewee is a wholly separate character from JAY the character on Serial.
posted by SinisterPurpose at 2:34 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


This also immediately builds empathy with the "protagonist," Adnan, because that's the reason he didn't have an alibi. We could be unjustly jailed too if our memory fails us. That would be awful. Poor Adnan.

You could argue that the podcast was doing this, but it seemed the point was more that it's impossible for us to know as observers whether Adnan's fuzzy memories are evidence of his guilt or his innocence. The podcast starts from the assumption that he was given a shitty trial where jurors disregarded basic instructions and made sinister assumptions like: Adnan didn't testify, which is so shady, he's probably guilty. And that a casual listener might make the assumption: Adnan didn't remember, so he's probably lying, so shady. And these kinds of leaps of emotional/social logic are useless, whether he's guilty or not. If Jay was demonized, I think it was a byproduct of dismantling the state's shoddy, hacked together case-- and I definitely think it could have been handled more delicately, but the state was hugely in error.

I agree that the consequences for Jay right now are harrowing and perhaps SK and crew would not have moved forward with this project if they thought it would explode (and seduce reddit) as much as it has. (Maybe they would have.) But ultimately, as a listener, the podcast felt it was less about exonerating Adnan and more examining how narratives and assumptions shape a person's understanding of what happened in a criminal case, and how easy it is to lead people in the absence of any real evidence. Because this is a case where the standard of reasonable doubt was probably not reached, it lends itself to that kind of examination. If you think that is immoral in itself while the actors are still alive, fine, but as a bit of a bleeding-heart I noticed many times that Koenig pulled back or dialed the narrative back from being a "Free Adnan" campaign. I guess people are cynical about that and think she was faking it, not sure.

I think the real-time nature of the podcast maybe caused it to lean too far toward Adnan, because she is reporting her reporting, and she is naturally in reaction to the facts of a case which already happened, and which she knows much more about than she can fit into each episode. Adnan was convicted. We are reacting to that. But people say she was "charmed" by Adnan-- she was trying to build rapport with him, imo, and admits as much in interviews. She collaborated with the Innocence Project-- but there are legitimate question (e.g., physical evidence) which reopening the case could answer. There are a lot of reasons "why Koenig is a shill" that seem to be not as obvious as people think.

But it's shitty to say that the podcast is full of false narratives and bad faith assumptions and then when people call out your own, act like it was performance art. All you are conveying is that narrative is impossible to escape, not that the project of Serial was to disseminate the meme of Adnan's unassailable innocence.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:59 PM on January 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


What do you think that he should have done? How do you think this should have played out?

My post above wasn't pondering anything he could have done different then, as what could he possibly do now that would get me (and I assume a lot of other listeners) more on his side. You say that "All of his inconsistencies were given when he was a teenager" but that's not true - he's introduced more of them even in this new interview, and for me at least he hasn't done so in a way that makes his new timeline more believable than any of his previous ones. As I said, some of his new changes are excusable by how much time has past, but then he moves the burial time by several hours, including a phone call that I believe isn't accounted for in the records, and relocates things to his Grandmother's house - it just doesn't feel to me like "ok, yes, I was lying before but here's the real deal," it feels more like doubling down on the previous lies.

I do feel for the guy's situation. I would be happy to fully believe him, but he makes it very hard to do that with his caginess and paranoia and never the same story twice.
posted by dnash at 3:16 PM on January 6, 2015


The point of Serial was never "If Adnan didn't do it who did?". I had thought the point (as stated more eloquently above) was given the evidence available in the state's case it is impossible to know if Adnan is guilty or not, and in the legal system he was tried in that alone means he should not have been convicted. If the state had a better case against him then they should have brought that evidence to trial.

All this back and forth about wether Adnan being innocent makes Jay guilty or vice versa, so which one them is the more aggrieved party that we should feel really sorry for is kinda meaningless.
posted by arha at 5:37 PM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


it feels more like doubling down on the previous lies.

If that were the case I would expect him to be repeating his previous lies.

the podcast felt it was less about exonerating Adnan and more examining how narratives and assumptions shape a person's understanding of what happened in a criminal case, and how easy it is to lead people in the absence of any real evidence

It is my belief that a podcast structured with those goals in mind would have told this story in a very different tone and with a very different sequence.
posted by Miko at 5:39 PM on January 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Sarah Koenig herself doesn't even put that hifalutin a frame on it. From Episode 6, which I just reread:
Once, about six months after we’d begun our phone calls, Adnan asked me, a little nervously, what’s your interest in this case, really? Why are you doing this? And so I explained all the interesting stuff I’d read, and the people I’d talked to blah, blah, blah. But I also told him really what really hooked me most, was him. Just trying to figure out, who is this person who says he didn’t kill this girl but is serving a life sentence for killing this girl.

Sarah Koenig
My interest in it honestly has been you, like you’re a really nice guy. Like I like talking to you, you know, so then it’s kind of like this question of well, what does that mean? You know.
posted by Miko at 6:40 PM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


stoneandstar articulated my takeaway from the podcast pretty well.

But I came away thinking Adnan is almost certainly guilty (in the other thread I think I said "definitely guilty"), and I didn't feel like that was my conclusion in spite of Koenig's reporting, but as a result of the series as a whole, so.

I'd prefer to think that neither Jay nor Adnan is guilty of the actual murder. I think that's a natural result of the sense of "getting to know" people, through their own words or the perspectives of others, and that alone seems like a not-bad outcome of the reporting. Not that we want to be manipulated nor to downplay the atrocities that people are capable of. But the way the humanity of Adnan and Jay, both, was played on Serial against the question of how and when we can really "know" another person--I thought that was really well done and valuable.
posted by torticat at 6:47 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is why I enjoy NippleGrip's reddit posts. Filling a vacuum, he acts as Jay's advocate, countering Rabia's advocacy.

This guy--I don't know, I read a couple posts and then stopped because some of his comments about women and about Hae in particular are really gross. Not sure he needs traffic sent his way.
posted by torticat at 6:50 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is definitely true. He is basically a clown. Although, does sending traffic to his comments benefit him in some way?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:27 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's fun to beat up on Reddit, but I think their obsessive detective work has revealed some serious flaws in Serial's construction. I can't imagine a good justification for spending so much time on the pay phone at the Best Buy when it was in the defense's opening statement but nothing on (for instance) Adnan's fingerprints being found on floral paper in the car, or Hae describing Adnan as "possessive" in direct contradiction of Koenig's reporting on the subject. It seems pretty clear to me in retrospect that the purpose of the podcast was always to exonerate Adnan, not to examine the facts in anything like an objective or systematic way.
posted by gerryblog at 9:55 PM on January 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm sure The View From LL2 blog has come up in the Serial threads before, but Susan Simpson's newest post gets really comprehensive in mapping the metamorphosis of Jay's various accounts. No shocker that it's mostly explained by police steering his story the whole way either directly or inadvertently through their questioning techniques, but she is great at incorporating the constant flood of new info that has continued surfacing.

I was most surprised by the bit where she pointed out that Jay testified in the first trial that his most truthful account was from Apr 13; one in which he had claimed Adnan committed the murder in Patapsco State Park.?.?.
posted by p3t3 at 10:39 PM on January 6, 2015


Although, does sending traffic to his comments benefit him in some way?

Nah, not really, that was just me being pompous. :)

But those comments left such a bad taste in my mouth, partly the stuff about Hae and partly the clowning that feels like he really DOES see the whole thing as entertainment, I just wanted to register disagreement that his posts are worth seeking out.
posted by torticat at 10:55 PM on January 6, 2015


I've long despised reddit but, surprisingly, have been more impressed with it in the Serial threads (probably because most are heavily moderated). The one gerryblog linked, for instance, is quite good. They dig up a lot of useful ancillary material and explore hanging questions in great detail. The analysis is one thing, though, the witch hunt aspect quite another.
posted by Miko at 5:47 AM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, with reddit it does depend on where you go. I can at least visit Serial and Night Vale over there without feeling like I'm going to come down with hate cooties.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:15 AM on January 7, 2015


My interest in it honestly has been you, like you’re a really nice guy. Like I like talking to you, you know, so then it’s kind of like this question of well, what does that mean? You know.

Miko, imo this still addresses the same questions-- what can we really know just by our gut, without hard or physical evidence? Not much... (and thus, wtf was Adnan's trial all about).

You're entitled to your belief of course, but that Koenig likes Adnan is not necessarily evidence that she is out to prove his innocence, just that it is human nature to pick a side and decide who is likable and who is not and therefore who committed murder, which is a highly erroneous way to approach the question. The podcast was not particularly hard headed but I thought it was reasonably cynical, it wasn't just Innocence Project 24/7.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:42 AM on January 7, 2015


imo this still addresses the same questions

I think you have to lay a lot of interpretation on it in order to get to addressing the same questions. Koenig does not discuss this even at the level you are discussing it; not really ever. She lacks the critical self-awareness to enlarge the frame enough to take in the view you are bringing to it.

I would agree with you more if she had devoted much more time to discussing this overtly. You may be able to read that between the lines but (a) it's an interpretation, not in the text, which means that (b) the door is wide open for people to take away other readings. She pursues each narrow subquestion about the facts of the case doggedly as if an answer can be discovered, and yet spends very little time on the larger picture that the justice system doesn't concern itself much with those questions and that gaining a conviction isn't about a perfectly solved case, nor does it rely on entirely public information.

If these are her overarching questions or points, she simply never deals with them head-on; not in the introductory episode, not in the conclusion, and not anywhere in the analysis in between. I think it came very far short of actually clearly making the kind of statement you take away from it. At the end, what she's still puzzling over is whether he did it. Which, if your interpretation is correct, would be beside the point.
posted by Miko at 11:28 AM on January 7, 2015 [2 favorites]




Gotta hand it to Intercept for getting onto people's radar.
posted by Miko at 12:18 PM on January 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, that was a fascinating interview. It'll be interesting to see what Reddit's dermestid-beetle-like scouring will do with it.
posted by Miko at 12:30 PM on January 7, 2015


I'm not sure fascinating is the way I'd describe it. Maybe "self-serving", and/or "hit piece".

I'm sure others are going to tear it apart in a lot more detail, but the interviewer seems like they have very little familiarity with the case (and the specific problems that have been pointed out), and basically lets Urick make any claim he wants without really questioning any of it.
posted by tocts at 12:38 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Urick does not come across as a very strong advocate for the state's case here. Which makes sense -- the case is 15 years old, he's not going to remember every detail as specifically as those who have been devouring transcripts in the past couple of weeks. The one part of his statements that I felt was strong was his discounting of various alibis by noting that the defense did not bring them up at trial. This is either a sign of gross incompetence on CG's part or, as spun by Urick, it's because those theories would have been easily shot down and would have made the defense's case weaker. Of course, whichever one of those it is is to be debated, since his comments provide absolutely no new perspective, evidence, or clarity. Those of us interested in the case are probably going to have to admit that we're stuck chasing our tails until some new honest to goodness evidence (like the DNA from the PERK kit) comes to the table.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:46 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Urick's dismissive tone is off-putting at best. And saying the case based on the cell phone records and Jay's testimony was enough to prove Adnan guilty? I'd like to see him debate Susan Simpson from The View from LL2 blog.

I may be prejudiced against Urick because I researched him when he was first mentioned on the podcast and he has a shitty website that has links to The Drudge Report and Fox News.
posted by readery at 1:04 PM on January 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


He may be an asshole but I did find his perspective fascinating because, at the very least, it's so different tonally from Serial. It provides exactly the kind of perspective and tone that was entirely missing from Serial and demonstrates the kind of content other journalists would probably have spent more time on and more effort working to include.
posted by Miko at 2:09 PM on January 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


And saying the case based on the cell phone records and Jay's testimony was enough to prove Adnan guilty?

He never actually said it proved Adnan guilty. He said the records and Jay's testimony made it "a very strong case."
posted by Miko at 2:13 PM on January 7, 2015


She lacks the critical self-awareness to enlarge the frame enough to take in the view you are bringing to it.

I strongly disagree with this. The podcast isn't hardcore in its analysis of the legal landscape, but the one thing it does have in spades is critical self-reflection about this precise subject. She is occasionally breezy in tone but the entire podcast to me was a neverending wheel of this type of self-reflection.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:33 PM on January 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


I really see it differently and I think my interpretation is valid. She's plenty self-critical, but not in this way. She's focused on narrower elements than what you're arguing.
posted by Miko at 2:34 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


the interviewer seems like they have very little familiarity with the case (and the specific problems that have been pointed out), and basically lets Urick make any claim he wants without really questioning any of it.

The reporter really seems like an opportunistic hack overall. I am a little annoyed that Koenig is being lambasted for bringing Serial into the world (by those who know better, I guess), but we're all showing up to the Intercept and reddit circus anyhow.

I would agree with you more if she had devoted much more time to discussing this overtly.

The main thing I appreciated about the podcast was the nuance of it. I think it deliberately encouraged reading between the lines. The podcast could have been the LL2 blog, or something even more incisive--which it seems like many critics would have preferred--but it wasn't, and I thought it was something interesting and unique. Koenig ends still puzzling about whodunnit because that was the texture of the podcast: in the absence of clear evidence and a good case, is it even possible to convince ourselves one way or another, or will there always be many distinct and mutually contradictory compelling hypotheses? (This is addressed explicitly.) If such a large portion of the podcast is spent building one sandcastle, just to knock it over and build a new one, and to do it again and again and document the sandcastling process-- maybe the podcast is about sandcastles after all.

I think that if the podcast had stayed small, maybe this would seem like a more valid approach. "Podcast" is so weird and fraught anyway-- it's supposed to be a casual approach to broadcasting, but obviously when it's produced by TAL and millions of people glom onto it it becomes less than a casual conversation over beers and a microphone.

Anyway, I'm done beating a dead horse; time to go gobble the next interview.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:52 PM on January 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also, for those who are not cool with Koenig's reporting here and generally agree with the conviction and Urick and the Intercept approach to the case, I am genuinely curious what you think about Deirdre Enright and the Innocence Project and the various interviewees within the podcast who attest that the facts of the case are unusual and deserve further examination-- do they just seem like they're living in the clouds? (Honest question, I haven't heard much dialog with those opinions.)
posted by stoneandstar at 2:58 PM on January 7, 2015


What's remarkable about Vargas-Cooper and Silverstein's interview with Urick is the preamble, the stuff before the interview. It's a straight-up indictment of Koenig's reporting in Serial, an op/ed piece from The Intercept that doesn't really have anything to do with the interview except to frame the hell out of it. I don't have a problem with The Intercept's reporters expressing an opinion, but it's weird to have it glued this way to an interview with the prosecutor.

the interviewer seems like they have very little familiarity with the case

Vargas-Cooper also reported the three part interview with Jay, I think it would be a mistake to say she "has very little familiarity" with the case or with Serial. I agree the Urick interview is pretty one-sided, much like the interviews with Jay were.

The reporters aren't shy about expressing their opinion, either in the op/ed preamble or on Twitter. Vargas-Cooper has a very direct presence on Twitter: "Oh also if you were wondering what my views are on Serial. I think the justice system fucks up a lot. But not with the conviction of Syed." Her co-reporter Silverstein is even more direct: "Adnan Syed murdered Hae Min Lee. To state the obvious."
posted by Nelson at 3:00 PM on January 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think it would be a mistake to say she "has very little familiarity"

I really don't think it is. I'm well aware that this is the same outfit that published Jay's interviews. Both interviews have felt significantly more like PR pieces than investigative journalism. In this latest one, Urick leaves all sorts of things hanging out there that anyone who was paying any attention would have dug deeper into. Instead, the interviewer pretty much takes his word for it every time he says not to pay attention to something, and throws out another softball.

