Mark Lamb · Carmen Mola · John Douglas

Plus: True-crime whitewashing

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I almost didn’t read this Politico longread on Mark Lamb. Lamb is the sheriff of Arizona’s Pinal County; he’s also a frequent commentator on Newsmax and Fox News, and NOT as the opposing voice in coverage. The anti vaxxer, who is a proud supporter of the Capitol insurgents and a member of the Mormon church, seems like the kind of person who doesn’t need more press, attention, or real estate in my brain. But these grafs caught my eye:

Lamb, an ardent defender of the Second Amendment, has spoken in support of the formation of private militias — “well within the Constitution,” he told a group of supporters in March — and emphasized the power of sheriffs in Arizona, an open-carry state, to call local civilians into service to “suppress all affrays, insurrections and riots that comes to the attention of the sheriff.” Last year, as Black Lives Matter protests swept across the country, he formed a local civilian “posse” to assist his office with law enforcement, even though there were no such protests in Pinal County.

Through Protect America Now, which was founded by a Republican strategist and two businesspeople working with Lamb and counterparts nationwide, he is marshalling dozens of other elected sheriffs and citizen supporters around these ideas — “building an army” as the group puts it. The message: Sheriffs are here to protect your freedom — including freedom from your own democratically elected government.

The whole idea of cops spending their off hours engaged in militia work — like the 40,000 or so revealed as members of the Oath Keepers by a recent hack — is so fascinating to me at the most basic of levels. It feels like learning that NYT food critic Pete Wells is also an avid Yelper, or that Marc Jacobs relaxes after a long day of designing by playing with Fashion Plates.

This sounds glib, I know, but some of that glibness is a screen for what worries me: that to cops like Lamb, being rootin’-tootin’ gun-toting marchers isn’t just a job, it’s their one true passion. And for Lamb, it’s a passion he’s trying to turn into copaganda entertainment.

…this past May he announced the launch of the American Sheriff Network, which for $4.99 month allows viewers to watch 10- to 20-minute segments showing sheriffs and their deputies as they respond to calls for service — a mix of sheriff propaganda and reality television.

Lamb says the network takes its inspiration from “Live PD,” an A&E show that ran from 2016 until 2020, when it was canceled after deputies in Williamson County, Texas, were caught on camera tasing a man named Javier Ambler, and ultimately killing him. (In response to the incident, Texas passed a state law that forbids law enforcement agencies from partnering with reality television shows.) Before its cancellation, “Live PD” was immensely popular, capturing more viewers than any other cable program on Friday and Saturday nights. Lamb was a fixture on the show, as well as a host of a spinoff, “Live PD: Wanted,” which focused on catching fugitives.

The trailer for the new network features lots of shots of Lamb, his profile against a desert sunset as the camera pans slowly over the shadows of cacti. He flashes a Hollywood smile as he talks about “the shine on the badge.” Many of the episodes are filmed in a low-budget style and feature Lamb as a guide, introducing viewers to other sheriffs in Nevada and Arizona. Lamb says the new network is important because “we just felt like it was important to give [sheriffs] their voice back.” When I asked if Lamb was concerned about a repeat of what happened in Texas, Vale dismissed it saying that “lots of things are out of [the sheriffs’] control.” One episode features deputies tasing new recruits as part of their training, and watching as they scream pain.

So, on the plus side, more validation for Sarah’s and my “Dan Abrams is a baddie” narrative. On the negative, a creepy government overthrow cop gets yet another platform. That’s $4.99 I’m going to hang on to, thanks. You can read the whole Politico profile on Lamb here. — EB

I’m also not going to sign up for Fox Nation, even though that’s the only place to watch John Douglas’s new show. I don’t know why it bums me out that Douglas, the former FBI agent credited with pioneering the practice of criminal profiling, chose to make a deal with the devil.

But here we are: the author of well-regarded books like Journey into Darkness and Mindhunter, seen by many as the most comprehensive look into the motivations of serial killers and other inexplicably awful criminals, is giving interviews to “Fox News Digital” to support Killer Next Door, a five episode series that sees Douglas “break(ing) down the psychological triggers” that led to cases like Berkowitz, Gacy, Kemper, and others.

All five episodes dropped over the weekend, and all are available only on Fox Nation, the conservative network’s even further-to-the-right streaming platform. As Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik put it:

Even I was surprised by the one-sided crush of pro-Trump, anti-Democrats-in-Congress messaging on the government shutdown and border wall, as well as the bare-knuckled attempts to stir the pots of racial tensions and religious differences.

