Monica Lewinsky · Mississippi · Mysteries Of The Soviet Union

Plus new TV, a Capitol-riot lamster, and more

Greetings, readers — buckle up for a baker’s dozen longreads, listens, strange stories and dated “updates,” because the Best Evidence story budget is getting spring-cleaned! But first, an unearned victory lap by yours truly for manifesting the return of Behind The Music, which makes its (triumphant?) return July 29 on Paramount+. You’re welcome! SDB

A rash of beehive thefts has French beekeepers…stung. (I’m SO sorry; you know I had to.) NPR’s Weekend Edition explains what might have led to a marked increase in hive heisting — the short version: the decline in bee populations worldwide has made both hives and their output more valuable — and talks to Frank Alétru, president of the national beekeeping union in France about who’s probably responsible:

The sophistication needed to successfully steal several hives at once means the criminals are beekeepers themselves, Alétru says. Hives have to be taken at night, because the bees will be inside. "You need to know the bees. It's not amateurs. You need to be professional."

Alétru also has suggestions for taking the “b” out of “burglary,” include installing GPS trackers in the hive — a solution I initially misread as GPS-tracking each bee, which seems like the kind of task you give the rookie beekeeper as a hazing ritual. I’ll also add that, if a national beekeeping union isn’t the Frenchest thing I’ve ever heard, it’s in the top five (“onh honh honh honnnhhhh”), and go back to crafting an Exhibit Bee joke that’s actually usable. — SDB

Scalawag Magazine has surfaced a yearlong investigation into Mississippi laws that put kids as young as 13 years old in adult jails and prisons — automatically. Here’s more on the story’s origins:

"Bound by Statute" was a story originally produced by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and co-published by Scalawag in November 2019. Reporter Ko Bragg investigated why a 13-year-old Black child in rural Mississippi spent a total of nine months in and out of solitary confinement at an adult jail, plus almost another year in a youth prison, all for stealing an iPhone with a BB gun. Ultimately, she uncovered a glaring racial disparity within the state's treatment of kids who are accused of crimes—an injustice enabled by laws created during Jim Crow specifically to oppress Black youth.

Bragg really dug into said Black child’s case, meeting him outside a detention center, talking to his mother Felicia, and putting together a file of similar cases — and the slavery- and Klan-based systems created dozens of decades ago for the specific purpose of harassing and burying (sometimes literally) Black families. Bragg also mentions a problem we’ve brought up more than once around here, namely the participation of journalists in the “civic death sentencing” of teenage “offenders.”

So many so-called reporters feed stories like this. They get the mugshot from the police department, use officers' account of what happened, scare the public into locking their doors at dusk, rinse, and repeat without blinking, even if the person arrested is a child. It's propaganda that reads like civic obituaries, a term inspired by what Paloma Wu, senior attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, calls civic death. 

"This is who people say deserves essentially civic death," she said of Isaiah in an interview. "Because when you're 13 and you have a felony, you're not going to college, you're not getting a job, you're not getting housing. Your life is pretty much over in the civic sphere. So what do we say about ourselves and our communities when we let kids essentially been thrown away in this way?"

It’s an excellent read, tirelessly reported but also detailed and personal. And with the understanding that I, a New Jersey native, do not really get to talk shit about any other states and will therefore “wear that as a neutral” and talk shit about all of them usually? It seems like so many of these stories come out of Mississippi that I’m struggling to understand why anyone stays there. I’ve been to Mississippi; I visited a nice bookstore, I ate shrimp the size of softballs, I wore shorts in March, it was a smile. But if I hadn’t been a white lady in an utterly disarming car that’s basically a roller skate with a radio in it…well, I was going to say “who knows how that story ends,” but: we know, don’t we.

THIS story goes some places you might not expect (the writing samples from incarcerated teenagers were breathtaking); you can learn more about Ko Bragg in a recent interview here. — SDB

Monica Lewinsky is consulting on every script for Impeachment: American Crime Story. I’d forgotten the timeline for the project’s development, kiboshing, and revival — Ryan Murphy nixed the season in 2018, saying it would be “gross” for anyone BUT Lewinsky to tell the story, but then revived it with Lewinsky on board as a producer. And she’s…productive!