Based on the interviews, they seem like they have an enormous axe to grind against NPR and/or Koenig, and very little interest in really examining the case.
posted by tocts at 3:18 PM on January 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


maybe the podcast is about sandcastles after all.

It's a very poetic reading. Had it been less fuzzy and overly casual in general, I wouldn't have minded a podcast about sandcastles except that, in fact, this one only knocked down some sandcastles, not everyone's sandcastles. And it was very careful to step softly around any and all of Adnan's sandcastles.

I think that if the podcast had stayed small

There's no way it was ever going to be small. I know they didn't predict this degree of internet uptake, but TAL is on 500 stations. I have always found the "gee whiz all the listeners!" a naive response on their part.

do they just seem like they're living in the clouds?

I think they are doing their jobs, which are functionally and ethically distinct from the jobs of journalists.

it's weird to have it glued this way to an interview with the prosecutor.

I agree - I think this is signalling a new "brash" positioning for the Intercept. I hate mixing editorializing with news content. It's screedy.

Not sure I like the coattailing aspect, but they've found a vein (that any other outlet could have found but didn't) and are damn well going to mine it. Hey, yay 19th-century-style journalism war.
posted by Miko at 3:21 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


they've found a vein (that any other outlet could have found but didn't)

I think that's being awfully charitable. The Intercept hasn't tracked down a heretofore unheard of witness, or uncovered new evidence. Other journalists knew of Jay and Urick, and tried to interview them, and neither subject was interested in speaking with them.

The only thing The Intercept appears to have "found" is an ability to get Jay and Urick to speak to them, which seems to happily coincide with them not asking any difficult questions. Funny how that works, huh.
posted by tocts at 3:30 PM on January 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


The Intercept hasn't tracked down a heretofore unheard of witness, or uncovered new evidence.

I don't think "a vein" is something that has to meet these criteria you're laying out. They're mining an angle and presenting a set of interviewees nobody else landed. I'm not praising it nor am I calling it worthwhile journalism. It's just what they're doing. They're working a particular vein.
posted by Miko at 3:40 PM on January 7, 2015


I don't think "a vein" is something that has to meet these criteria you're laying out.

I'm not objecting to the notion that it is a "vein". I'm objecting to the notion that it's a vein that other journalists somehow missed (as opposed to, a vein that is quite obvious, but which other journalists identified as deeply unethical).
posted by tocts at 4:07 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, for those who are not cool with Koenig's reporting here and generally agree with the conviction and Urick and the Intercept approach to the case, I am genuinely curious what you think about Deirdre Enright and the Innocence Project and the various interviewees within the podcast who attest that the facts of the case are unusual and deserve further examination-- do they just seem like they're living in the clouds?

Enright told Koenig that they do sometimes discover that the person who's case they took on really is guilty.
"Sometimes we start down the road and very quickly we talk to four witnesses, all of whom say 'no, it was absolutely him,' they have no reason to lie. We quickly realize, okay, we’re being had here. We are in the weeds about a lot of things for a long time until we figured it out."
So it's interesting that the IP is investigating, but not a slam dunk in Adnan's favor. Enright and her students are still "in the weeds", so there's not much to say about the merits of their investigation until we get to see what they present to the court--if they even get that far. As Koenig said, "Of course, after looking everything over, Deirdre and her team might well decide that maybe Adnan is guilty. In which case, they would quietly pack up the files and just keep their mouths shut." We'll see, I guess.

And this is one of my minor peeve's with Serial. The meat and potatoes of this whole thing is what the UVa team is doing, but they were only in a couple of episodes. I suppose that couldn't be helped given the timeline of the show. But an excellent season of Serial would be to follow Enright and her students take on a case and then follow it to its conclusion--whatever that may be. The Innocence Project is such a fascinating organization and I absolutely love Enright's energy.
posted by riruro at 5:52 PM on January 7, 2015


I'm objecting to the notion that it's a vein that other journalists somehow missed (as opposed to, a vein that is quite obvious, but which other journalists identified as deeply unethical).

I don't think they missed it, they just didn't exploit it. There's no reason it would have been "deeply unethical" just to interview these people. Absolutely not. What might be unethical would be securing an interview by guaranteeing a certain kind of portrayal, and though that may have been what happened with this coverage, I don't see how you can know with certainty that such a guarantee was in place pre-interview. I agree that it's a strong possibility, but in asserting that, you'd be speculating.

My central point is that there is something in the stories of other players that the series itself underreported, for various reasons, some within and some without their control. If some other enterprising journalists want to go after those stories, it's within their power and right to do so. Whether or not that can be done ethically is a separate question - I am not aware, for instance, of other journalists who have requested serious interviews with these people and been turned down. Perhaps you know of some. Sources are also entitled to choose whom they'll talk to. Finally, there simply are some outlets that don't really bother with being ethical or aim for an objective standard, hence my 19th century newspaper-war content. This outlet found an angle no one was exploiting - that was my point - and they sure are getting eyeballs. It may not be great journalism, and there may be good reasons others haven't gone there, but it's good business and clearly they want to carve this out as a niche.
posted by Miko at 6:45 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


This part from the prosecutor, directly addressing the "but cellphones don't always go to the nearest tower!" criticism, seems very sharp:

She starts off noting that there are recent attacks on the use of cellphone evidence but does not inform the listener that the technology used today is different from that in use at the time of the trial, and most of the attacks today are due to that difference.

Today’s towers have switching technology such that if all the cells on a tower are in use it can switch the call to a different tower, sometimes one quite a distance away. Thus, today, it may not be accurate to state that because a call goes through a particular tower it has to be in physical proximity to that tower, thus fixing the phone user in a geographical location...

The second most common type of attack today is when the state calls a police officer to testify from cellphone records as to a person’s physical location, asking to have him qualified as an expert so he can so testify, and the court accepts the officer as an expert. Courts are starting to state that police officers lack the necessary expertise to testify that way...

Neither of those two criticisms are relevant to what we did. It was an earlier technology that only operated when a cellphone was in physical proximity to the tower. And we had a true ‘expert,’ an engineer from AT&T whose area of expertise was cellphone technology and cell towers and who was fully conversant with the technology, the capabilities of that technology, its operation, and what the records revealed.

As I said, it is disingenuous of Koenig to cite those criticisms of current cellphone technology and its use as courtroom evidence to try and imply that what we did was doubtful.

posted by mediareport at 9:08 PM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think this is signalling a new "brash" positioning for the Intercept.

Vargas-Cooper and Silverstein are clearly making a decision to go "brash" on Twitter. I find myself half sympathetic to the folks reaching for the vapors over the "inappropriate" tone of their tweets, and half laughing at the perhaps-overly-confident way the two reporters are dealing with trolls and critics. They'll go too far at some point and realize they can't really sustain dialing everything up so strongly in the long run, but we can at least enjoy the show while it lasts.
posted by mediareport at 6:10 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Serial's response to The Intercept (via twitter)
posted by readery at 12:10 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


This part from the prosecutor, directly addressing the "but cellphones don't always go to the nearest tower!" criticism, seems very sharp:

That part was interesting, but more as sort of a factoid about changing cell technology. Because Koenig and her peeps DID treat the cell record as if it had something useful to say, and they confirmed that the science as discussed at the time was good. I thought the whole part about recent news stories about this stuff being excluded from trials was more to address an objection that would likely come up in the minds of listeners.

It's interesting that Urick says:
Now the thing about the cellphone records [is that they] corroborate Jay, his statements that he got a call around 2:45 p.m. or around that time from Adnan to come pick him up. (he's standing by the idea that Hae had been killed before that time, which is fairly implausible) ...but Serial reported that the cell record started matching up with Jay's story around 6pm. Urick claims that Koenig undercut the intrinsic value of the cell record, when actually Serial validated that but questioned how the prosecution used it.

Serial's response to The Intercept (via twitter)

Yeah I don't believe for one second Urick's claim that they never reached out to him until a week before the podcast was over.
posted by torticat at 2:13 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just listened to the Fresh Air SK did right before Christmas. It is interesting hearing her talk about her reporting.
posted by Miko at 3:44 PM on January 8, 2015


It seems to me Urick's basic reason for prosecuting Syed was flawed. 'The cell tower information in conjunction with Jay Wilds' testimony.' Yet Jay Wilds' testimony was rarely the same twice; even in the latest interview it changes again. Of course, he might have told the truth one of those times, but who's to know? Then the cell tower evidence, of course the first point is that it only proves that Adnan Syed's phone was pinging whichever tower - and I definitely know people who have gone through and made calls on other people's phones ('hey, can I borrow your phone for a sec? Mine's out of battery,' 'Sure.' '(hilarity ensues)). Secondly it does not prove he was in a definite place, only an area.

Whether or not Adnan Syed killed Hae Min Lee, the case really seems weak. But Uric has a vested interest in the case not being overturned, doesn't he?

I'll put my 'faith' in the judgement of Deidre Enright and her students.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:35 AM on January 9, 2015


Exclusive: Prosecutor in ‘Serial’ Case Goes on the Record

More from The Intercept
posted by chavenet at 5:11 AM on January 9, 2015


While I appreciate the opportunity to hear from voices that were vital to the case, but not included in the Serial podcast, I'm finding the framing of these interviews obnoxious and the interviews themselves come off more like P.R. pieces rather than journalism.

The preface to these interviews are essentially hatchet jobs, coming off as, "Serial was terrible and flawed because the people who agreed to be interviewed by us, but not by Sarah Koenig, say so". The interviews allow the subjects to pontificate and state their version of events, which is fine, but they are never challenged or asked anything resembling hard-hitting, tough questions. I can see why Jay and Urick agreed to talk to The Intercept rather than Koenig; they were given a favorable, sympathetic platform through a series of softball questions. If The Intercept's criticism of Serial is that Koenig went into the project inherently biased and with an agenda, you can make the exact same claim about The Intercept's work on the subject, it just happens they are favoring a different viewpoint.
posted by The Gooch at 7:28 AM on January 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yeah, and I'd guess that The Intercept is favoring the differing viewpoint explicitly for the purpose of scoring the interviews.
posted by something something at 8:04 AM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


An interview with Susan Simpson of The View from LL2 about the use of geospatial analysis.
posted by readery at 5:46 AM on January 10, 2015


There's a bit of a squabble between the journalists and their editors at The Intercept. 'The Intercept' Reporters: Our 'Serial' Article Is "Being Held Hostage". Part 2 of the Urick interview is being delayed: "My outlet decided to consult with a number of other editors to see how they felt. Ate up time.". There's also a set of small corrections on the first Urick interview, about which Silverstein was quite snarky. It's all pretty meaningless but reading the whining tweets from the reporters makes me appreciate quiet professionalism a little more.
posted by Nelson at 7:35 AM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh no! Time is being eaten up before your exclusive content is released!
posted by Going To Maine at 8:28 AM on January 10, 2015


I didn't comb through for all of the corrections, but in the Urick interview I'm glad they clarified that Urick was saying they didn't "show up at my office." It seemed obvious he was threading the needle somehow in the original edition.
posted by rhizome at 11:05 AM on January 10, 2015


reading the whining tweets from the reporters makes me appreciate quiet professionalism a little more.

Uh, yeah. They come across as total babies!

I wonder what's holding up the Intercept editors, though. Wonder if it has to do with the overwhelmingly negative response on the part of readers (judging by comments) to part 1.
posted by torticat at 3:47 PM on January 10, 2015


Natasha VC has Tweeted it up a notch
If you think that Adnan has been railroaded then there are two victims. And you guys don't really seem to care about the MURDERED one

All you twitter media feminists who are defending SK so aggressively an calling me a 'gossip girl' why don't you honor a fallen sister
That's some pretty striking language from someone reporting on Adnan's case. I'm all for Twitter being an informal place for journalists to share thoughts but.. wow.
posted by Nelson at 4:43 PM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've largely been in the "I liked Serial but had some issues with it; I kind of think Adnan probably did it," camp, but geeze, those two Intercept writers are really horrible, aren't they?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:06 PM on January 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Intercept’s ‘Serial’ Trolling Is Just Mind-Boggling –Martin Austermuhle, a journalist.
Vargas-Cooper and Silverstein seem to take being adversarial as its own virtue — truth and evidence don’t really matter, as long as what you’re saying cuts against the grain.
posted by Nelson at 6:56 AM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Based on their behavior over the past several days, it appears obvious we've all been had. Vargas-Cooper and Silverstein don't appear to have ever had any real intention of adding additional light to this story through extensive journalistic work, but seem more interested in gaining personal fame and notoriety by glomming onto the popular cultural touchstone of the moment and trolling it as hard as possible.
posted by The Gooch at 11:33 AM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]




That Silman piece does a good job summarizing where my head is at the moment:
While “Serial” was ostensibly evenhanded, it’s pretty widely viewed as a pro-Adnan narrative. ..Vargas-Cooper and Silverstein are doing good work, to be sure. Jay’s absence left a gaping hole in “Serial’s” narrative, and Jay absolutely deserves to be heard on his own terms. Vargas-Cooper has arguments as to whether a Jay-less “Serial” should even have gone to air at all, telling the Observer’s Ken Kurson: “If I were to come to you at the Observer and say I want to write about a case and I don’t have the star witness, I don’t have the victim’s family, I don’t have the detectives, I don’t think you would run it, you know.” (FWIW, Kurson said he would have). If there’s a false innocence narrative springing up around Adnan based on biased reporting, then it’s the duty of journalists to uncover that. ...Yet, somehow, the Intercept’s work doesn’t just feel like a professional attempt to fact-check issues and gather new information about a high-profile story
The whole thing needed counter-reporting to add missing context, but this isn't it. It's not good enough and it's poorly motivated, as evidenced by the editor's cold feet and the reporter's immature behavior. Unfortunately, it's the contemporary version of a 19th century newspaper war - aiming for eyeballs, aiming to start something, not in the public interest.
posted by Miko at 7:22 PM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I agree Miko, that paragraph sums up my feelings pretty well. As flawed as Koenig's reporting is, the attack puppies yipping at her heels fail to illuminate. And let's recap: we have a podcast looking at a 15 year old murder case that is not particularly newsworthy. Then we have a blog with some small-fry reporters sniping at the podcast. The blog's editors aren't even publishing the reporting and the reporters are complaining about it on Twitter while also tweeting insults at their readership. And here we are on a web forum discussing the whole soap opera.

It ain't exactly Pulitzer material, is it?
posted by Nelson at 7:53 PM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


It ain't exactly Pulitzer material, is it?

While I'd agree that the story of Hae-Min Lee's death wasn't necessarily big news (strictly human interest), it has retroactively become something of one thanks to Serial's unprecedented success - something that is itself quite newsworthy. Similarly, the Intercept is a blog that's best (only?) known for having continued to break more informatin from the Snowden leaks. The story might be tawdry, small new media heavy, and a soap opera, but I'd say none of the players are that insignificant. Honestly, I'd say that the Intercept's handling of this whole thing damages their credibility.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:04 PM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Absolutely - if anything, I credit the editor for taking a step back to re-evaluate, because this approach is not doing them any favors.
posted by Miko at 7:06 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I disliked Serial. I listened to all but the final episode, maybe it redeemed itself but I doubt it.

I felt from the very beginning that the reporting was shoddy, and was basically sub-Dateline level crime reportage. There was so much that was unclear, and the reporter was either not interested or not capable of establishing basic facts in the listener's mind to build a cohesive story.