And these are not minor themes or an occasional tone. From Diamond and Silk demanding the “Democrat rats” in Congress “do their jobs” and give Trump his wall, to a bellicose Tomi Lahren denigrating Black Lives Matter, this was red-meat, right-wing rabble-rousing too raw even for Fox News.

This isn’t the first time Douglas has graced the problematic streaming service with his insights: his Interview with Evil (a seeming tie-in with his book, The Killer Across the Table) ran there in May 2019, just a few months after the streaming service launched. He’s also a regular on Fox Nation Happy Hour, which is a show I’m not going to watch even for the lulz. Just can’t do it.

So, if you stay in a vacation rental with Fox Nation signed in (or get a MAGA fan’s password), please do check it out and let me know how it is. But otherwise, here’s hoping Douglas gets a deal with a streaming service that doesn’t make me want to barf when I look at its homepage. - EB

These three Spanish dudes just Catfished one of their country’s most prestigious literary events. File this one under Why Hasn’t This Been Adapted Yet?: Author Carmen Mola, known for her hyper-violent crime fiction featuring a detective named Elena Blanco, has garnered praise as a feminist writer along the lines of Elena Ferrante or Margaret Atwood — but wasn’t a woman at all, CNN reports.

The jig was up Friday, when Mola won Spain’s Premio Planeta de Novela, a literary prize of 1,000,000 Euro (that’s about $1,160,950). Those in the audience expected Mola, who in interviews said she was a university professor and mother who lives in Madrid, to take the stage.

Instead, TV writers Agustín Martínez, Jorge Díaz and Antonio Mercero ran up, admitting that they “decided to combine our talent to tell a story,” Diaz said, adding that “Carmen Mola is not, like all the lies we've been telling, a university professor.”

Speaking with El Pais, the men said that “the idea for picking a woman’s name as a pseudonym was not deliberate,” with Mercero saying, “We didn’t hide behind a woman, just behind a name.”

Folks like writer and feminist Beatriz Gimeno disagree. “Beyond the use of a female pseudonym is the fact that these individuals have been granting interviews for years,” she told El Pais. “It’s not just the name, it’s the fake profile with which they duped readers and journalists. Scammers.”

“We’ve been lying like dogs for four years and several months,” Díaz said of the deception. “It’s been a long time since [I published my own] last novel, and more than one person had chided me for not writing anything else, for being lazy. And I would think, ‘If only you knew...!’” Well, now they do. (h/t to Suley for letting US know.) — EB

Podcast Truer Crime offers an alternative to the “white woman #girlboss approach to the genre.” “Do you ever listen to a true crime podcast and think ‘that’s not quite right…?’ Same.” asks the description of Truer Crime, a six-month-old podcast from Celisia Stanton, who says that a pandemic-era interest in true crime podcasts spurred her to start her own, to correct what she sees as the wrongs of some of the biggest shows out there.

Mashable just published a lengthy interview with Stanton, and it’s worth a read, especially if you’re troubled by the law enforcement rah rah rah-ing of shows like Crime Junkie — or, if like me, you’re strongly motivated by folks who are doing it wrong. Snip:

Then there's some true crime media that is just straight-up disrespectful. In general, true crime media produced by men felt way worse at making jokes — about the victim, even. In general, the blend of comedy in true crime is weird to me.

At the end of the day, everybody likes things that are problematic. It is what it is. I'm not saying you have to be ethically pure. But when we've used TikTok to promote the show and our critiques of true crime, it turned out a lot of people share them. But the comedy one gets pushback with people saying, "I like comedy with true crime because it helps take some of the horror away from it. It's easier for me to hear it, I'd be too uncomfortable otherwise." But for me, it's just like, well, yeah. It's supposed to be uncomfortable. These are people's real-life traumas.

If you listen to any true crime podcast, every episode is like, "Oh well just by chance the police couldn't help — Isn't that so wild?" or "They botched this — isn't that messed up?" At what point does it stop becoming surprising every time and instead become a pattern of behavior actually embedded into the system? Is there something really wrong here that's worth interrogating more?

But it's always, "At the end of the day, even though the cops flubbed this one yet again, hopefully there's some good Samaritans out there or some good cops that'll save the day next time." Which just feels so naive — especially when it happens practically every other episode.

Those last remarks from Stanton resonated with me the most strongly, because it’s almost a joke at this point, the podcast about how an investigation was blown. In fact, that’s often the news hook — that police failed to follow up on tips properly, or investigate a case that involved historically/systemically marginalized victims, or focused on one suspect while ignoring others.

It’s exciting to hear someone articulate that issue…and, also, Stanton has a really cool cat. That cat, and her thoughtful responses to Mashable’s questions about the show, made me subscribe today. Do any of you listen? If so, love to hear your thoughts. — EB

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