Bad Influencer · Pappygate · Airbnb

And "The Staircase" moves to behind-the-camera announcements

The crime
Australian wellness blogger Belle Gibson built an impressive following on social media by sharing the lifestyle tips that helped her thrive despite her brain cancer diagnosis. But as her follower count grew, increased attention led to the discovery that her cancer didn’t exist, and neither did the hundreds of thousands of dollars in charity contributions she had raised.

The story
If there’s one lesson from the BBC documentary Bad Influencer: The Great Insta Con, it’s that drinking green juice while looking winsome in your kitchen makes for more appealing content than chemotherapy does. As one former fan said of Belle Gibson’s Instagram feed, “Even if you weren’t going through cancer treatments, you’d want to live that lifestyle.”

Gibson wasn’t going through cancer treatments, of course, but she was flogging her app and cookbook with claims that she was suffering with multiple tumors. Bad Influencer spends most of its time with some of the ex-followers who helped make Gibson so popular in the wellness community. They talk about feeling betrayed when the truth came out, followed by the revelation that she’d pocketed around $AUS300,000 that was raised for charity. 

It’s always going to be hard to cram a con artist’s circuitous lies into a smooth narrative, but a quick glance at her Wikipedia entry shows there was so much going on with Gibson’s rise and fall that Bad Influencer leaves out. The 45-minute documentary focuses on how she was a role model for wellness in the standard “drink more water, eat more plants” mode. But she also advocated that other people give up “conventional” cancer treatment, drink unpasteurized raw milk, and — you knew it was coming, folks! — was anti-vax.

Bad Influencer is so concerned with taking aim at the entire industrial wellness complex that it loses focus on what went rotten in this particular case. Its biggest get is an interview with an old friend who knew Belle as a pathological lying teen who showed up to school with a fake arm sling. But she provides little more than hints at something darker in Gibson’s past. Gibson’s trial over her non-fact-checked book is skipped entirely, and her conviction for the charity fraud is barely mentioned. There’s got to be a much more satisfying story to be told about Gibson’s deceit than this. Until then, stick with this lacerating Australian 60 Minutes interview (below) instead. — Margaret Howie


Want more on Pappygate? Netflix’s Heist series included episodes entitled “The Bourbon King,” an explication of the early 2000-era theft of thousands and thousands in rare booze (like the above) from a Kentucky distillery. As with most true-crime tales that catch viewer attention (see King, Tiger) now everyone’s churning out #content on the case, and why not? But for the grace, etc., and it makes sense to capitalize on: the case is great fun, and you can see why readers are eager to click to learn more.

Of the pieces that have hit my desk (and by “desk” I mean “Google Alerts”) in recent days, two stand out above the rest. So, if you only have time to consume two Pappygate follow-ups, here are my picks:

Toby Curtsinger Claims He Didn't Steal That Pappy Bourbon. Here's Where Netflix's 'Heist' Subject Is Now [Esquire]
I won’t lie and say I didn’t think of Rachel from White Lotus as I read this aggregated piece on the alleged Bourbon King himself. But it’s smart, well-attributed aggregation with loads of links to local reporting you can follow, with a nice Fast Times-level “where they all ended up” making up the back end. If you got distracted while watching and want to fill in the blanks, this is your pick.

Reliving the infamous 'Pappygate' scandal [WDRB]
I’ll admit only to you that I started following Kentucky TV station WRDB after it got that infamous interview with Papa John’s founder/alleged racist John Schnatter during which he claimed he ate 40 Papa John’s pizzas in 30 days. Its podcast, Uncovered, is staffed with former newspaper reporters and has that news nerd vibe I love. This week, reporter Dalton Godbey covers a recent interview he did with Curtsinger (you can watch that interview here), including the shocking revelation that people who work at distilleries often drink on the job. I mock, but the episode is a nice Heist companion of that’s what you’re after. — EB


A Northeastern University study suggests that crime rates increase in neighborhoods with loads of Airbnbs. This seems like the kind of study that might get warped and twisted when it hits your evening news, with scare-tastic tales on miscreants targeting tourists. (I speak from recent local experience.) But that’s not what’s happening, study co-author Dan O’Brien tells Wired, in a piece you should probably bookmark for when distant Facebook connections start misrepresenting the data.

According to the study, which is entitled “Airbnb and neighborhood crime: The incursion of tourists or the erosion of local social dynamics?”, the issue isn’t misbehaving tourists or predatory criminals. Instead, it’s that “the fact that you took a bunch of units that normally would have functioning, contributing members of a community off of the social network,” O’Brien says. According to the study, which ran from 2011 to 2018 in areas of Boston where Airbnb-only residences grew and grew, public violence reports ticked up. “What’s behind the increase in violence is not the presence of tourists or visitors,” reporter Sidney Fussell writes, “But the absence of long-term residents who are integrated in the community.”

You’ll be stunned to hear that Airbnb disputes the report’s findings, but as it’s a company that actively attempted to erode the social fabric of my town via display advertising, I’m not losing sleep over its distress. Now the researchers plan on replicating their studies in other Airbnb-heavy cities, so, look out, Palm Springs. — EB


Split screen on Sarah and me. Her face relaxes, as though a great burden has been lifted. Mine contracts, as through I smelled a distant but horrible smell.

That was us on Tuesday, when convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein left New York, where he’s been incarcerated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision since March 2020. He was released at 9:25 a.m. by that agency in NY, but only so marshals could fly him to California.

According to the Associated Press, Weinstein landed Tuesday afternoon. He’ll face 11 sexual assault counts on my side of the country, counts for which, on Wednesday afternoon, he pled not guilty, the LA Times reports. Wednesday also marked the day that the full California indictment against Weinstein was unsealed, which means we should expect/brace for a slew of details in the Los Angeles cases.

The terms of Weinstein’s extradition mean that his trial must begin by November, an unusually short time for it to go before a judge. If convicted, Weinstein will serve any sentence for the LA crimes after he completes his 23-year stretch back on Sarah’s coast. — EB


Has The Staircase run out of characters to cast? Maybe, as Deadline has started to report on far-less-glam details like directors, writing this week that Fear Street (yes, the Netflix R.L. Stine show) co-writer, director, and executive Leigh Janiak will handle two of The Staircase’s eight episodes.

I have to say this surprises me a bit. Given how prestige-y this show has been thus far, I expected a single director throughout, a la the first seasons of True Detective or Big Little Lies. But, apparently not, as show co-creator Antonio Campos will direct the other six, and will also serve as co-writer with American Crime Story’s Maggie Cohn. — EB


Friday on Best Evidence: Sarah and I still need to figure out a discussion thread topic, but I already know that with all of you chiming in, it’ll be great.


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