People's lives are literally in the balance (a possibly innocent man in jail, a possibly guilty man out of jail) and it seemed to me that the This American Life style reportage was just not appropriate. I can definitely see the appeal of two n00bs on the trail of a crime, but it was off-putting to me. Dateline is pretty odious for a lot of reasons, but they actually do a lot of real investigating and at least take the subject very seriously.

I guess what bothered me the most is that I read a ton of crime (fiction and non fiction) and suddenly this amateur production becomes the talk of the town. I think it's akin to erotica readers dealing with the rise of "50 Shades of Gray" or something.
posted by cell divide at 9:36 AM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Dateline is pretty odious for a lot of reasons, but they actually do a lot of real investigating and at least take the subject very seriously.

Why do you think Serial wasn't doing real investigating, or didn't take the subject seriously?
posted by Going To Maine at 9:56 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Please elaborate, I am very interested.
posted by bq at 10:56 AM on January 12, 2015


There are a lot of criticisms to choose from; plenty have been made in this thread. Good investigative journalism involves getting witnesses and potential interviewees to trust the reporter and open up. Everything hinged on Jay, and SK practically went out of her way to alienate him and treat him as an enemy by ambushing him at his home, where he thought he was safe from his past life. So he clammed up. And then SK broadcast her material to make Jay this big mystery and possible culprit. Making the Jay episode number 8, and having him be the audience's tacit prime suspect #1 for almost two months without addressing his character and story and possible innocence, was egregiously irresponsible and unethical. I think she only did it because she fucked up and lost his voice. Maybe they took the subject seriously, but they sure were incompetent.
posted by painquale at 12:40 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


And of course the guys on "Dateline" are completely open with viewers about how they approached people, who they go to talk and did not and all the hows and whys. Also, SK suggests that the reason she approached Jay the way she did first was that she thought it would be best to talk to him face to face first. And she suggests that Serial producer Julie Syder thought his saying that Adnan was guilty made a strong impression in person.

Julie Snyder: Even just hearing him so forcefully deny, you know? And so forcefully say “I know he did it.” You know, you’re face to face, he’s right there, he’s a person. He’s saying it. He seems like he really means it. This is not pleasant for him to talk about. And so, it sounds believable.

Sarah Koenig: It does, I totally saw the appeal of him, as like a person and a friend and a witness.


This is why I'm curious as to statements from people, now including you, and favorites of their comments to the effect that Jay was painted as the Real or Other Prime Suspect. I'm checking the transcript now, and only Cristina Gutierrez directly (or even remotely clearly) suggests that, during the trial. SK never does. Even the one guy she interviews who says thinks Jay was probably *more* involved than he let on listed one alternative as that Jay was protecting someone else, just not Adnan, as well as himself (for, I was thinking, maybe being a more closely involved accessory, not necessarily the prime suspect).

Go back and read the transcript of Episode 8 here.
posted by raysmj at 1:34 PM on January 12, 2015


Why do you think Serial wasn't doing real investigating, or didn't take the subject seriously?

I would say #1 is that Sara Koenig, who has a great radio voice and personality (in my opinion) has almost no experience in crime reporting. While the This American Life style of reporting is great for personal histories, and other sort of stuff, it really falls on its face when confronted with investigating a murder. Some of it may have been good radio, but it wasn't good reporting. I think if they took it seriously a show called Serial would use a real crime reporter with a lot of experience in the field.
posted by cell divide at 2:07 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the comment, but can you go deeper (tho' I suppose Palinquale did). What would you want to see them cover that they didn't? What would a crime reporter have covered? I certainly don't buy the notion that TAL didn't want to take this thing seriously, given the amount of time and effort they expended on it.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:10 PM on January 12, 2015


I didn't feel like the case was presented in a clear way. The chapters were not broken up distinctly enough to give them shape and form. The narrative build was mostly flat, and not suited towards crime storytelling. There was too much emphasis on the reporter's journey, and not enough on any character not named Adnan. If you read true crime, there are ways to introduce the characters, give away some of the evidence, and hold certain stuff back for dramatic effect. Again, Dateline for all of its issues is probably the best pop-culture example.

Even more than that, experienced crime reporters know how to handle witnesses, how to get prosecutors to comment, how to approach all of the different machinery involved in the justice system... what elements of the court transcripts play best for an audience, etc. That kind of experience seems really valuable to me to accurately telling a true-crime story.

The style used seemed to me to be "I'm learning about this sort of reporting and this case along with you, the listener". I think that's cool for some genres, just not for a murder.
posted by cell divide at 2:17 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is why I'm curious as to statements from people, now including you, and favorites of their comments to the effect that Jay was painted as the Real or Other Prime Suspect.

He got painted as the Other Prime Suspect because of SK's pointed silence. She never bothered to deny that he was the Other Prime Suspect when for the listeners, he was the only other possible suspect they could know about. If you say that Adnan might not have done it, then the immediate question to come to mind is: Who Did? (That's what Jay asked them when they came to the door. That's what everyone else would want to know.) To bring up Adnan's possible innocence and then ignore the other people the audience might finger (Mr. S. was always a red herring) is irresponsible.

SK must have known what sort of rumours would fly. She must have known that Jay would look terrible to the audience. She could have fixed this. Instead she went weeks on end without giving Jay any sort of defense; she spent all that time on Adnan, building up his character. The predominant narrative right now is that Jay is a shady guy who can't be trusted; I can't help but think that public sentiment would be different if episode 8 had been aired second or third.

It might be different for listeners who binged the whole series at once. But while it was being released, everyone wanted to know who Jay was. We wanted to know about his involvement. Instead, SK ignored the state's star witness and the one person who indubitably knows what went down, and she gave us episodes like Route Talk. She gave us inconsequential details at a time when rumours and speculation were flying about this other mystery figure. It was both bad storytelling and it almost certainly harmed Jay and his family.
posted by painquale at 3:20 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can't help but think public sentiment about Jay would be different if he hadn't admitted to helping bury a murdered young woman.

I agree that Koenig's reporting about Jay is frustrating in how limited it is, but I suspect her hands were tied by his very sensible desire not to talk about the case combined with concern about libel. I go back and forth on whether it was ethical to report on the story given she couldn't present Jay's side. It sure made the story weaker; Jay is the absolute center of the case, arguably more-so than Adnan.
posted by Nelson at 3:27 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, public sentiment was going to be against him no matter what, I agree. But even given his desire not to speak about the case (partly due to SK's aggressiveness) and even given her inability to openly speculate about other possible murderers, she certainly could have done a better job giving him a fair shake. Even if it just involved swapping episodes 3 and 8. Or if we got an episode about what it means to take a plea bargain, or an episode about the drug scene in Baltimore at the time. Something to contextualize Jay's life.

It would have interfered with her narrative, but I don't think that's much of a defense.
posted by painquale at 3:32 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm checking the transcript now, and only Cristina Gutierrez directly (or even remotely clearly) suggests that, during the trial.

It's not explicit. It's in the framing, the imbalance, the delay in reporting on Jay, the introductions of Jay and Adnan, the language used about each and what was unsaid.

What would you want to see them cover that they didn't? What would a crime reporter have covered?

A lot more legal structure, for one thing. Much of what was missing had to do with what the requirements are for the various charges, the accessory charge, a guilty verdict, jury procedures, etc. Also, a lot more context - statistics, comparatives, similar cases where an accessory charge was accepted in exchange for state's witness and how common that is. This story was retold with such a tight focus that it excludes the dirt-common nature of the proceedings. Finally, I might just suggest news judgment. SK, for all her good qualities, really doesn't have it. She's interested in story, not newsworthiness, which makes her go on long digressions and tilt at windmills and share elements of her process that sort of don't matter to the outcome - but in Serial, these end up becoming the story itself - which is one of the faults I find in it, viewed as journalism. The hybridizing of form she does can be really interesting in a tight TAL story. It becomes really problematic when extended over many weeks and viewed as journalism. Also, I think an actual crime reporter would have entered this project with far more skepticism than SK did. I can't get much past the fact that the crime came to her attention because of Rabia and other interested parties who have a stake in claiming Adnan's innocence, as part of larger personal and political projects of their own; it's not out of the question that sometimes a squeaky wheel makes things like that happen, but a seasoned reporter would have taken this project on - if they took it on - with a lot more reservation than SK did, and would bring a great deal more context to understanding what that represented. I feel like she allowed herself to become a tool. Lots of people in prison are looking for someone to cover them in this way; because of her network and her willingness to see this as an opportunity, she took a story a lot of people would have scoffed at and walked away from. Along the way, she happened to unearth something interesting to say about the nature of the justice system that a lot of people were unfamiliar with and are uncomfortable with, but the basic project of taking on the story and re-examining the case would probably never have been accepted by a more experienced, more professionally aligned journalist.

At some level I don't really object to anyone reinvestigating a case - it's public information. Anyone is welcome to have at it. I just think that this particular process and presentation led to more public confusion than public enlightenment - the opposite of the journalistic mission. And her fuzzy, TAL-influenced "who's to say? Who can know?" ruminations offered in lieu of a concluding statement did no one a service. The only good(?) thing that resulted from the investigation was getting the professionals of the IP involved, which Rabia on her own, I suppose, was unable to do or unaware of, but they will have to pursue their own process which is not as ambiguous as that.
posted by Miko at 8:24 PM on January 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Jay is the absolute center of the case, arguably more-so than Adnan.
posted by Nelson 7 hours ago [2 favorites +]


I'm totally with this point. Adnan is the one in jail but I keep thinking Jay's story is even more illustrative of how the social and legal situation as it existed in Baltimore totally warped their lives (yes, there is a crime at the base of it, but the handling of the investigation is what led to the specific outcomes, - the crime was the catalyst).

I was a hundred percent fine with SK's journalism and story-telling. Actually, make that ninety-five percent: the one thing that was missing was a single sentence telling me what I could expect. Granted some of that I couldn't know due to legal (libel) constraints, but still - if I had had a one or two sentence thesis to frame the whole of it, I wouldn't have wasted time trying to fit the 'story-telling' into familiar patterns and then getting frustrated when it didn't fit.

Having read some on the site and then listening to the LL2 author in that podcast and reading her blog, I'm inordinately interested in how the sausage was made - there's a wealth of information that for various reasons has been left out (c.f. the cell tower data) that leads to very different understandings.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:07 AM on January 13, 2015


I keep thinking Jay's story is even more illustrative of how the social and legal situation as it existed in Baltimore totally warped their lives

Well....maybe it is, maybe it isn't. The challenge is that whatever Jay and the police agreed to is not public information and will probably never be known. It was a story (if it is a story) Koenig would never be able to tell - thus, it becomes a giant well of speculation. I've long maintained that Jay and Adnan probably know exactly what the real story is, as do the police who investigated, quite likely, but there was never a realistic chance that Koenig could discover it or that we can know it. I don't like that she left hanging the speculation of a clandestine plea bargain but then did not explore that at all - if it happens, how it happens, what it would look like, context.

the one thing that was missing was a single sentence telling me what I could expect. Granted some of that I couldn't know due to legal (libel) constraints

I'm wondering what you're referring to here that you think would have been libelous?

I agree that problems have arisen from the hybrid nature of this work. The producers' history, blended with claims of a journalistic approach that is really nonstandard, all made this work quite difficult to evaluate. I like SK in general. But I also think she's not a power journalist, and I think people have way overestimated her experience and skills. I spent some time last night looking into her CV and past reporting. Her pre-TAL work is not insignificant in the world of journalism, but it also never reached even the middle ranks in terms of stature or scope. She started at a tiny hometown paper. Yes, she wrote for the Times for a while, but she was also a small-time and short-term bureau writer for them. Her style was more literary than factual even then. She's done almost no work on crime. I feel like there could have been a lot done on the front end to improve this show and the outcome. The story about Ira Glass walking into the studio and saying to them "I think you should solve it," if it's true, is a horror show. You really haven't talked about the entire project and its impact until that moment? You really haven't yet reckoned with the expectations of the public you've so avidly courted to spend time with your riveting story? You...don't know why you're doing this or what you're going to say - because what you're going to say amounts to a lot of personal ruminating? Ay.
posted by Miko at 5:25 AM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


The story about Ira Glass walking into the studio and saying to them "I think you should solve it," if it's true, is a horror show.

I read somewhere that Ira Glass took Sarah Koenig to be an investigative genius and prodigy after the Dr. Gilmer and Mr. Hyde episode of TAL, in which she figured out that Vince Gilbert had Huntington's. He was looking for cases for her to crack wide open. In retrospect, the Gilbert break was not that revolutionary, and I think their overenthusiasm and self-estimation left them open to getting played and being unable to keep the story in check.

Glass is a storyteller who has molded himself into an autodidact journalist, and he's handpicked another storyteller as his protege crack detective. It's almost straight out of the work of Carl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard. Bumbling self-appointed detectives who get in over their heads when confronted with real criminals make for great black comedies. Now I really want to see a Coen Brothers movie made about This American Life: Public Investigators.
posted by painquale at 12:33 PM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


The story about Ira Glass walking into the studio and saying to them "I think you should solve it," if it's true, is a horror show.

Totally agree.
posted by bq at 12:43 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really want to see a Coen Brothers movie made about This American Life: Public Investigators.

We must get to the Crab Crib. We must all get to the Crab Crib forthwith. We must all think, we must all get to the Crab Crib, and think, each and every one of us to the very best of his ability.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:34 PM on January 13, 2015


Along the way, she happened to unearth something interesting to say about the nature of the justice system that a lot of people were unfamiliar with and are uncomfortable with, but the basic project of taking on the story and re-examining the case would probably never have been accepted by a more experienced, more professionally aligned journalist.

I don't think this gives Koenig enough credit. Or at least it's not giving her the benefit of the doubt, which I think she's earned (a matter of opinion I know).

She started looking into the story by Chaudry's request, and then got deeper into it because she was curious. But she documents how she asked people along the way, "Is this a bog-standard investigation and court case?" Presumably she wouldn't have gone with the podcast if everyone had answered "yes." It appears that she second-guessed herself appropriately and obtained confirmation (from people with more expertise than she had, on various aspects of the case) that the story was worth pursuing.

painquale:
He got painted as the Other Prime Suspect because of SK's pointed silence. She never bothered to deny that he was the Other Prime Suspect when for the listeners, he was the only other possible suspect they could know about.

But how could SK have denied Jay was the other prime suspect? He was, just by virtue of his knowledge of the location of the car and burial spot. Koenig has no more proof of his innocence than she does of Adnan's. And I'm not saying Jay needs to prove he is innocent; just that Koenig was hardly in a position to declare him so, preemptively.

Also, he wasn't the only other possible suspect; a lot of time was given early on to Mr S and later to the possibility of a serial killer, even though (IF Adnan were innocent) either of those would be more of a long shot than Jay, given the involvement Jay admitted to.

I thought the Serial writers were very careful and fair with Jay (taking the reporting as a whole, that is...showing up at his house wasn't being careful with him). But then, I wasn't reading commentary on the case or the podcast while listening to it; I waited until after I'd finished it. I suppose if I'd been seeing the explosion of speculation as it occurred, I might have a different impression--you are probably right, painquale, that people who listened to the whole series in a lump came to different conclusions from those who listened week by week.

The whole thing about better conveying Jay's background and perspective, though--it's very possible some of that information may have been more incriminating in the public view than not, and Koenig opted not to use it because she WAS trying to be careful and to stay focused on the murder case only. She has said there were lines of inquiry they followed but chose not to broadcast for this reason. One of them may have been something like this, discussed on reddit (don't think that link will work until tomorrow though, because the subreddit has apparently shut down today on the anniversary of Hae Min Lee's death).
posted by torticat at 7:08 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just as a point of information, Jay is not innocent. He's a convicted accessory to murder.

