Reenactments · Trap Queens · Cell Phone Jammers
Also: A podcast about crimes in the trucking biz? Yes, please.
As we’ve been saying…It feels weird to be talking about the pop culture reaction to crime when pretty much every news item we’ve consumed lately is about the crimes that we all watched live on TV just last week. Sarah and I are thinking a lot about how stressful and scary that was to watch, and we both know that in days like these, it might not feel as fun to hear about true crime properties that appear online, via audio, or on TV.
So, while we’ll keep sending out these missives every day, if you feel like you need a break, take a break! Every issue of Best Evidence lives online, too, so you can always catch up later on, when you’re feeling more settled. We get it, and we’ll leave the lights on. — EB
The Center for Journalism Ethics is arguing against reenactments. Longtime Best Evidence readers likely know that Dan Brady, the spouse of my BE partner Sarah D. Bunting, once appeared in an Unsolved Mysteries crime reenactment (Season 2, Episode 16, she reminds us). But it wasn’t Dan’s performance an examination of the practice from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication — it was concerns raised Costa Rican TV network Teletica, which the Center says demonstrated “striking and unethical behavior” for its use of a reenactment to cover “a case still under investigation by the Costa Rican authorities.”
The issue in this case was that the show showed a homicide victim “cutting loose and drinking alcohol,” which some critics said smacked of victim-blaming. But pundits in the U.S. also say that they’re uncomfortable with the commonly-used tool, with one saying that “we have to be more careful of the audience being deceived by our use of creative tools, creative reenactments being one of those tools.”
Here’s a snip:
According to Mary Rogus, a US associate professor of journalism at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University and former television reporter, producer and executive producer, reenactments should never be used because of the re-victimization it entails.
“Ethically, I don’t think they should ever be used because of the potential of re-victimizing the victims and family members of the crime,” Rogus said. “It violates the very basic ethical principle of not deceiving the audience.”
“You can do all kinds of damage to those who were trying to get over the loss or the injury or the harm to a loved one,” Rogus said.
Reading this, I got a little squirmy, thinking about how frequently I’ve, say, snickered over a super-cheeseball reenactment on any of the multitude of shows that rely on them to communicate their narrative. Am I part of the problem? (Probably, I’m working on it.) (That said, watch the video above, I mean, COME ON.)
I don’t disagree with the conclusions presented here, but I also am considering this practically: How does a show that wants to keep its audience interested do so without some sort of reenactment? Isn’t it a necessary component of the TV true-crime package? Or is there another, better (but still engaging) way to tell the story that doesn’t run the risk of harming a survivor? Read the whole item here, let’s talk it out after. — EB
Season Two of American Gangster: Trap Queens, is ready to drop. I know we talked about AG:TQ season one before it aired back in October of 2019, but I think I forgot to circle back to tell you all that it was one of the most delightful true-crime shows I watched that fall. The American Gangster docuseries is now a venerable 14 years old and was heavy on the male side of the gender spectrum, but in 2019 the franchise was revived by BET with a female focus (but a male narrator, as it was Jeezy who told the stories of “America’s most notorious female gangsters”).
This time the narrator is Lil Kim — which sounds fun — and a plan to address “social issues such as systematic racial and gender disparities,” EP Frank Sinton says via press release. But before you think that that sounds like too much work, Sinton warns us that “the stories this season vary from thrilling to shocking and everything in between.” Based on the trailer above, it seems like the second season of AG:TQ will continue to walk the exceedingly fine line between seriously-intended cautionary tale and glamour…in other words, the way shows about male gangsters have played things for decades. It’s on BET via broadcast and streaming as of January 14. — EB
If you’re not listening to California City, maybe this will convince you to start. The LAist podcast on a massive, dream-shattering Mojave Desert real-estate scam (and site of one of my my favorite road trip gas stations) officially wrapped in August of 2020, but news keeps breaking, so the show keeps coming up in our feeds. There’s something kind of exciting about a new episode — one that isn’t a sneak promo for a studio’s new show — of a show you thought was over, sort of like when a present arrives the day after your birthday. And so far, we’ve gotten two of those delayed gifts, one in September, and another just a few weeks ago.
It’s that December episode that’s made headlines, after details revealed in the podcast regarding the illegal use of cell phone jammers has attracted the attention of state regulators, who amended their complaint against a real estate investment company called Silver Saddle to reflect new information that host Emily Guerin and her colleagues uncovered as they reported out the show. You can see the latest on LAist here, and catch up on California City here. — EB
Westworld fans have a new reason to check out Mr. New Orleans. Typically I try to spread out my totally self-indulgent Best Evidence items over a couple issues or so, but I can’t help it — today it basically My Favorite Things, just replace “cream colored ponies” with “cool lady gangsters” and swap “real estate scandals” in for “schnitzel with noodles.” And now we come to Westworld, an HBO series that has nothing to do with real life except that I am real and I love it.
Oh god where was I? So, Louis Herthum, who had the thankless turned actually quite interesting task of playing Dolores’ dad on Westworld, is the audiobook voice behind ten-year-old book Mr. New Orleans: The Life of a Big Easy Underworld Legend, a book about (per JFK protagonist Jim Garrison) “one of the most notorious vice operators in the history of New Orleans,” Frenchy Brouillette.
It’s not every day that a book’s audio version comes out ten years after the print copy dropped, especially with a known actor behind the mic. According to The Advocate, the book’s a cult classic, so maybe that justified the audio refresh? Via Twitter, author Matthew Randazzo V (not a typo) says the New Orleans-born actor is a “close friend” so maybe it’s as simple as that. You can get the audiobook, which is free to trial Audible subscribers, here. — EB
And now we come to my last “does anyone care about this besides Eve?” item. I was looking at Freightwaves, a website about the global freight industry, because I’m curious about why prices on nitrile gloves are skyrocketing given that many of the industries that use them — food service, personal services, and dental offices, for example — are seeing less business than ever before. But I was diverted from my glove hole by this item on the site’s new true crime podcast, Long Haul Crime.
OK, so this is a very narrow-interest show, with a specific focus on crime in the fields of trucking, supply chain, and logistics. Hosts Clarissa Hawes, Nate Tabak, and Noi Mahoney are all veteran business reporters, a field that’s not known for flash or allure. And, perhaps most annoying, to listen you need to subscribe to Freightwaves’ full feed of podcasts, which means you’ll have a lot of skipping around to do unless you’re really into trucking. (But, y’all, there is a show called What the Truck?!?, which is kind of adorable.) But I was intrigued by the the first episode (which you can listen to above) on recently-executed trucker Alfred Bourgeois, and am already eager for upcoming episodes on drug busts at the border and ransomware attacks on logistics companies. — EB
Wednesday on Best Evidence: Dan Brady answers for his reenactment crimes. Just kidding! Sarah has a lot of longreads on the budget, so I’d bet that’ll come up.