Serial · Epstein · Citizen

Set your DVR for Diane Downs

The New York Times is buying Serial. The paper said Wednesday that it has struck a deal for Serial Productions, the company behind the landmark true crime podcast, to the tune of about $25 million. It also established a “creative and strategic” partnership with radio show This American Life (of which Serial was ostensibly a spinoff).

The acquisition is intended to allow more podcasts under the Serial banner (the first one, reports The Verge, is on “the role white families play in shaping public education”) and integrate the paper’s reporting into its shows, says Sam Dolnick, an assistant managing editor at the Times in charge of its audio efforts. “There’s going to be ways that we can help Serial tell more stories, bigger stories and, down the road, figure out how our newsroom and theirs can coordinate even more deeply.” — EB

The first trailer for Surviving Jeffrey Epstein is out. The two-part Lifetime documentary is under its Surviving brand, previously used for R. Kelly and applicable, one assumes, to an awful lot of recently-exposed Bad Men. Salon reports that the four-hour documentary will take a deep dive into the experiences of eight of Epstein’s victims, and is from Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern (late of The Preppy Murder).

A lot of the folks featured in Surviving Jeffrey Epstein also appeared in Netflix’s Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, so you might be wondering what Lifetime’s offering brings to the table — after all, Epstein is hardly Kelly, whose alleged misdeeds had flown beneath much of the public radar prior to their doc on the artist. According to Lifetime, their take offers “new survivor stories” and “new secrets exposed,” but doesn’t elaborate.

Barring whatever Ghislaine “Hey, at least the President wishes me well!” Maxwell is telling the feds now that she’s been snagged, is there more to the Epstein tale than what previous docs, investigative reporting, and podcasts have all covered? Lifetime is hoping you think there is, and that you’ll tune in on August 9 and 10 for the scoop. — EB

I'll Be Gone In The Dark has upset the daughter of one of the Golden State Killer’s victims. Joseph James DeAngelo has admitted to killing Jennifer Carole’s father and stepmother, Lyman and Charlene Smith, part of a plea deal he agreed to to avoid the death penalty. As those who followed the case likely know, it was DNA evidence found on Charlene’s remains that helped investigators link the crimes to DeAngelo, a retired police officer who claimed that an inner personality named “Jerry” forced him to kill at least 13 people and rape scores more.

Carole participated in IBGITD, appearing in the third episode of the HBO docuseries to detail how her brother found her parents’ bodies. According to the Ventura County Star, the show accompanied her interview footage with photos from the crime scene. When Carole saw the episode (it was shown to participants before it aired) she asked that the photos be removed. They were not, the VCS reports.

Cheryl Temple, Ventura County's Chief Assistant District Attorney, is also troubled by the photos’ inclusion, saying that “These photos should not be out there in the public. Our office takes great care to maintain confidentiality of all evidence related to a case, not just to preserve the integrity of that evidence for trial but also because of the devastating impact that could have on victims and survivors of violent crime.”

Show creator Liz Garbus didn’t address Temple’s concerns, but did say that they’d talked with Carole, “took her point of view into careful consideration in determining how to use the images responsibly as part of the series, and we took steps to address her concerns.” Carole remains displeased, saying “the idea that once again my brothers and frankly my uncle could be re-traumatized by something they didn’t expect is honestly something more than I can handle.” — EB

Today, in Best Evidence history. On July 23, 2019, here’s what we were talking about:

  • Who Killed Garrett Phillips made its debut on HBO, a doc by IBGITD’s Liz Garbus (quoted in the item above!). On The Blotter Presents, Sarah and guest Lani Diane Rich said it was “a well-structured, organized, suspenseful, and deeply compassionate look at a case's interminable toll on an entire community.”

  • No One Saw A Thing, the Sundance doc on the slaying of Ken McElroy, the so-called “town bully” of Skidmore, Missouri, also made its premiere. Sarah and guest Allison Lowe Huff tackled it on a subsequent episode of The Blotter Presents, saying that “both-sides-ism and a certain cynical willingness to let correlation be causation undermined the series overall.”

  • The Coastal Road Killer, a four-part docuseries on a string of unsolved homicides in Israel, was announced. The show made its debut at Doc NYC that winter, but so far, it doesn’t look like any distributors have picked it up.

There’s more where that came from; read the full issue here!

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Wired magazine has turned its focus to crime-reporting app Citizen. Citizen is a great app for people who don’t have a terrible-enough case of mean world syndrome or live in places where Nextdoor isn’t as horrifying as it could be, with a stated mission of making the world safer by allowing user-generated livestreams and reports from the site of emergency incidents.

“It’s the crowdsourced canary in your pocket that squawks whenever there’s a report of a man stabbed or forty teenagers fighting,” reporter Boone Ashworth writes, but as a free, adless app that’s venture-funded, there’s the obvious concern that the platform (like so many others) will have to turn to something sketchy to eventually make money. Along the way, questions have been raised about its relationship with law enforcement (dicey!), its paid content program, and its uneven moderation of racism and violent threats across the platform. You can read Wired’s longread on Citizen here; the story is also the topic of the first ep of Wired’s new podcast, which you can listen to here. — EB

Friday night’s 20/20 is a rerun of last year’s Diane Downs special. “My Mother's Sins” initially aired in March of 2019, and it’s a two-hour look back at the 1983 case in which Downs killed her daughter and tried to kill her two other kids, but blamed the shooting on a (fake) carjacker. The whole case is pretty amazing — there’s an escape, a surprising adoption, and a Farrah Fawcett-starring adaptation of the crime (that’s it, in full, above) — and there’s a solid news hook for the repeat, as Downs is up for parole this year. Per the press release from 20/20, you can catch the special at 9 PM ET Friday, and if you just can’t wait, it looks like it’s available to stream here. — EB

Friday on Best Evidence: Sarah’s taking the wheel to let me fully check out on my last day of vacation; I’m sure she has many a wonder in store. (No pressure, Sarah!) [“Back to that inflatable pool, you.” — SDB]

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