For me, his willingness to plead that has always been a pretty strong point in favor of thinking there is an essential truth at the core of his story. Nope, I can't argue there's any proof of that. But I feel like some people discussing this case keep setting aside that fact - that he was found guilty of accessory, that he admitted to burying a body and accepted a sentence for it.

Presumably she wouldn't have gone with the podcast if everyone had answered "yes."

It's a big "if" and a big "presumably." I don't know how many people she talked to, I don't know how many crime or legal reporters she talked to, I don't know how many attorneys she talked to, I don't know how many plea-bargainers she talked to, I don't know how many police she talked to, I don't know how many editors she talked to. It seems entirely possible that those judgments took place within a TAL echo chamber, that the tantalizing dream of pursuing a story to some amazing result clouded the research phase. I also think that the case can both be "standard" and "sloppy, lazy, less than ideal," at the same time. I really agree with painquale's assessment of Koenig. The longer a view I get on this project, the less I respect the journalistic work, if you can even call it that.

I mean, some people really like SK and that's that. I can't argue that she's not likable. But when I contrast her product, her background, her skills to what I know of strong journalistic work, especially on such serious stories, it really isn't that good, that thorough, that responsible or even appropriate in tone. It actually upsets me when I think about the much sharper and more experienced reporters who have been culled from the herd in the great decline of news outlets over the past decade, and this is what is taking their place in the public consciousness today. The missed opportunities upset me. All to weave a spell, apparently.
posted by Miko at 8:21 PM on January 13, 2015


It seems entirely possible that those judgments took place within a TAL echo chamber, that the tantalizing dream of pursuing a story to some amazing result clouded the research phase.

I don't know, Miko. Do you think that Enright's team's work on the case is also chasing a "tantalizing dream"? And if not, then why would the story not be worth a reporter's pursuing it?

To be honest I didn't find Sarah Koenig all that "likable." She irritated me quite a bit ("Route Talk" in particular, digressions to no conclusion in general). My husband started complaining from episode 1 or 2 about how she was "inserting herself into the story."

But having said that, I think what she achieved is admirable. Documenting a layperson's perspective on re-investigating a crime like this is worthwhile; I accepted that she WAS part of this story, as someone who had been drawn into it by an advocate of Adnan's, who personally found Adnan compelling, and who was reporting on the whole process of trying to maintain a reporter's objectivity.

The TAL tone of the whole thing was valuable in this respect because it put right out there the possibility that a reporter CAN be conned. Koenig obviously didn't want to believe this was happening to her, but she laid it all out in a way that didn't preclude the possibility; listeners could easily conclude this is exactly what had happened to her (and many did). She admitted at the very end it was a possibility and that she still wonders.

I certainly don't think all journalism should go in this direction (making the reporter a character in the story--god forbid), but seeing the meta issues laid out like this now and then is a good thing. We shouldn't be so deluded as to think that reporters are so professional and objective that they have no susceptibilities of the kind Koenig explored and second-guessed and discussed in this series, using herself as a test subject. It's not out of the question that evidence still-to-come could further incriminate Adnan; Koenig had to be aware of the possibility she could end up looking like a dupe. Surely that took some courage?

And if you can do all that as sort of a side issue while also exposing genuine flaws in the prosecutorial and legal processes, I think that's a pretty major journalistic success. Not the way we want to see all reporting go, no; but still a unique and valuable contribution to journalism as a whole.
posted by torticat at 11:14 PM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Just wanted to say two other things I loved about this podcast.

One, many of the major players are women. All the Serial team who have voices on air, the defense attorney*, one of the judges, the lead on the IP team, and more. At one point my husband said (sorry to keep quoting him), "It's like in the future! When women are like, just people!" I was happy he noticed that because to me it was fantastic and unusual to hear women's voices dominating the discussion, and not in a way that was advertised beforehand... just the way it happened.

Two, I liked that at the end SK picked up on "the Adnan I knew couldn't have done this." Really good writing: a conclusion and an admission of the limits of knowledge (harking back to the beginning of the investigation), wrapped up together.

*How I wish we could have Christina Gutierrez's opinion on all of this, even if her career did end in shambles, which is so sad all on its own.
posted by torticat at 12:19 AM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't know, Miko. Do you think that Enright's team's work on the case is also chasing a "tantalizing dream"? And if not, then why would the story not be worth a reporter's pursuing it?


This is what Enright's team is funded to do. I'm not going down this road again. I'm holding SK to a different standard than other listeners are. Is her work popular? Yes. Does it have interesting aspects? Sure. Could they possibly all end up getting Adnan's conviction overturned based on the lousy case? Seems possible, but that would say nothing about guilt/innocence. Is this work good journalism? Leaving out as it does so many functions of a good journalist, my response is simply "no." I think this wildly misleads listeners about what journalists do and should do.

Professional women in my life - and especially in journalism - are not so rare that that stood out to me. Women don't have numbers parity yet in journalism but make up about 35%of all employees. about the same as they do in law. That's not the future, it's the now - but great if it changed the perceptions of others.
posted by Miko at 5:50 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is a well-done piece that critiques the project in ways I think deserve consideration. I've been reading around the journalism trade mags about perspectives; jury is still out. A lot of people argue in favor of the "innovative" methods that they think will save journalism and increase reporter transparency, while others question the virtues of the hybrid model, the lack of summative analysis, the false sense that the story was actually unfolding in real time, etc. I think there will be a lot more such analysis coming out as people who cover the field sift through the ways in which this did and didn't improve, impact, or provide useful reflection on journalism.
posted by Miko at 5:57 AM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Miko, while I understand that it's a *BIG* deal that Jay pleaded guilty to accessory, you're downplaying the fact that the plea deal made a number of drug related charges go away. And Jay says himself that it's not just a bit of weed, it was serious drug charges. And at that time in Baltimore, it would have been significant time.

So plea to a felony and get little to no time? Or plea to a felony and spend years, perhaps a good chunk of your life behind bars? Not to mention get your family involved.

Jay acknowledges that was his choice, and that was why he was willing to snitch. It undermines his credibility, even if he is telling the truth.
posted by politikitty at 10:08 AM on January 14, 2015


Jay acknowledges that was his choice, and that was why he was willing to snitch. It undermines his credibility, even if he is telling the truth.

I'm not sure I understand why it undermines his credibility? It seems to me it increases his credibility.
posted by painquale at 10:50 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why? He benefits from his version of events.

So if it's true, yes, he'd say Adnan did it. If it's false, he still has every incentive to implicate Adnan to save his own ass.
posted by politikitty at 11:00 AM on January 14, 2015


I don't think I'm following this dialectic. Are you saying that pleading guilty to accessory undermines his credibility? Or that taking any sort of plea deal undermines his credibility? Or that taking a plea deal that involved snitching on other dealers undermines his credibility?
posted by painquale at 11:21 AM on January 14, 2015




Holy mackerel. I am not surprised they held that and I bet it's heavily edited from the original. That is a lot of ass covering. I am not aware of. I don't recall any.
posted by bq at 12:00 PM on January 14, 2015


Why? He benefits from his version of events.

So if it's true, yes, he'd say Adnan did it. If it's false, he still has every incentive to implicate Adnan to save his own ass.


Sort of presupposes that the cops and district attorney's office didn't care about anything except nailing that Adnan kid. They didn't care about whether or not the testimony of their star witness was true or even demonstrable, just meting out some racist corruption on the most convenient target.

One of the problems I have with people who defend Serial to their dying breath is that the narrative presupposes a lot of bad faith on the part of the other side of the case. If I can call back to another series, though fictional, that was also informed by the state of Baltimore, Homicide: Life On The Streets, in which the cops were, in their own estimation, speaking for the dead. The malevolence of the cops and prosecution is taken, largely, as a given. And that's exactly the story that Serial told. Because Adnan is the protagonist.

I think that we that have been taking some issue with Serial's execution have been, mostly, taking issue with how blurry the lines got between true crime journalism and TAL style reportage. The problem is that the stakes are rarely as high on TAL and perhaps their reach exceeded their grasp in a really very awful way.
posted by SinisterPurpose at 12:54 PM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's no evidence he snitched on other dealers. That's been implied by people who think his deal is too sweet. But we know the timeline looks something like this:

They pull in Jay on some serious drug charges. Not just a "few bags of weed". They tell him they'll either charge him with the drug possession with intent to distribute, or accessory to murder.

The drug possession is a felony with steep mandatory minimums. Once he's charged, the system takes over. The prosecutors can't help him.

OR he can plead guilty to a felony with little to no jail time.

Are you really confused as to why the accessory to murder charge isn't preferable to the drug charge? To me, it's a no brainer.

It also kills me that Urick tries to explain that they had to get him a lawyer to get him to talk. It seems like the easy and ethical thing to do is charge him with a crime so he can have access to the public defender. Not set him up with a friend, which is a huge wink to say "you talk, we'll look the other way on a lot of your drug operation."
posted by politikitty at 2:15 PM on January 14, 2015


I don't get what you're implying. Yes, Jay confessed to accessory to murder, and he likely did so because the cops were threatening him with more serious drug charges. And he took the stand as part of a plea bargain. He definitely was an accessory to murder after the fact... that's not in dispute. So what about this story makes him less credible?

He was going to take the plea deal they gave him no matter what. Whether Jay was lying about Adnan or telling the truth, whether Jay was innocent or guilty of something more substantial, he was going to take the plea deal he was offered. So the fact that he took a plea deal doesn't probabilify anything. It gives us effectively no information. It doesn't say anything about his credibility in the least.
posted by painquale at 2:46 PM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I believe the idea is that the plea deal gives Jay a strong incentive to do what the cops want. It's a tangible benefit, especially since he's the only one who can be linked to the crime. if he doesn't cooperate, he's in for both drugs and killing a dude. If he does cooperate, he's in as an accessory, which is infinitely better.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:13 PM on January 14, 2015


Well this part 2 turned out way better than I expected. It's a clear statement of the prosecutor's opinions on the case. No surprise he thinks the prosecution and conviction was correct, but it's nice to see the detail. The [Ed Note]s scattered through are hilarious in how visible they are, but it seems like The Intercept's editors did a good job cleaning up the opinionated mess of the Urick part 1. Particularly appreciated them asking other parties for comment before publishing.

I don't believe Urick any more than I believe the things we've heard (filtered) from Jay or Adnan. I particularly had to laugh at his statement "This was well before Sept. 11. Nobody had any misgivings about someone being Muslim back then." Apparently he'll say anything to make past-Urick look better.
posted by Nelson at 3:14 PM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


He definitely was an accessory to murder after the fact... that's not in dispute.

Why not? Jay is not a credible witness. The cops got an anonymous tip to look into Adnan. They pick up Jay for drugs as a way to get additional information on Adnan. To get out of jail at that point, he has to give the police credible evidence of Adnan's guilt. Those first two hours is likely him negotiating how much he has to implicate himself to convince them he's a witness worth walking.

Jay has been willing to bend his story to fit every piece of evidence. And after they believe they have the right guy, it's easy to coach a witness into the story as they believe it.

It was a lot of corners cut. And we just hope that didn't effect the outcome. Once Jay was in that box, Adnan was going to jail for a long time. Even if Jay wasn't an accessory to murder.
posted by politikitty at 3:25 PM on January 14, 2015


He led the police to Hae's car, so he definitely knew something about her disappearance. I didn't think that his involvement was really in dispute. (Or is there a theory that the cops knew where the car was before talking to Jay and fed him that?)

But I still maintain that given that Jay taking a plea deal is an outcome of every scenario, it doesn't give us any information about the likelihood of any of those scenarios.
posted by painquale at 3:52 PM on January 14, 2015


But I still maintain that given that Jay taking a plea deal is an outcome of every scenario, it doesn't give us any information about the likelihood of any of those scenarios.

Me too. That's exactly why I think he has no credibility. Why do you think his plea deal increases his credibility?
posted by politikitty at 4:40 PM on January 14, 2015


They pull in Jay on some serious drug charges...

That's one possible scenario. I think there are a lot of other scenarios possible, including that Jay knowingly facilitated (by planning to serve as the alibi) or even witnessed the murder itself, but resisted informing on Adnan, and then when faced with the choice of being included in the murder charge also or informing on some other drug activity and pleading accessory while pinning the intent of the crime on Adnan, he chose the latter. The difference between being accessory after and being accessory before is legally significant. Accessory before can essentially translate to a charge of murder itself.

In that scenario, Adnan can confidently enter a plea of innocence because he knows Jay will be unable to implicate him more strongly without also implicating himself - in other words, Jay can't do much more to pin this on Adnan without saying "I know he killed Hae, because I helped him plan an alibi" or "I know because I was there," -- he can't do and keep the plea deal because that would upgrade his charges to indicate he was an accessory before the fact, which can functionally be the same as a murder charge. And if Adnan knew that, Adnan would be able to continue to maintain innocence knowing that if Jay changed his account to make Adnan's culpability more clear, that would be more serious trouble for Jay. And Adnan also can't say he knows this is the situation without further implicating himself. A double bind of silence.

I think the plausibility of the plea deal working something like that - distinguishing carefully between accessory before vs. after - is what adds to Jay's credibility, at least for me.

That's also not the only scenario possible.There are a multitude of possibilities and the web is full of scenarios, reasonable to far-fetched as hell. But what's much more implausible to me than something like the above (which isn't an unusual kind of thing at all) is to believe that Jay framed Adnan , or (especially) that he took a total shot-in-the-dark gamble in pinning the murder on Adnan in the certain knowledge Adnan had absolutely nothing to do with it, hoping fervently and desperately that Adnan would not be able to produce a rock-solid alibi - which he couldn't know, if Adnan really didn't do it and wasn't there. That would be a huge chance to take and not one I find at all likely.
posted by Miko at 5:25 PM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I still don't like NVC much but I do find what she has to say about SK's responsibility to secure a Urick interview being at least as significant as securing a Jay interview compelling. As is her comparison of the emails from SK to each.

She does not have specific dates noted for every message

Bad practice.

NVC had two people in her family murdered? I don't know much about her - maybe that's common knowledge - but it does explain some of the extremity of her tone. Not excuse but explain.
posted by Miko at 5:31 PM on January 14, 2015


Me too. That's exactly why I think he has no credibility.

OK, but his taking the plea deal doesn't undermine his credibility. His having no credibility is something you can conclude through other means, but not from his taking a plea deal, which provides no evidence at all.

Why do you think his plea deal increases his credibility?

I don't. I misunderstood you at that point. (Sorry.) You said that Jay's snitching decreased his credibility. I thought you meant snitching on other drug dealers, not taking any plea deal.
posted by painquale at 5:44 PM on January 14, 2015


I still don't like NVC much but I do find what she has to say about SK's responsibility to secure a Urick interview being at least as significant as securing a Jay interview compelling.

I agree but there's an important but: Urick was not the only prosecutor and SK reached out to his co-prosecutor in Jan '14, did a long interview and then the State Attorney's Office said you can't use any of this unless you get the permission of the Lee family. SK couldn't reach the Lee family at all, thus couldn't procure the necessary permission.

She tried to reach Urick and Urick doesn't respond, his explanation to NVC is worthy of my nine-year-old: "I cannot definitely say she did not try one time to reach me. I do not recall ever receiving a voice recording or e-mail from her. But I can say I have no recollection and no record of “numerous attempts. " Beautifully nuanced way of saying - uh, I dunno but I'm pretty sure I just blew her off.

