Ronan Farrow · National Enquirer · Face Tattoos

Plus: What people reportedly buy when they're consuming true crime

How are you doing? No, really, how are you doing? I decided that I feel better if I try to eat some vegetables every day and make an effort to run the Roomba (it’s harder than you think — I have a couple chairs that Bermuda Triangle that poor little robot). Writing this newsletter is one of the few things that still feels normal to me, so I’m really glad that y’all are here. If you think more people might enjoy Best Evidence, please do pass it along! — EB

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There’s a war breaking out over Ronan Farrow’s reporting. The opening salvos were fired by the New York Times, the media reporter for which claims to have revealed “the weaknesses” in the Catch And Kill author’s work. According to former Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith, who decamped from that pub to the Times on March 1, Farrow’s reporting “can be misleading,” then goes on to criticize Farrow’s work on revealing sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer.

It’s a weird piece, one that’s truly madly deeply inside baseball and to this outsider, there’s a strong odor of sour grapes. As you scroll towards the bottom, you see Smith admit that his current employer competed with Farrow on the case, and that his past one had, as well. Smith claims he’s seeking to push for the truth in this era of murky news, and in doing so, casts doubt about some of the most significant reporting on sexual assault that we’ve seen in recent years. It’s an interesting editorial decision, to be sure!

Poynter, the website for journalism nonprofit the Poynter Institute, suggests that there are good people on both sides of the debate, but rounds up reactions from all around — there’s Slate reporter Ashley Feinberg, for example, and her tweet:

And the New Yorker’s digital editor, Michael Luo, who released a 16-tweet thread that began with this thrust:

Finally, there’s Farrow, who also dropped several tweets disputing Smith’s account:

One of Smith’s contentions was that Farrow exaggerates the conspiracy element of his reporting for dramatic purposes. But by taking that skirmish public, now all anyone can see is conspiracy, I mean, look at these plot-seekers.

The whole thing is weird, feels deeply tone-deaf, and arguably seeks to undermine a significant set of true-crime properties we’ve all been following. Is this squabble up your alley, or do you prefer to ignore it as you might a group of children bickering in the backseat of the broken-down minivan that is 2020? Either answer is OK. — EB

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As long as I’m on my media shit…The Daily Beast reports that the National Enquirer, which allegedly hid loads of true-crime reporting when its subjects paid them a fee, might be done for good. The news peg is Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer, a documentary that made the rounds in November of 2019, and made its TV debut on CNN this past Sunday.

According to TDB, the Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., is hoping to score a $5-6 million payment protection program (PPP) loan to keep the publication in business, but that might not be enough. Former editor Steve Coz tells the Daily Beast that “The Enquirer had the largest emotional bond to its readers. We got so much mail that the Post Office gave us our own zip code. We had readers that loved the publication, that were incredibly loyal to the publication, and when [publisher David] Pecker did this pro-Trump, bash-Hillary thing for a full year, all those readers felt betrayed. So you watched the circulation start diving, and there’s no way to get those readers back.”

Scandalous is now available for streaming via most cable providers’ On Demand platforms, CNNgo, and CNN’s mobile app. I watched a little bit when it aired live (just what I could get in while my husband picked up dinner for us — I’m trying to spare him infuriating news these days) and was impressed by how thoroughly it illuminated the tabloid’s practice of not reporting some of the biggest true-crime stories of the day. From what I caught, worth a watch. — EB

The subject of podcast The Man With A Thousand Faces was back in court last week. The pod about Jamie Osuna — a convicted murderer who “tattooed most of his face to look like a comic book villain” — dropped its six episodes back in the fall of 2019, the final show detailing how Osuna somehow managed to fully decapitate his cellmate while both served out sentences in California’s Corcoran State Prison.

“It was a very gruesome case, certainly the most gruesome case I have seen in my career,” Kings County Assistant District Attorney Phil Esbenshade told KGET at the time. The weapon, he said, was “a razor with string around it.”

Now Osuna’s newest alleged crime is winding its way through the court system, and at a video conference last week, psychiatrists charged with examining Osuna to evaluate his competence to stand trial said that he refused to speak with them. During the hearing, Osuna (who was surrounded by three guards and “wore a white prison jumpsuit, and a white face mask to protect against the coronavirus,” KGET reports) said “I don’t want a preliminary hearing. I want to plead guilty to murder,” but the judge and attorneys from both sides reportedly “ignored him” and set a date of August 3 for the next hearing in the case. — EB

Historian Jill Lapore has a new podcast about “the history of evidence.” Lepore’s also a staff writer for the New Yorker, so this glowing NYT piece on the podcast, which is called The Last Archive, is perhaps proof that the Times does not have an overarching beef with the magazine (see item one in today’s newsletter).

In The Last Archive, which dropped its first episode last week, Lepore takes an episode-by-episode look at “the history of truth” through stories like the polio epidemic of the 1950s and, in its first episode, a woman found strangled in a Vermont garden in 1919. The whole show seeks to answer the question “How do we actually know anything?”, which just might be the greatest adventure any detective ever has. The first episode is great, and if I know you guys, you’ll dig it too. Here’s hoping the rest of the season lives up to it. — EB

We are all Richard Nixon now. That’s my bedroom you’re looking at above, a shot from my security camera. It was a gift my husband got me to answer the question “I wonder what [pet x, y, z] is doing right now?” in the good old days when we left the house. Since then, I’ve used it as “playback” during he said/she said discussions, to find important quotes from an interview when my notes disappeared, and to see what pets X, Y, and Z are doing (usually something bad).

According to ZDNet, my decision to wire up my household like the 1970s-era White House might have been informed by my interest in true crime. Citing a recent survey by ADT, the “emotional impact” of true-crime content often spurs home-security purchases, with respondents saying that they decided to get #1 surveillance cameras, #2 a doorbell camera, and #3 a security system after consuming content labeled as true crime.

One question they don't answer is how many of those purchases were prompted by watching Netflix’s Mindhunter. You know, the show that capped many episodes with the at-large BTK killer Dennis Lynn Rader, who in at least one scene was shown installing an ADT security system for a potential victim. It’s true, Rader did indeed work at the Wichita office of ADT from 1974 to 1988, where he installed security alarms — in many cases for people who got the systems, according to reports, out of fears of the BTK killer. Super-weird that ADT didn’t bring that fact up in its press release on its survey, huh? — EB

Wednesday on Best Evidence: It’s The Blotter Presents, Episode 144, in which Sarah and guest Jessica Liese quickly pivoted to discuss Fake Heiress and an Unsolved Mysteries segment about the disappearance of Nyleen Marshall.


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