Speaking with Variety, Murphy revealed that Lewinsky isn’t just getting her goddamn money and hanging out, she’s actually “involved with every script” and has offered “a lot of insights and thoughts” into the story. He referenced how The People V. O.J. Simpson “showed Marcia Clark in a different way” and he says Impeachment is going to do the same for Lewinsky.

Murphy was smarter than he knew in killing the original iteration of the ACS season, as it began its life with Murphy optioning Jeffrey Toobin’s book on the “scandal” — source material that has at best lost its luster, and at worst is inappropriate to use given the subject matter.

I:ACS still hasn’t begun principal photography, but you know we’ll let you know when there’s shooting/premiere news on this one. — SDB

The latest issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly has a piece from Lacy Crawford ’96 on “finding her” writing “voice” in the P.U. creative writing department. Nominally, it’s about how Crawford moved into the space to tell the story of Notes on a Silencing; to me, it read more as a mini-memoir of the intimidations of 185 Nassau (the building where the creative-writing program lived, back then), imposter syndrome, and what it was like to try to learn from Toni Morrison without fainting. I wasn’t in the fiction section, but I was called upon to read a prize-winning poem (y’all: I know) at a departmental event in 1993, and Morrison was sitting in the front row — and if I’d seen her even an instant sooner than I did, or known she’d bother attending, I’d have sprung a bear trap on my own head to get out of performing my dumb sestina in front of this legend, so Crawford’s account of not feeling like she had the tools even to LEARN to tell a story from the masters in the faculty is relatable, to me.

But however she got there, boy did Crawford get there. The alumni association is hosting a book-club-type event with Crawford tonight — and nagging attendees, repeatedly, to make sure to have actually read the book first; hee — and I’ve got a slot, so if you have any questions or comments you’d like me to try to convey, let me know. — SDB

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From the Charlotte Observer comes the entertaining tale of a Capital-riot dingleberry who was actually better at lamming it off-grid than he is at being a human. If there’s anything I like better than a so-dry-it-could-smoke-in-the-shower “this fucken guy” lede, it’s one from a Southern publication, which adds a dollop of full-fat “bless his heart” to the dish:

On his LinkedIn professional networking page, Brad Bennett offered coaching in several personal-improvement classes, including: “How to Think & Act like a truly Free Person.”

This spring, the Huntersville resident did not follow his own guidance. Instead, according to federal prosecutors, Bennett thought and acted like a man on the run from the FBI.

Which he was.

Granted, it’s a bit disappointing that the denouement was NOT the Fibbies grabbing Bennett up while he was scrolling a QAnon subreddit in a back booth at Fuddrucker’s, but at least the government is now able to charge him with a felony and five misdemeanors…at least, until he tries to vanish into Texas again. — SDB

Somehow, Exhibit B. now has two copies of Aphrodite Jones’s All She Wanted, an account of the Brandon Teena case that is immediately Not How We Do This in the title (misgendering) and doubles down in the subtitle by victim-blaming Brandon for “sexual deception.” I note in the product description for both that I suppose the book has value “as a window into how the case used to be spoken of, and what we still need to work on,” value that is probably cancelled out by the Aphrodite Jonesness of it all, but in any event, I ended up down a research wikihole that brought me to a 2013 Atlantic article on what had changed, and what hadn’t, in Falls City, NE in the (then) twenty years since Brandon’s murder. Stephanie Fairyington revisits a particularly painful interrogation of Brandon by then-county sheriff Charles Laux about certain details of the sexual assault Brandon survived; I remember the exchange well from the documentary The Brandon Teena Story, and it’s still horrifying, so you may want to skip those bits (they’re in italics in the linked piece). I wish we’d got an update as to how things went with the then-current sheriff’s sensitivity training, but alas.