When SK does reach him he says, 'no comment.'

All of which is to say, I think she did do all she could in getting in touch with him.

Also, I'm of the same opinion as W. Shakespeare when I hear this guy talk.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:39 AM on January 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also pertinent, mentioned in the FanFare thread about the last episode of Serial:

Evidence that Jay's Story Was Coached To Fit The Cell Phone Records.

Summarized: the cops got bad cellphone data initially, which Jay's story didn't match, until later Jay's story changed to match it, until later the cellphone data was fixed and Jay's story magically changed to match the newly fixed cellphone data.

To quote Susan from LL2:
Jay’s story is truly a wondrous thing. It can be consistent with the cellphone records when they are wrong, and then still be consistent even after the cellphone records have been corrected. And how could a story that is so amazingly consistent with the cellphone records have possibly been anything other than true?
posted by tocts 20 hours ago [4 favorites +]

posted by From Bklyn at 2:20 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Beautifully nuanced way of saying - uh, I dunno but I'm pretty sure I just blew her off.

Yeah... and what possible reason could Koenig have had for NOT wanting to get Urick's perspective? It's not like he was going to debunk her theory, if you want to believe she had a predetermined conclusion.

Why would she have reached out to the co-prosecutor but not to Urick? He was pretty much a sitting duck. He had nothing to gain by cooperating but a lot (in terms of credibility) to lose, so I tend to believe Serial's claims that they did try to contact him and that he disregarded the messages.

Miko:
I do find what she has to say about SK's responsibility to secure a Urick interview being at least as significant as securing a Jay interview compelling. As is her comparison of the emails from SK to each

NVC has nothing to compare prior to Dec 2014, which is when Urick acknowledges he was contacted by Serial. Koenig says they tried to contact Urick many times before that, and there is no reason to believe they didn't. It could only have helped their story to have his comments.

Part 2 of Urick's interview does the prosecution no favors. A couple of his dishonest/self-serving comments:

Here, someone is making a case where I acted to honor constitutional rights and tried to make that seem like misconduct.

Yes, he procured an attorney for Jay, and a plea deal was signed a couple hours later. Nothing to see here, move along.

Nobody had any misgivings about someone being Muslim back then.

LOL.

They have a very strict society. Does that contribute to it? I don’t think that was our primary argument. Our argument was this is a pretty much run-of-the-mill domestic violence murder.

It really wasn't. Could be that Urick genuinely doesn't remember, but the opening arguments in trial do not support his claim here at all.

Also, from NVC:

Here is the other thing: I have a bias towards prosecutors.

Um...??? It's good that she puts this out there, I guess, but maybe it would be better for her to try to counter her own bias with some reasonable skepticism?
posted by torticat at 2:48 AM on January 15, 2015


I think she did do all she could in getting in touch with him.

No, that's definitely not all she could do (as evidenced by her efforts to get Jay, if not by the even more dogged work of other professional journalists to get needed interviews). NVC is right to call it out.

Koenig says they tried to contact Urick many times before that, and there is no reason to believe they didn't.

She says that, but can't back it up with her notes. That's a big problem. It's a big problem indicating that her notes clearly aren't that good, in general. Keeping those records is the responsibility of a journalist.

I am really unwilling to give SK as much leeway as others. You can like her story and still be willing to admit that it was inexpertly reported. You can also be skeptical about Urick's point of view and still allow that his perspective was fairly essential to any full understanding of the case. Would SK have given up trying for contact if Gutierrez were still alive and proved just as hard to get? I doubt it.
posted by Miko at 5:56 AM on January 15, 2015


For context:
Right of reply

You should always offer the right of reply when making allegations...If, for example, you uncover information that you consider to be in the public interest and involves serious allegations against an individual or group, it might not be appropriate to approach those who are the focus of the piece of investigative journalism. This is particularly important if the information could lead to criminal arrest.

In cases where there are allegations of wrongdoing, you need to offer a fair opportunity for people to respond to allegations before broadcast or publication. When seeking a response, you need to keep accurate records of when, how and where the person was approached and their response to the offer.

NPR ethics standards:

If our audience wonders what someone we report about had to say in his or her defense, and we haven’t provided that information or explained our efforts to get it, we have failed.

When we seek such responses, we give the subjects a reasonable amount of time to get back to us and multiple ways to do so (phone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc.). What we consider “a reasonable amount of time” will vary depending on the situation, determined after a thorough discussion involving the reporter and appropriate editors — up to the managing editor in high-profile or sensitive matters.
When news is breaking, make sure the people we’re attempting to reach know about our deadlines — for the next newscast and the next program, for example.

If, despite our best efforts, we cannot get a response but determine that we need to go ahead with the story, cull past reports and statements to pull out any previous comments made by the subject or organization that may help explain their positions. Look for proxies who may be able to defend their side. And tell our listeners and readers about our attempts to contact the subjects.

If we’re perceived as being unfair we not only risk losing the trust of our audience, we also put our reporting at risk. All individuals we report on should be able to trust that we’ll be fair not just in how we present their views, but in how we seek those views. This means we give those whom we cover the opportunity to respond to critical allegations in our reports, or to explain themselves when we suspect they’ve given us inaccurate information.


If this were an NPR story with a one-day deadline, SK's efforts would look like sufficient attempts to secure the prosecutorial/state POV. But she had a year. And the editorial decision was that they had to speak with Jay for the story - but they were willing to do that without hearing from the case's prosecutor? I don't think the public should settle for that - it's really a disservice.

posted by Miko at 6:28 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


...No, that's definitely not all she could do

I agree on the surface that's what it seems like - that she should have hopped into her car and driven over to Urick's practice, or caught up with him at court… but then only to have him say ' I am no longer employed by the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office and am not authorized to comment on the case.' and then she should what exactly?
posted by From Bklyn at 7:20 AM on January 15, 2015


only to have him say...

Speculation. We are unable to know what he would have said because she did not try it.
posted by Miko at 9:42 AM on January 15, 2015


Speculation. We are unable to know what he would have said because she did not try it.
posted by Miko at 9:42 AM on January 15 [+] [!]


Yes. The tyranny of 'what if.'
Though from his interview, I don't imagine he would say/add anything worthwhile...
posted by From Bklyn at 11:15 PM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


For context:
Right of reply


But this is about when an allegation is made against a subject in a story. When an allegation was made against Urick, SK did contact him, and he refused to comment. The reasons he cited were that he was no longer with the office and that the Lee family had not given him permission to comment. Yet he felt free a couple weeks later to comment to NVC? And this reflects badly on Koenig? I think this is a strange conclusion to reach, especially since after the fact Urick said he didn't trust Koenig and wouldn't have cooperated with her in any case. (So... why not say that to Koenig instead of putting her off with high-minded excuses that evaporated once he got a interviewer he saw as sympathetic?)

Part of the disconnect with NVC is that she seems to think Koenig portrayed Urick in a much more negative light than Koenig actually did. In one episode of Serial, SK told Dierdre Enright, "I feel like from what I can tell, there’s not gross negligence or malfeasance or something on the part of the detectives or the State Attorney’s office, everyone seems to be doing their job responsibly." When Koenig did report on an actual allegation about Urick, she did obtain a (non)response from him.

The other disconnect with NVC is that she seems to think the interview she secured with Urick would have made a difference to the story Serial told. It wouldn't have; when it happened, it didn't. If you are going to crow over your success in landing an interview while faulting another journalist for not doing due diligence, you'd better have a game-changer of a report. Vargas-Cooper and Silverstein got nothing approaching that.

Instead we got an interview in which NVC unearths nothing new while taking this really weird protective, defensive stance toward the prosecution. And follows up on it with odd claims like "Kevin Urick is not a liar." (How does she know? What possible basis could a journalist claim for making a statement like this?) And criticisms of Serial like: "Their attempts were underwhelming and I think poisoned the narrative, allowing more strange theories about 'butt dial' and 'Mr. S' or a serial killer to bloom." (What do Urick's comments have to do with questions about the Nisha call or the IP's investigation into serial killers? NVC's interview with Urick didn't even touch on these questions, let alone bring forth new information to put them to rest.)

What Vargas-Cooper was left with--really the only thing she had, in defense of her bizarre, baseless editorializing--was the claim that Koenig hadn't tried hard enough to get in touch with Urick. Considering that her evidence for this was rejected by her own editors (and possibly those they consulted with?) and ended up being published on tumblr in a last-ditch effort to salvage some credibility, I can't give it a whole lot of weight. Basically I think she and Silverstein managed to take gold in this case--it was a huge deal that they got the interviews with Jay and Urick--and spin it into straw.
posted by torticat at 4:53 AM on January 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


Though from his interview, I don't imagine he would say/add anything worthwhile...

yeah, he really didn't say or add anything worthwhile; and Vargas-Cooper's attitude of "what? you couldn't just sit down with him and talk? I did! It was easy and fun!" is insulting given that she herself reports that Urick said he wouldn't have talked with Koenig.

Her talk of bearding the lion in his den is equally disingenuous because obviously she did not get the interview by plopping herself in a courtroom to confront Urick after he had refused to talk with her.
posted by torticat at 5:10 AM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


NVC has "resigned" from The Intercept.
posted by tocts at 6:09 AM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Intercept's gain is Jezebel's loss.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:05 AM on January 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


The other disconnect with NVC is that she seems to think the interview she secured with Urick would have made a difference to the story Serial told. It wouldn't have; when it happened, it didn't.

A longer and more thorough consideration of his perspective and the state's case rather than a few lines' worth of mention would have resulted in an overall fairer and more objective retelling of the entire tale. Koenig clearly didn't try very hard - that's really hard to deny when compared with her efforts to land other interviews - and she even can't produce evidence of her own efforts, which is super rookie.

There's just no way I can work so hard to defend the worth of this project. Again, enjoy it if you will - I certainly did - but when added up, it's not solid journalism. It was an interesting experiment, perhaps, it was storytelling that drew a listener in, but not an information-producing model of public service to hold up and praise. Now that we can evaluate it in total, for me, it really tarnishes. She and her producer team are out of their depth, as they have been before. I hope their next series stays far away from true crime; they should stick to telling whimsical stories about quirky personalities and weird but harmless life situations which is what they are best able to do.
posted by Miko at 6:47 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Koenig clearly didn't try very hard - that's really hard to deny when compared with her efforts to land other interviews -

Yeah, I guess this comes down to a difference of opinion; I don't see it myself and haven't seen any criticisms of her in this specific regard except from Silverstein and Vargas-Cooper. Meanwhile there HAVE been other journalists criticizing NVC for essentially calling SK and her other producers liars (two of these linked upthread) without basis.

Just in terms of professionalism and collegiality I have no idea why NVC would have taken this tack. As I said before, IF you're going to do this, seems like there ought to be some information in your own piece that throws new light on the subject.

But as NVC herself would say, I guess that's why we all have different brains in our heads, and it's all cool!

Unrelated to all that, I was listening tonight to the interviews Chaudry posted a couple weeks ago with a couple attorneys, one currently representing Adnan and one who worked with him at the very beginning but not through the trials. Their perspectives are interesting. (This might have been posted earlier in a fanfare thread, I'm not sure.)
posted by torticat at 10:53 PM on January 16, 2015


(two of these linked upthread)

Oops, sorry, the second of those was this one.
posted by torticat at 12:21 AM on January 17, 2015


Just in terms of professionalism and collegiality I have no idea why NVC would have taken this tack.

We know her name and we didn't before - I think it comes down to that. She saw an unfilled niche - places where SK's reporting left gaps and where there was high public interest - and went for it. She didn't do a great job, either. I don't mean to hold her up as a paragon, though I think she makes important points that are illustrative of real gaps in reporting, even if her way of filling them was also rather lame.

seems like there ought to be some information in your own piece that throws new light on the subject.

I really did find Urick's perspective interesting. Not all information comes in the form of facts, and he had an important view. Besides, he also did discuss a few facts that SK did not include in the show, or did not elaborate on, so were known only to obsessive redditors and were not part of her reporting.

Rabia's videos are mildly interesting but journalistic independence has to frame them in light of these lawyers' responsibility to represent their client in the best light and pursue a legal goal. No defense attorney representing a client would say anything other than what was said. Just so, the prosecutors have their own responsibilities, and those are to the public via the state. If we are hearing from one set of parties I'd like to hear in at least as much detail from the others.

I leave wondering if people who liked the show and approve of SK's approach and think the NVC chapter had no important perspectives to add are critical of anything about Serial, or just think it could not have possibly been any better.
posted by Miko at 5:56 AM on January 17, 2015


I liked the show, and more or less approved of SK's approach. I don't think it was perfect, and although I think that the NVC interviews in theory had important perspectives to add, in practice were flawed enough that they didn't really add them.
posted by jeather at 6:48 AM on January 17, 2015



I leave wondering if people who liked the show and approve of SK's approach and think the NVC chapter had no important perspectives to add are critical of anything about Serial, or just think it could not have possibly been any better.


Speaking for myself, I am someone who was enthralled by the Serial podcast, but not such a fanboy that I feel it is immune from being spoken of in only glowing terms. My problem with The Intercept's reportage is both that the framing was disingenuous and ironically contained many (I would argue more) of the same flaws it claimed to be pointing out in Serial's coverage.

In the editorial preceeding the first Urick interview, The Intercept assumed facts not in evidence: that SK went into Serial with the intention of exonerating Syed and proving his innocence. When the entire conclusion of Serial comes down to (paraphrasing, but I think accurately) "As a jury member, I would have to vote to acquit because the 'beyond a reasonable doubt' threshold was not reached, but as a person, I cannot say I am confident he is innocent either" it seems rather strange for The Intercept to steadfastly try to frame Serial as a podcast hell bent on presenting Adnan as an innocent man, wrongfully accused.

If The Intercept was critical of Serial because the presentation seemed entirely biased in favor of Syed, it seems rather hypocritical for their own coverage to so solidly present a viewpoint that was itself entirely partisan (with their own reporters even trying to promote a specific Hae Min Lee-inspired charity as a means of shaming anyone who dared think Adnan did not receive a fair trial), only in the other direction. Their coverage reminded me of the Fox News "Fair and Balanced" slogan, where the definition isn't "careful analysis of multiple sides of an issue", but instead "anything that bolsters our specific viewpoint, which is obviously the one, reasonable view".

Yes, they covered gaps in Serial's reporting by landing interviews with important players in the case that Serial didn't, but I can only give them so much credit for that because the interviews were bungled so badly as to appear like public relations pieces rather than journalistic endeavors. As the cliché that's been going around says, these interviews weren't journalism, they were stenography .For all the legitimate criticism of Koenig's coverage, she gave a far more nuanced view than The Intercept, whose interviews with Jay and Urick were nothing but softball questions with little follow-up, accepting everything they said at face value, with no doubt or skepticism. These interviews were more akin to Barbara Walters post-Oscar interviews rather than anything resembling journalism

I don't trust Vargas-Cooper and Silverstein because their behavior surrounding this story has been juvenile so I can't take them seriously and I really do think (as it appears you do as well) that they went into this endeavor not to shed additional light on the story, but simply to achieve fame and name recognition by taking potshots at the big celebrity journalist of the moment. The flaws in Vargas-Coooper and Silverstein's reportage can best be exemplified by the true statement that your comments in this thread gave me far more to think about regarding the flaws in Koenig's reportage and presentation of this story than anything either of them wrote. That is a pretty bad indictment of the job they did, when internet commenters are presenting their case far, far better than them.
posted by The Gooch at 7:41 AM on January 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


So, leaving aside all critical evaluation of The Intercept (you can assume I mostly agree, though it really was something to show that an interview with Urick was securable) what would you say are some of the flaws in Serial and in SK's reporting? What could they have done better? Could anything have made it clearer, fairer, stronger, in your opinion(s)? What would those things have been?
posted by Miko at 2:24 PM on January 17, 2015


While I liked the program, I think that the framing of "We're going to solve this!" was entirely disingenuous, and something they should have disavowed -or at least made clearer from the start.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:58 PM on January 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought that Serial went too occasionally into "woo" territory and stupid cliffhangers (see: psycopathy, the streaker guy), and sometimes (often) I wanted more clarification/background on something that was reported on too briefly (hard to remember the specific issues now as I've let my interest flag). I also felt that the format was somewhat arbitrary and defined the reporting and shaping of the material in some odd, sort of unjustified ways, but I chalked it up to it being experimental (though I still am not totally convinced that "Serial" makes any sense as a title). In general the format and approach were not clearly defined, but that was also appealing about it, in a way-- it just felt like whatever was interesting for the moment went into the episode. I definitely didn't think Serial was perfect, but I also feel like a lot of the criticisms are just missing the point (since I do think the point was to dwell on the meta-issues... if you don't like that, fair enough, but no point in criticizing the podcast for failing to be something it was not meant to) or to me just seemed odd (for example, being very angry that Koenig didn't present the Jay stuff in an earlier episode), so that has mostly been my basis for defending the show.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:47 PM on January 17, 2015


Miko, I'd say my biggest problems with Serial, personally, had to do more with style than substance. I'm not a huge TAL fan because I find it a bit cloying and cute and, yes, self-involved. I could have done without the podcast's cliffhanger endings and "shrimp shack, teehee" moments.

However I wouldn't go so far as to call that style unprofessional or unethical; I don't think it crosses any lines that haven't been crossed or blurred for decades on TV news magazines, in in-depth investigative reports (when the reporter sometimes becomes part of the story) and so on. And I wouldn't say it's not solid journalism--journalism takes so many forms. TAL's won its share of awards in the field, so I think its format had been validated even if it's not really my cup of tea.

As to substance, I'm not sure we can know where SK fell short without knowing more about all the information she had and what parts of it she chose to de-emphasize or not to use. But to give a shot at answering your question--

I felt Koenig was over-credulous at times (for example, ruling out psychopathy--NOT to re-argue that whole thing! Just that I don't think she should have taken a position on it).

I thought she was slippery sometimes too. Example: Her bit about "Guess who else doesn't remember calling or paging Hae after she went missing? Don!!" Which, fine, might be technically true but it sort of equates Don's memory of 15 years ago with Adnan's phone records. Which isn't really a fair thing to do--yet it entered the public discourse as some kind of compelling "gotcha" argument.

In terms of factual error, I think the only serious charge I've seen is discussed here on reddit. In this case, I would guess that SK was working from notes instead of a full text and not being intentionally misleading; the relevant line in the diary is a little confusing and ambiguous. And SK was trying to decide/distinguish between these two narratives of "normal teenager drama" and "controlling, possessive behavior by a man of Pakistani descent" and coming down on the side of the former.

But that's giving her the benefit of the doubt. It's still a reporting error and it would be good to see it corrected.

So those are a few of my criticisms, for what it's worth. I wouldn't expect any project of this length to be completely error-free, but the problematic parts are worth discussing, for sure.
posted by torticat at 7:24 PM on January 17, 2015


I really did find Urick's perspective interesting. Not all information comes in the form of facts, and he had an important view. Besides, he also did discuss a few facts that SK did not include in the show, or did not elaborate on, so were known only to obsessive redditors and were not part of her reporting.

As a followup, Miko, I'd love to hear which facts specifically you found interesting in the interview with Urick.

I thought Urick's answers were fundamentally dishonest. He was either insincere or careless with his characterization of how Serial used the cell phone data--that was one thing. But there were a couple other things he said that were worse in my opinion and really slimy--

One (quoting): "Now the thing about the cellphone records [is that they] corroborate Jay, his statements that he got a call around 2:45 p.m. or around that time from Adnan to come pick him up": This is flatly untrue; he had to know back at the time of trial that Jay never made this claim in any of his statements, and to double down on it now, given all the scrutiny, is just weird.

Two: "Nobody had any misgivings about someone being Muslim back then. They have a very strict society. Does that contribute to it? I don’t think that was our primary argument. Our argument was this is a pretty much run-of-the-mill domestic violence murder"...

A "run-of-the-mill domestic violence murder" in the U.S. doesn't include a line of questioning like the one documented here. Seriously. This is a guy who asks a witness, What is the penalty in an Islamic country for premarital sex?-- he asks this in front of your typical American jury in a courtroom full of Adnan's supporters in traditional Muslim dress, and yet claims today that "nobody had any misgivings about someone being Muslim." Well, no thanks to him if that was the case.

So just to be upfront, that's my opinion of Urick--that he is sleazy and dishonest. But my question to you is sincere, Miko, not sarcastic (don't want it to come across that way)--I'm genuinely interested in what you saw in the interview with him that was helpful or enlightening.
posted by torticat at 1:27 AM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I liked the podcast a lot but I kind of hated the cliff-hangers: I hate that whole, pulling you along to the next part by promising to answer the questions posed by this part -
I really liked the side-track about the streaker: I thought it was a great piece of narrative : 'who is the guy who found the body? How could he not be involved?''you're not gonna believe it, but here's how...'and a story at once pedestrian but utterly unexpected follows. That's great.
As I said earlier (or in the other thread) what I thought was missing was a thesis to tie these all together: 'here's who did it' or 'here's absolutely why Adnan couldn't have done it' or 'who knows, and let me show you why we can't ever know: let's talk about the variety and mutability of 'truth'. That the story seemed to stumble around too much and at the end there wasn't enough of a real conclusion.
Lastly that something entertaining was made out of a brutally sad event in the lives of these young people made me feel we have an obligation to sort it out but we lack the facts to adequately do so.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:44 AM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Someone on Reddit put together a compendium of original documents with links to the two attorney blogs that have been following the podcast and aftermath as well.

The lawyer blogs are what I find the most interesting, but I'm a paralegal and I work at law firms.

Also I thought Urick's interviews were self serving. He took a lawyerly approach and said he has not listened or read much about Serial. That is what I'd expect. By keeping this at arms length and only commenting on his memories hes playing it very safe. It's the right choice for him.
posted by readery at 6:39 AM on January 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


it really was something to show that an interview with Urick was securable

It's one thing to be able to interview Urick (or Jay) AFTER Serial aired, once it was a big deal -- that doesn't mean that it would have been possible to get him to agree to talk beforehand. And once Serial was being aired, why would Urick agree to talk to the people who are essentially re-researching a case and showing he was wrong? I don't think these interviews showed that SK et al could have actually managed to get the same interviews at all.
posted by jeather at 7:40 AM on January 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's one thing to be able to interview Urick (or Jay) AFTER Serial aired, once it was a big deal

SK did get an interview with Jay, just not one he gave permission to air. And it really does look as though she tried much less hard to get one with Urick. Much less.

at the end there wasn't enough of a real conclusion.

Yeah, part of what makes journalism journalism is digesting the results of reporting on a story fully, in order to provide a summative conclusion, even if the story is going to continue to evolve. Serial didn't arrive at a position that either clearly advocates for potential innocence and supports a push for an overturned verdict, nor a position that endorses the system's work in this case. If their true interest was in "metanarrative," it would have been more responsible to do that with a case in which there were no outcomes in the air to impact - fir instance, in which the convicted person was now dead - because if that is the case, they used real, continuing narratives of existing people to support a more abstractly theoretical discussion they wanted to have, which strikes me as counter to the goals of the interviewees when they gave consent (they are obviously hoping for real-world outcomes, not just metanarrative). Serial left everything and everyone about where it started, apart from lending everything celebrity and maybe putting a few people in a worse position, personal safety-wise.

I get that HBO and daytime TV do much crappier forms of crime journalism, but I also think those shows tend to not benefit from the same perception of legitimacy and worthiness and expectation of reliability and thoroughness that publicly supported public radio broadcasters do, nor do they subject themselves to the same ethical standards.
posted by Miko at 10:12 AM on January 18, 2015


I don't really think it matters that SK didn't try very hard to get Kevin Urick's side of the story. She had an extensive interview with his co-counsel. And Baltimore County pulled a dick move waiting until the last possible minute to deny her the right to air that interview. It was at that time she reached back out to Urick. And he acknowledges he would have felt compelled to get the County's permission to comment on the case.

Both of NVC's interviews were so weak and self serving, I have no faith that SK could have secured and asked the same sort of questions she presented to Adnan. And that doesn't really give me weight pointing to his innocence, since he had something to gain going through the ringer. But SK did not make Serial a press release for either the Innocence Project or Adnan.

I probably would have been driven nuts by the format of show, but I jumped in late, and knew what I was getting into. Plus, I did put together a list of things that I wish she had delved into more in the other thread.
posted by politikitty at 12:48 PM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


For fun I've been watching the wikipedia pages for Serial and the Murder of Have Min Lee. I'm waiting for the big blow up when the journalistic and storytelling standards of Serial conflict with the five pillars of Wikipedia.

Our interwebs are not the place where "Cathy" remains pseudonymous for long. This has become a public concern: a trial that is almost 15 years old. The transcripts are publicly available, I don't doubt that they will be published un-edited and un-redacted soon.
posted by peeedro at 10:24 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


waiting until the last possible minute to deny her the right to air that interview

There is no last possible minute - that's one of the selling points of the novel format, after all. They've always said it was extendable. Besides which, I don't think it's all that clear cut,. And again, It's not clear that they revisited the interview requests and tried again to get permission to air. The degree of effort spent on, say, looking for a nonexistent phone booth, as opposed to representing the perspectives of people close to the case, is in my view inappropriate.
posted by Miko at 7:47 AM on January 19, 2015


I'm going to argue their failings from the other side for the moment, and note that the second half or last third of the podcast was less interesting because they ran out of active investigative tasks -- like looking for the phonebooth -- to dramatize, however beside the point to a proper journalistic practice those actions might be.

(My biggest frustration toward the beginning was that it felt like they were faking some of the ongoing-investigation aspect here and there to fit their chosen podcast title. But my bigger frustration toward the end was that it stopped feeling as much like probing, active storytelling.)
posted by nobody at 8:47 AM on January 19, 2015


(Finally got around to reading the "Evidence that Jay’s Story was Coached to Fit the Cellphone Records" article. I sure wish either of the Intercept interview subjects could have been asked to address that.)
posted by nobody at 9:19 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I basically feel like it's a given that Jay's testimony was structured to give the best opportunity of conviction. I grant that. It seems to me as though the defense was going to put a lot of its eggs in the cellphone basket, so they had to make sure Jay's testimony lined up with it. But, at the same time, I don't think this is evidence of much of anything related to Adnan's factual guilt or innocence. I've maintained for a long time that Jay was a real witness - whether before or after the fact - to the murder. If that's the case, the police deal he took required him to match his on-stand testimony to the rest of the case they were going to present. It seems pretty clear that's what happened.

I don't think the defense could have publicly commented on the nature of the police deal he took. I think that's pretty much locked in the ephemeral, traceless elements of that discussion.
posted by Miko at 6:24 PM on January 19, 2015


I hear you, that it doesn't really speak directly to Adnan's guilt or innocence (which, honestly, I don't feel very invested in).

But it does shift one part of the discussion from...

a) Jay was a kid with a shifting storyline, whether out of a reflexive initial mistrust of police, or specifically to protect himself from drug charges, or specifically to avoid admitting his fuller involvement in whatever happened with Hae.

...to the much more interesting (and tangible):

b) Jay's shifting storyline contains what appears to be evidence of prosecutorial or police malfeasance.

And this is interesting even apart from the question of Adnan's guilt (or Adnan's efforts to overturn his conviction, regardless of innocence/guilt).

Rather, it points to a bigger, better question: Does this happen literally all the time?
posted by nobody at 4:04 AM on January 20, 2015


Does this happen literally all the time?

I'm pretty sure it does, which is why I'm a bit underwhelmed with the bits-and-pieces arguments which will likely never reveal anything useful. From my point of view, it looks like the meat of the case was in private discussions between Jay and the police. I believe they were satisfied that he witnessed enough to definitively state Adnan committed the murder, and thus were certain Adnan would be unable to conclusively defend his innocence at trial, but that they could not use him as an eyewitness to the actual murder event and still get the drug information they needed (because in that case they would be unable to offer a plea), so they worked with the cellphone data as a way of strengthening the case (which at the time probably seemed pretty cutting-edge).

Charges of "malfeasance" would depend on exactly how far the "coaching" on the story of the cellphone use went and how deeply it intentionally diverted from known realities. I, for one, could hardly reconstruct this chain of calls and what happened on each even if I were there. The police and defense counsel figured out and agreed on the story to be told, blow by blow, and Jay had trouble remembering it perfectly and consistently. I would need practice rehearsing my account and would probably make some mistakes, too.

I don't think we'll ever be able to know the true structure of the police action in this story. They may have committed misconduct in the eagerness to get information about other crimes and criminal actors. I'm unaware of the realpolitik that governs these pre-indictment interactions. If they did, it doesn't seem all that uncommon, as far as my limited knowledge extends. At any rate, the details of Jay's account of cellphone use mattered less to the jury than their perception of his general credibility and his conviction that Adnan was the guilty party. Which, after all, was really the defense's goal.

Coaching a witness' story alone, even having them practice and remember a rehearsed and agreed story, is standard practice. Here's a discussion of coaching witnesses and why relying on (even faulty) memory is preferable to a script:
Counsel acts properly when he or she discusses with the witness such matters as the testimony to be elicited at trial, the questions the witness will be asked on direct examination, the answers those questions will elicit, potential areas of redirect examination, the witness's choice of words, the anticipated cross-examination questions and the witness's answers, the practical effect of objections on the witness's ability to answer pending questions, the witness's demeanor in the courtroom, how the witness's testimony supports the lawyer's theory of the case, the law applicable to the witness's testimony, the witness's legal duty to tell the truth, the witness's right to answer that he or she does not remember or does not know the answer to a question when that answer is accurate, the factual basis for asserting a particular privilege where the witness believes that privilege is appropriate, and a variety of other comparable areas of witness preparation. Inherent in this type of preparation is the necessity to ensure that the witness appreciates that he or she is the one testifying, while the lawyer preparing the witness is advising, guiding, and explaining how the witness's truthful, relevant testimony should be presented and defended from attack.
posted by Miko at 6:24 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


The new Asia McClain affidavit: http://www.scribd.com/doc/253141767/Asia-McClain-Affidavit-1-13-2015

Coverage from The Blaze.
posted by peeedro at 9:37 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


The way I see it, there is a distinction here between solving the case and establishing that it may have been a bad, "good enough," conviction. Pretty subversive if it comes to fruition.
posted by rhizome at 10:22 AM on January 20, 2015


The new Asia McClain affidavit:

Well, that is an unexpected and kind of crazy development.

Rabia is fired up.

Whoa.
posted by torticat at 4:27 PM on January 20, 2015


Rabia's pretty on point in that piece. It sounds like both Urick and Guttierez were either evil or clowns. Or evil clowns.
posted by painquale at 5:48 PM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wow.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 6:19 PM on January 20, 2015


there is a distinction here between solving the case and establishing that it may have been a bad, "good enough," conviction

I completely agree; I think the sticking point is that the state is pretty satisfied that the right guy is in prison even though the case itself was a sloppy mess. It's possible Adnan will be able to use those sloppy-mess qualities to get his conviction overturned. I still think that Jay was probably a witness present at or perhaps just before the murder event. It's the only thing that sufficiently explains all the facts, in my view.