Meanwhile, here’s a 2018 piece from Voice journo Donna Minkowitz, who first reported Brandon’s story to a wide audience — and who, a quarter of a century later, had regrets about her handling of that story. (Hilary Swank has regrets of her own about taking the Brandon role.) I have always recommended The Brandon Teena Story, which you can watch for free on Tubi (or rent/buy from Amazon), but I’m honestly not sure I could watch it again all the way through, because Tom Nissen is so sickening. (John Lotter, meanwhile, is…fighting with Brandon’s mother, who has some problematic gendering habits of her own, across British tabloids about his…girlfriend? Lotter also now claims he didn’t actually kill Brandon, Phillip DeVine, and Lisa Lambert, and has been determinedly appealing his conviction/s, but despite Nissen’s recantation and assertion that he alone murdered all three victims, Lotter is still on death row in Nebraska.) — SDB

And now some quicker hits from various media…

  • “A Mysterious Suicide Cluster” [The New Yorker]. “Residents of a college town kept killing themselves. A parent decided that a student was playing a sinister role.” As always, read with care for yourselves (and if you need to talk with someone, dial 1-800-273-8255). D.T. Max’s report on a string of tragedies in Kirksville, MO and the one guy who seemed to be tied to all of them (who is also accused of threatening to end HIS own life if women didn’t comfort him with sex).

  • A Soviet mystery that birthed dozens of conspiracy theories is solved…maybe [The New Yorker]. If you liked Into Thin Air, you’ll dig this cold-case report from Douglas Preston (yep, same guy) about the horrific deaths of an adventure party in the late ’50s — which, because the government was not exactly forthcoming with anything except gulag assignments, spawned a number of insane criminal-conspiracy theories involving civilians who Knew Too Much. Briskly paced and written with clarity vis-a-vis the science.

  • Hope you’re sitting down for this one, but facial-recognition software is practically begging to be abused [WaPo]. When “amateur ‘sedition-hunters’” used PimEyes to track down Capitol rioters, it might have seemed like a good use of the technology — but it’s a two-way street, of course, and Drew Harwell’s article provides more than enough discomfiting examples.

  • Elizabeth Holmes tries to hide wealth from jury [CNBC]. “‘What she wore, where she stayed, how she flew and what she ate has nothing to do with this trial,’ said Holmes’ attorney Kevin Downey, adding that it[’]s ‘inflammatory commentary that could do great damage.’” I would tend to agree that it’s prejudicial, but if I were Holmes’s defense team, I would not be spending a TON of time on motions or lines of argument stressing that Holmes isn’t as big of an asshole as she came off. Like, find some procedural grounds to get her off the hook with, because the “she’s no worse than anyone else in Silicon Valley” angle is not the play IMO? Anyway, prosecutors “strongly disagreed, saying Holmes’ opulent way of living was bolstered by the alleged fraud.”

  • Podcast West Cork is headed to TV []. Just weeks after the much-lauded pod became available on non-Audible platforms comes the news that it’s going to series, with SISTER (Chernobyl) producing.

  • TVOne premieres Sins of the City [Futon Critic]. Per a press release, “Sins of The City is a close-ended docu-series exposing the underbelly of American cities and highlighting perplexing crimes that will forever alter the fabric of these communities. Through first-hand storytelling, Sins of The City depicts investigators working through the evidence to secure case leads, as narration and interviews capture the history behind each city's woeful tale.” The first episode dropped last Thursday, and focused on the murder of George Floyd. Did anyone make time for this one? Can anyone…tell me where the Sam Hill TVOne is on my Brooklyn Spectrum dial?

  • House on the site of John Wayne Gacy’s former home finally sells [KRON]. Listed in late 2019, the house — which is not THE house, but is on the same lot — finally sold for $395,000. Seems like the culprit could easily be not the history of the address, but 2020 having its customary whackadoo effects on residential real estate, but what do I know. — SDB

This week on Best Evidence: Series greenlights, an internal-affairs podcast, and more.

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