Pretty subversive if it comes to fruition.

I don't know that it's subversive. This kind of thing does happen from time to time. Irregularities in a conviction can be strung out for a long time and every now and then result in freeing the formerly convicted. We'll see what happens.
posted by Miko at 6:20 PM on January 20, 2015


the state is pretty satisfied that the right guy is in prison

Yeah, this is the case with every conviction. The right guy to be in prison is the one who was convicted. This is related to Scalia's line that no innocent person has ever been executed.
posted by rhizome at 6:41 PM on January 20, 2015


Fair enough. But what I mean is that I think indications are that those who worked directly with Jay to craft his testimony had confidence in whatever it was he told them.
posted by Miko at 6:44 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course. I don't think anyone is saying that the state randomly picked the brown kid.

But once a police officer has a theory of the crime in his mind, it's hard to change gears. It's easy to accidentally feed witnesses and influence the investigation.

If it were to come to light that Jay and Jenn did not accurately locate the car, would you still feel confident that Jay Wilds was a witness to some portion of the murder?

Because sifting through the evidence, I can't actually tell if that's the case. Jenn gave a concrete address to the police hours before Wilds was interviewed. Jay gives a similar location, but hedges his bets. Then in the March interview, he acknowledges he originally took police to the wrong location for the car. But there's no embellishment of how wrong the location was, or if he eventually got it right.

I can't find any evidence where the car was actually discovered. Or if the police found it concurrently or through Jenn and Jay's information.
posted by politikitty at 6:59 PM on January 20, 2015


If it were to come to light that Jay and Jenn did not accurately locate the car, would you still feel confident that Jay Wilds was a witness to some portion of the murder?

Yes. I tend to think the car business is another relatively unimportant detail.
posted by Miko at 8:20 PM on January 20, 2015


What is the important detail? That he pled guilty to a lesser offense?
posted by politikitty at 8:29 PM on January 20, 2015


Speaking for myself, the most important factor in my thinking that Adnan did it is that I can't think of another scenario that seems nearly as likely. (This isn't a defense of his conviction, but it's a defense of a belief in his guilt.) If Adnan killed Hae and it went down close to how Jay described in his interview, a lot of actions and motivations are resolved. If I heard another equally likely theory about who killed Hae and why, then I'd consider it. But... what is this other story? Who killed Hae?

Maybe this is failure of imagination on my part. But I've hardly heard any competing theories that don't involve extensive conspiracies or unlikely serial killers. Adnan's supporters on reddit tend to argue as if he's innocent until proven guilty, so they don't need to provide an alternate story that is more likely. But that's a legal standard, not an epistemic one.
posted by painquale at 8:54 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think that's the crux of the matter, yes. And that that plea was pretty carefully orchestrated to offer enough support to allow him to serve as the key witness, but not so much so as to be accessory before the fact or a direct witness. I think he might have been one or both of those things.
posted by Miko at 8:57 PM on January 20, 2015


I can't think of another scenario that seems nearly as likely.

I am with you on this. Any other theory has to override the "expect horses" edict, and a lot has to line up with nearly unbelievable perfection to make another set of motives and means even minimally plausible. I can agree that the conviction rests on a very sloppy set of incidents surrounding the case, but I still think Adnan probably did it.
posted by Miko at 8:58 PM on January 20, 2015


Coaching a witness' story alone, even having them practice and remember a rehearsed and agreed story, is standard practice

This has to do with legal counsel, though, and I'm not sure "coaching" is the main accusation against the attorneys involved (the problems there, among others, were the weirdness with the prosecution's involvement in getting Jay a private attorney and--now--Urick's dishonesty about what Asia McClain had said). Also of course Urick wasn't Jay's attorney, so he shouldn't have been coaching him in any respect, right?

The questions about coaching in this case have to do with the cops' involvement. And cops coaching a witness is not standard practice--well, I'm sure it is, in fact, but it's not acceptable practice.

The police and defense counsel figured out and agreed on the story to be told, blow by blow, and Jay had trouble remembering it perfectly and consistently.

I think that understates it, since the key point on which there story hinged (the pickup call) was one that Jay never testified to, and without it the prosecution's story fell apart. The defense just never did a good job of picking up on that. Colin Miller did a great job here of giving a hypothetical scenario of how it could have been used by defense in conjunction with the Nisha call to really destroy the prosecution's timeline.

FWIW two other posts of Miller's touched on some of this more specifically as more information came out over the last couple months. Long reads, but fascinating.
posted by torticat at 10:18 PM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Speaking for myself, the most important factor in my thinking that Adnan did it is that I can't think of another scenario that seems nearly as likely. (This isn't a defense of his conviction, but it's a defense of a belief in his guilt.) ...
But... what is this other story? Who killed Hae?


painquale, I totally hear you on this, I agree. However, the more you dig into the case the more you find that that there really is little to nothing there that definitely implicates Adnan except for motive (potentially) and Jay's dubious testimony. Jay is obviously implicated but has no motive (some ideas have been floated but they seem thin).

But that conundrum, baffling as it is, is so far from adding up to conviction of Adnan.

I started out after listening to the podcast thinking Adnan had to be guilty, and though it sounded like there were a hell of a lot of irregularities adding up to reasonable doubt, at least the guilty person was in prison.

But at this point, having read a lot more, I'm actually more deeply troubled by the idea that a person could be sentenced to life + 30 based on a case like this than by the idea of a guilty person going free. (I think actually this is one of the interesting dissonances that Serial prompted listeners to explore, and I've kinda switched positions on it.)

Also, just as sort of a postscript, once Jay's timeline is thoroughly undermined, you are also left with coming up with a plausible timeline for how Adnan could have done it. Because it's not like he had no one testifying to his whereabouts all afternoon. There are reasons the prosecution had to try to squeeze the murder into a tight time frame.
posted by torticat at 10:44 PM on January 20, 2015


1.(This is a horrible question to ask but a cursory review brings up nothing) Is Jay the only evidence/witness tying Adnan to the burial of Hae Min Lee's body?

2. Reading the Rabia post above, I followed some other links and found the following by Allen Dershowitz on the Grauniad. tl/dr: Syed is going to have a hell of a time overturning his conviction.

3. I hope D. Enright can make something of the last weeks' developments. One thing she mentioned that has stuck with me is that often their best chance of overturning a conviction is providing the state with a more compelling suspect.

4.Which leads me all the way back around to the Colin Miller post mentioned above: He provides a possible alternate scenario which, I think, is more compelling than anything put forward by the State of Maryland.

I realize that accepting alternate scenarios means I disbelieve both the officers who arrested A.Syed and the Prosecutor (Urick especially) but I see no problem with disbelieving them (which is a little sad, sure.)
posted by From Bklyn at 2:15 AM on January 21, 2015


The questions about coaching in this case have to do with the cops' involvement. And cops coaching a witness is not standard practice--well, I'm sure it is, in fact, but it's not acceptable practice.

This goes back to my estimation of the quality of the podcast's reporting and general journalistic approach. This - what happens between police and suspects in pre-indictment plea negotations - is at the center of this story, rather than metanarratives about imaginative framing or the faultiness of memory or critiques of jury or lawyer bungling. All those things are part of the story, but if anyone ever hopes to understand some of what happened here, they really have no hope of doing so without understanding what happened in the non-public-record conversations with Jay in which the police theory of the case was developed and established to support the state's case. Because, presumably, they were trying to fry some additional fish. I think that topic, the sub rosa interactions police have before please are entered, would have made a fantastic subject for a podcast to explore in detail. With some context. That's one of my frustrations with the whole thing: the fact that we are leaning on such things as the voluntary efforts of this legal blogger to offer that context about a matter that is truly central to the story.

The other levels of impropriety, incompetence, and stupidity, I do think, are not insanely uncommon. I agree that is not a good thing about the American justice system, but I think it is true. In fact, it's probably much worse for people who don't have access to moneyed, powerful friends and social capital and the "best" lawyers and limitless resources for appeal and the like.
posted by Miko at 6:38 AM on January 21, 2015


1.(This is a horrible question to ask but a cursory review brings up nothing) Is Jay the only evidence/witness tying Adnan to the burial of Hae Min Lee's body?

Yeah. Jay's testimony and Jenn's, backing him up. The other thing of course is that Adnan's cell phone was apparently in Leakin Park that evening, but there's no conclusive evidence that the phone was in Adnan's possession at the time. Also (subject to how much credence we can give to Jay's most recent interview) he now says the burial took place at or after midnight, which would negate the value of the Adnan's cell phone being in Leakin Park earlier in the evening, which was a critical part of the prosecution's case. And which makes this a really weird point for Jay to backtrack on, at this point.
posted by torticat at 10:16 AM on January 21, 2015


If we'd like to think horses, I did a quick analysis on the Supplementary Homicide Reports for 1994-2002 using the criteria of a female victim, age 17-19, and the relationship of the offender.

6% Spouse
.1% Ex-Spouse
6% Family member (non-spouse)
30% Acquaintance
27% Boyfriend/Girlfriend
6% Friend
8% Other Known
15% Stranger

Ex-boyfriend falls somewhere in the Acquaintance/Other Known unfortunately. But I'm wondering how likely it is, considering the discrepancy between Spouse/Ex-Spouse. We've done a good job conflating The Boyfriend Always Did It with The Ex-Boyfriend Always Did It. But I don't know that the data actually supports that conflation.
posted by politikitty at 11:55 AM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


On further googling, I found this, which estimates that ex-boyfriends commit at most 11% of homicides. Which still makes Adnan statistically less likely than a boyfriend (Don) or acquaintance (Jay) or a stranger (Mr Serial Killer or Mr. S).
posted by politikitty at 12:03 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's interesting. It makes some gut-level sense, since ex-partners likely have less contact overall than partners, so less opportunity to commit murder as well as less exposure to triggering or escalating events. 11% is still a lot of dead women, ones who might have thought they had put a problem behind them.

When I say "expect horses, though," I'm not talking only about the statistical probability of one flavor of intimate partner over another being a murderer, but the general plausibility of the alternate scenarios.
posted by Miko at 4:16 PM on January 21, 2015


I don't know why any of the alternatives lack the same plausibility. A female neighbor and classmate of Hae Min Lee's was strangled nine months prior by a stranger who wasn't identified and convicted until 2003. Don would have only had to sneak out for 20 minutes on the clock to commit the murder, as opposed to Adnan who needed to manufacture both a reason to be alone with Hae and an alibi. Jay could have been trying to stop Hae from telling Stephanie about his infidelity*.

The last requires us to believe a note Adnan wrote to his attorney. But right now we're talking about plausible alternate scenarios. It might not be true, but it's certainly a plausible alternate scenario.

And I'm not just talking about the statistical probability of one intimate partner over another. 80% of intimate murders had previous evidence of domestic violence. Here we have a few diary entries intimating Adnan might have been jealous, but never violent. Given the lack of domestic violence by any of her intimate partners, the odds of her murder being a "regular domestic" as Urick is charging is actually lower than a stranger or acquaintance murdering her.
posted by politikitty at 6:09 PM on January 21, 2015


In the Don scenario, what would be Don's motive?

It doesn't make the least bit of sense to me that Jay would kill someone to stop an infidelity being ratted out. Plenty of people knew more about his habits and life than Hae did, so it's not like she was in a unique position to say something, and murder is about the stupidest and most difficult way to silence someone that you can imagine. It would be like trying to kill a cockroach by blowing up the building. That seems like something the defense would try but is really hard to project into reality - a real stretch. I don't think it's plausible [believable, reasonable].

Given the lack of domestic violence by any of her intimate partners

I don't think we have any information about a lack of violence.
posted by Miko at 6:29 PM on January 21, 2015


I don't think we have any information about a lack of violence.

You also don't have any evidence of violence.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:00 PM on January 21, 2015


Nope, we don't, but absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. It's possible there was violence; we just don't have any information one way or the other. Can't rule it out.
posted by Miko at 7:03 PM on January 21, 2015


That's also the case in the 20% of domestic murders with no evidence of violence. So there could be domestic violence in 100% of domestic murders, but in 80% there's evidence. So the Hae murder, if it is indeed a domestic murder, is in the less common 20%.

The fight with Adnan is equally out of proportion with a normal response as a potential scenario with Don or Jay. Don might have been angry she was thinking of going to California, and Jay has charges of domestic violence and resisting arrest. So he has a history of acting with an inappropriate response.

And the guy who likes murdering 18 year old Woodlawn seniors?
posted by politikitty at 8:21 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm just not swayed by the statistical arguments. None of the alternate scenarios paint a convincing picture of motive, means, and opportunity, and all rely on even less evidence than is available for the Adnan theory.
posted by Miko at 6:00 AM on January 22, 2015


But, Miko, there is effectively no evidence. Jay Wilds has clearly fabricated his testimony and the 'cell phone data' tells an inconclusive story.
posted by From Bklyn at 6:12 AM on January 22, 2015


Jay Wilds has clearly fabricated his testimony

I don't agree that this is clear. It's inconsistent, and some of it appears to be fabricated. It is beyond our ability to assert that all of it was fabricated, and beyond our ability to understand what he may have told police in the pre-interrogation.

There is also evidence of discord between Hae and Adnan. It's not nothing.

As for Roy Davis, I know reddit likes this theory. Are you saying Sarah Keonig found this information and reported on it? Are you saying she should have? If so, I agree, she should have.
posted by Miko at 8:03 AM on January 22, 2015


Nope, we don't, but absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. It's possible there was violence; we just don't have any information one way or the other. Can't rule it out.

Surprisingly enough, absence of evidence is evidence of absence (think Bayes' Theorem). It just isn't proof of absence, so as you said, can't rule it out.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 8:30 AM on January 22, 2015


Reading about this case took up most of a weekend that I was sick in bed with the flu. The blogs and Redditt all take on the mien of some fever dream. I have a girl who's a senior in high school now and this hits close to home. But I also have kids that have had brushes with the police and I know full well that it's a crap shoot. I have dealt with great cops and I have seen some really underhanded manipulation by the police. Why did Jay lie about gloves or the wallet, why pull Jenn in to dispose of clothes, boots and shovels and get him around when there were two cars and two guys if the murder went down like he said it did?

But then there's the burying of the body and rocks placed on the corpse in a park that most bodies are just dumped in - protecting the body from animals, likely happening after the initial burial. And motive? I really don't know what to think, but I keep coming back to something that Susan of The View From LL2 said in a post a few weeks ago:

"I think that when a high school student is manually strangled in a public parking lot in the middle of the afternoon, there is not much to gain from worrying about motive. We already know that, whatever the killer’s motive was, it was irrational and impulsive and disproportionate. Figuring out the exact details of the killer’s unreasonable reason matters little."
posted by readery at 9:58 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Surprisingly enough, absence of evidence is evidence of absence (think Bayes' Theorem). It just isn't proof of absence, so as you said, can't rule it out.

Interesting. It looks like this elides any distinction between "evidence" and "proof," or between a probabilistic support for the theoretical validity of a hypothesis, and empirical evidence for or against that hypothesis. In the end we arrive at the same place: Violence remains possible ("When did you stop beating your wife?"); we just don't know for sure whether it existed in the relationship at the center of this case.

This is an issue, though, on which it's important to be careful about how probabilities are assessed; for those that like stats, only one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police. Relationship violence is already underreported. This report describes that teens experience intimate partner abuse at much higher rates than adultswith 1 out of 5 high school girls reporting a direct experience with dating violence; and it's not unknown attackers and rapists who commit the vast bulk of the offenses: 94% of students between 16 and 19 who experienced intimate partner violence did so at the hands of a current or former boyfriend or girlfriend. Among female victims of intimate partner violence, a current or former boyfriend or girlfriend victimized 94% of those between the ages of 16-19." Those reports were on surveys of large populations, not after the fact of a reported offense. Acknowledging that abuse is a dramatically underreported phenomenon undermines the strength of arguments based on reported levels of violence in arguments based on probabilistic evidence.
posted by Miko at 4:05 PM on January 22, 2015


Reported violence isn't comparable to evidence of violence. It's not even in the same ballpark.

Most women are not investigated to determine if there is violence in their intimate relationships. So most evidence of violence never has an opportunity to come to light.

Hae was murdered. Her entire life was put under a microscope to find evidence of a motive. Her friends were interviewed. Her private diary was read. It is *possible* that she would feel comfortable writing about Adnan calling her a devil, but wouldn't write that he ever struck her or threatened her. But it's not very likely.
posted by politikitty at 4:36 PM on January 22, 2015


Most women are not investigated to determine if there is violence in their intimate relationships. So most evidence of violence never has an opportunity to come to light.

That's why the BJS Criminal Victimization statistics on intimate partner violence were in fact largely built not on reports, but on wide surveys of people in an age cohort, to bring to light incidence of this violence in the broader population. That's one reason we can confidently state that the proportion of nonreported violence is high. Many abused girls and women tell no one, not even a parent or best friend. And it is not at all strange that they might not write about it, either, or write about it only cryptically.

Jealousy is not something separate from violence. It's often a preceding warning sign of violence.

In addition, there doesn't need there to be a history of physical violence for there to be a new occurrence of physical violence.
posted by Miko at 5:09 PM on January 22, 2015


I think this is the terminus of this kind of speculation. There is no evidence (physical evidence) as to the identity of Hae's murderer.
Let me clarify, there is no 'processed' evidence (say from the crime scene) implicating any particular individual.
So all we have are various narratives and suggestions of narratives. And it is the nature of narratives that they are very mutable.
In discussion we can not arrive at a solution: personally, from reading the LL2 blogposts and the interview with Jay I am reasonably sure Adnan Syed is innocent. I could also be wrong, but I think he is innocent at least within the narrative as it has unfolded to me so far.
I sincerely hope Hae Min Lee's murderer is brought to justice. And I think I wish 'Serial' had been more pointedly about how fucked up Adnan's trial was.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:15 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


And I think I wish 'Serial' had been more pointedly about how fucked up Adnan's trial was.

Yes, it is interesting, a general conclusion has been that Koenig was carrying water for the defense. But I think she was telling the truth when she said there were a lot of things they could have reported on but chose not to. I think they were being very, very careful.
posted by torticat at 4:45 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


there were a lot of things they could have reported on but chose not to

Right, which brings me back to wondering what the ultimate purpose was. Not to create a platform of advocacy for a review of conviction in light of the poor investigation? No? Then what? Why? Why stay your hand, if there was an important, morally, legally, and ethically significant story there that you "chose not to" tell?

Why was this story done?
posted by Miko at 7:59 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well as Rabia Chaudry said, it started out as a piece for TAL, and scope of it would take up the full hour. Rabia was under that impression until Serial was about to air. I think the TAL people realized that they had something here that did not fit the format and made a decision to go outside the format. I think it grew organically.

The format of TAL is tiresome. For me it initially it was fresh and interesting but now I find a the stories fascinating but the TAL personnel grating. They have a feigned obtuseness that serves the quirky nature of the storytelling, but that style did not work well with an tragic murder that is recent enough to still reverberate.

Once the Serial team had investigated for almost a year they had a ton of information, but also realized there were things that could not be reported, or at least not in a way they were comfortable with. Sarah Koenig left out the question of the identity of who made the initial anonymous call to the police, which is key I think. The assumption was that it was someone from the mosque community and Sarah alluded to knowing who it was but specifically left that part out of the story. And I think the Serial team pulled back a bit when it came to the Jay parts of the story. His other criminal history and the history of his family and local crime is very tricky territory. There's aspects here that effect the plea deal and the hiring of an attorney for Jay that were left alone and therefore leave a big part of the story untold. I can only imagine how things went from the police side of things.They get an anonymous tip. The tip leads them to pull phone records, the phone records lead them to multiple calls to Jenn during the time it's expected that Hae went missing...then Jenn mentions Jay. Jay who is a junior and whose father and uncles are big names in local crime.

And then there's a lot we don't know. And will never know.

But all that happens after the murder. I'd like to think that Adnan didn't do it, but Rabia Chaudry is so damn likable and has worked so hard for his release I am rooting for them. And my gut tells me he didn't do it, but what does my gut know? I am famous in my family for believing Bill Clinton thinking there is no way that he would have risked everything for oval office hi-jinks. And we know that turned out.
posted by readery at 8:29 AM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Right, which brings me back to wondering what the ultimate purpose was. Not to create a platform of advocacy for a review of conviction in light of the poor investigation? No? Then what? Why? Why stay your hand, if there was an important, morally, legally, and ethically significant story there that you "chose not to" tell?

There's a difference between being an advocate for Adnan and being an advocate for revisiting what may have been a miscarriage of justice. While Koenig has distanced herself from the former, I doubt she would shy away from the latter.

As to why she would want to do the investigation--obviously, she did see it as "an important, morally, legally, and ethically significant story." And to be honest it's hard for me to understand how anyone could disagree that it is that.

If what happened in this case is par for the course in the American justice system, that's a story on its own (and it's not unusual in longform journalism for these kind of generalities to be explored in the context of a specific story).

However, given all that, it obviously don't mean you take a no-holds-barred approach; that's where journalistic ethics comes in. It seems clear to me that Koenig was trying very hard to be fair to Jay, for example--not to tar him with guilt by association, and to present him as much as she could either in his own words or in terms of how his friends saw him as an individual at the time.

It seems odd to me to question Koenig's ethics in reporting the story at all and then also to question why she would draw some lines.
posted by torticat at 11:43 AM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Rabia Chaudry is so damn likable and has worked so hard for his release I am rooting for them.

Yes, she is so likable, and smart, and passionate, one of the aspects of the case that I find heartbreaking is that she could also be wrong.

I found her conversation here with Pete Rorabaugh fascinating. One of the subreddit editors is a guest, and they talk about how reporting like Koenig's plays out with the interactivity of the internet. I think Chaudry also touches on questions of xenophobia in the case and sexism in discussion of it (that could have been in the next conversation though).

I suspect going forward that Serial's first season will not be judged for violations of the journalistic ethics of today, but for its success or failure in pioneering a new kind of journalism that includes this kind of interactivity. I don't think we can just conclude that it's fundamentally irresponsible. It's happening, it will happen (and not just regarding stories that are 100 years old), so the journalistic questions going forward will have to do with how to do it right. It's new territory.
posted by torticat at 12:01 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Readery, your account of Serial's history interests me because it differs so much with other accounts I have read - which indicate that it was planned as a spinoff and envisioned as a serial story with cliffhangers even before there was a specific story proposed. What I have read is summed up well enough on the Wikipedia entry and in the Mother Jones article, where Ira Glass' likening of the series to fiction on HBO and Koenigs "we just wanted to do something different!" are the kinds of things that I think betray a really different show concept than what they ended up trying, inexpertly, to do. It didn't just happen.

I disagree that it's "a new kind of journalism." It's a hybrid of existing forms of storytelling and journalism that most closely resembles New Journalism. I do think it's fundamentally irresponsible, in that the storytelling choices did not serve a journalistic purpose. Her motives and the effect are clouded for this reason. If it's important to advocate for revisiting the case, then there's no journalistic reason to spare Jay investigation. If it's important to focus on "metanarratives" and epistemological questions, then there's no compelling reason to use an unfolding case.

I think the "interactivity" is also much overstated. The show was almost completely in the can when it started airing, and the "we just don't know how it will end" thing was at least as much bait as it was true. They may not have written the final script, and would of course have been ready to overhaul the episode completely had something emerged at the last minute, but it's clear from the research and interviewing that the reporting was in almost completely. Then it got picked up online, and more interactions among the players happened, but that doesn't strike me as dramatically different from, say, people online talking about Ferguson or the Boston Marathon bomnbing, or the Arab Spring or anything else. Rabia's personal involvement , also as a blogger, is far more an internet phenomenon than an intentional phenomenon resulting from any concept of Serial as an "interactive" radio show. It seems clear they anticipated very little of that. Unfolding stories are unfolding stories, and these crossovers have happened for a long time.

Also interesting that so many people characterize Rabia as "likable." I've never found her especially likable. She's an advocate and a source. I understand her role and what she is trying to do. But I see her as a person advacing an agenda, and I don't feel anything especially warm toward her any more than I do the lawyers or other interviewees. If anything, I think she gets pretty damn nasty in her blog entries sometimes. Again, I get it, she's got a point of view, but I feel it important to bring detachment to what she says if there's any hope of getting a less subjective understanding of the whole story.

It might be my own connections to the world of journalism, and my own fascination with it, that makes me approach this entire project so skeptically and cautiously, but I am concerned about the ways in which the rhetoric around this, and its popularity particularly among the less critical, could influence journalism - already on the rocks - in really negative ways. I stand firmly by my opinion that there are a lot of problems with this, if seen as journalism, and also a lot of problems with it if seen as entertainment. It isn't definitely a great thing.

That said I feel like I'm repeating myself a lot by now, so I'm ready to give it all a rest until something new emerges.
posted by Miko at 12:41 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm wondering how Serial is going to handle its second season. As I recall, they've already decided not to do another true crime story, which seems to me like a good idea creatively, but something that will lead to massive disappointment from listeners.

It reminds me of bands who have a big hit with a song that is not characteristic of their style, and then have a lot of problem with audiences expecting something like what they've heard before.
posted by skewed at 1:25 PM on January 24, 2015


I'm only repeating what Rabia said in an interview. And Sarah herself initially approached Jay by saying she was from TAL. He says in the Intercept interview that it was to be for a 'radio show'. Maybe the podcast thing was too weird an aspect to grasp? But it started out under the auspices of TAL and then didn't fit the format.

I remember listening to the first episode on TAL and since it so hit where I live (kids that age, an unfortunate knowledge of abusive behaviors, somewhat embarrassing love of true crime) and thinking "I'm not getting pulled in to this", and yet I was. And my daughters and some good friends. There's a lot about it that bugs me, and mostly it's the journalism as entertainment aspect. I listened half expecting to hear stinger music to emotionally amplify some scenes. The most interesting outcome, apart form the true crime did-he-or-didn't-he, is how subjective everything is. You often hear the worst thing for solving a crime is a bunch of eye witnesses because they will see things differently. And I guess times ten when you are asking people to recreate a day a few weeks in the past. Add to that the teenage factor.

A large group of co-workers just discovered it this week, people who have never listened to NPR and have never even heard of podcasts. The medium is very powerful, a lot more than I think the Serial staff anticipated. This is all life changing for the people involved in the original matter, not for the better. Unless of course Adnan is indeed innocent and is freed. If he's guilty and has felt the need to profess his innocence all these years for the sake of his parents and loved ones (like Rabia who has put everything in to this fight) ...It's a double tragedy.
posted by readery at 2:16 PM on January 24, 2015


I feel it important to bring detachment to what she says if there's any hope of getting a less subjective understanding of the whole story.

Miko, how is it lacking in objectivity to say "I hope Rabia is right"? No one here has said she's so damn likable she MUST be right. Just that, if she's not, she has wasted a lot of time and work and emotion on a killer, and no one would wish that on anyone. And you know, IF she is right, no one would be hurt by that. An innocent man would be freed, is all.

It might be my own connections to the world of journalism, and my own fascination with it, that makes me approach this entire project so skeptically and cautiously

I wish you would stop with the appeals to authority; you don't come across as "cautious" so much as that you've taken against Serial and won't entertain that there might be some middle ground to be discussed here, in a few different respects.

Would it help my arguments if I said that my dad helped put himself through college operating a linotype he had managed to buy; that as a child I fell asleep nights to the sound of the printing press running in our basement; that journalism was my family's bread and butter for decades; and that questions of the kind we're talking about here were common over dinner?

No? Because on MF we don't need a CV? I think we're all adults here and can discuss journalism without putting down differing perspectives by citing credentials.

Miko, this is just by way of saying why I feel prickly about this. I kinda lost my temper over it in the other thread as well, I admit. I just would like it if this discussion could take place without appeals to friends who are journalists, or insinuations that other mefites have only the knowledge they've gained from true crime TV, or whatever.

By the way--I agree with you that the interactivity, such as it is, that influenced Serial was not planned. I didn't mean to suggest that Serial anticipated all of this (obviously they did not), but that I think in terms of journalistic ethics they'll be judged on how they handled it when it happened. And also that I believe a lot more reporting of this kind will happen, going forward.

I think you were on point to mention Ferguson and also the immediate and at times hugely irresponsible reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings. There was both good and bad information that came out of both of those situations. Journalists are having to figure out how to incorporate this information--this is what I meant when I said it is new territory. Because journalists have to report, and now there are all these new sources on the ground.

Crowdsourcing is a genuinely new thing (as of the last few years). I hear my local NPR station (wnyc) experimenting with it on a small scale and wonder what effect it could have on a larger story... we are definitely starting to find out.
posted by torticat at 12:33 AM on January 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


But what's much more implausible to me than something like the above (which isn't an unusual kind of thing at all) is to believe that Jay framed Adnan , or (especially) that he took a total shot-in-the-dark gamble in pinning the murder on Adnan in the certain knowledge Adnan had absolutely nothing to do with it, hoping fervently and desperately that Adnan would not be able to produce a rock-solid alibi - which he couldn't know, if Adnan really didn't do it and wasn't there. That would be a huge chance to take and not one I find at all likely.

I wanted to revisit this comment of yours from a couple weeks ago, Miko. I really, really agreed with you that this would have been an incredibly risky and foolish thing for Jay to have done.

However--Susan Simpson has done some genuinely persuasive work (1, 2) analyzing the calls from Leakin Park. I had thought of those calls as pretty damning. But her analysis--combined with AT&T's statement that incoming calls should not be considered proof of location at all--raise really serious questions.

Add to that Jay's most recent claim in The Intercept interview that the burial didn't actually take place until after midnight. (As an aside, why on earth would he say this even if it's true, undercutting the prosecution's most compelling evidence?)

And then consider that, given all this (if Jay is now telling the truth), it would appear that he very much did take a shot in the dark during the trial, accusing Adnan of having orchestrated a burial at a time Adnan should have been at mosque--during Ramadan--during Eid no less--and when there could have been dozens of witnesses claiming he was there (and, in fact, there were--although they were not called at trial, perhaps because it was assumed at the time that the cell records discredited them?).

The Leakin Park calls were critical for the prosecution. But in fact we don't know when Hae was buried--it could have been days later. Simpson points out, as one data point, that Jay's claim that there was ample moonlight for the burial to have been carried out on the night in question is completely false.

None of this is proof of Adnan's innocence by any means. But... it could certainly point to Jay's willingness to say whatever the police wanted to hear, when he gave his statements, without too much concern for Adnan's ability to produce an alibi.
posted by torticat at 12:34 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Interesting oped in the Baltimore Sun from the South Asian Bar Association of North America.
posted by torticat at 6:51 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


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