The Irishman · Countdown to Capture · Bundyville

Plus: FX has more true crime on its small screen plate

It seems like a lot has been said about the de-aging CG used in The Irishman, but there’s less out there on how its premise might be based on a lie. I mean, not that it matters in the grander sense -- after all, Henry Hill was a notorious fabulist, but that won’t keep me from enjoying Goodfellas. But from a true-crime perspective, The Irishman is fairly problematic.

Writing for Slate, Bill Tonelli (the author of Mob Fest ’29, a Kindle Single worth dropping $2.99 on) lays out the problems with Frank Sheeran’s admission that he killed Jimmy Hoffa. Sheeran, allegedly a low-level mob operative slash Teamsters official -- that’s who Robert De Niro plays in the Netflix film -- was never arrested for or otherwise accused of the many crimes he reportedly claimed prior to his death in 2003. And according to John Carlyle Berkery, a longtime Philly mob boss who spoke to Tonelli, “The only things he ever killed were countless jugs of red wine.” “It’s baloney, beyond belief,” concurs former FBI agent John Tamm, who investigated Sheeran for years.

Tonelli was remarkably thorough in attempting to confirm or debunk Sheeran’s many claims, which also included an admission that he killed Joe Gallo. When you have some time to sit and read for a spell, check out his engagingly-written report, then drop me a line (or a comment) and let me know if you’re more likely to be put off by the flawed basis of the film, or the uncanny valley in which The Irishman’s stars’ faces seem to reside. -- EB

As long as we’re on the topic of longreads, here’s a great piece from the Columbia Journalism Review on the media’s role in enabling R. Kelly’s alleged crimes. Citing pieces like this BuzzFeed item that called the New York Times out for “downplaying” the allegations against Kelly and music journo Keith Murphy’s confession that he was complicit in a cover-up, CJR staff writer Alexandria Neason interviewed writers/industry figures Dart Adams, Naima Cochrane, and David Dennis Jr. about why Kelly’s story was handled the way it was for so long.

While all admit that Kelly’s alleged actions were well-known within the music industry, “nobody talked about boycotting Kelly,” Adams said. “You couldn’t be super vocal or critical of R. Kelly early on because so many publications really relied on covering him. Because he was not only a hitmaker but also a producer for people that made hits.” It’s an eye-opening look at how the issues of access can keep publications from reporting bad or troubling news about powerful figures. You can read the full conversation here. -- EB

Did Countdown to Capture actually play a role in the arrest of Peter Gregory Chadwick? The body of 46-year-old Quee Chadwick was found in the trash bin of a San Diego County gas station back in 2012, strangled, Chadwick alleged, by a handyman employed by the millionaire real estate magnate. Investigators didn’t buy the claim, and arrested Chadwick for the slaying.

While free on $1.5 million bond, Chadwick fled the country, an act that placed him on the U.S. Marshals’ Most Wanted list. His flight also spurred the Newport Beach Police Department to record a podcast on the case, called Countdown to Capture, which was released last year.

NBC San Diego reports that officials received “hundreds and hundreds” of tips on Chadwick’s whereabouts, which led them to a residential duplex in the Mexican city of Puebla. According to Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis, the podcast generated “awareness” and “leads” for officials -- but, just playing devil’s advocate here, since the podcast was his agency’s product, can’t we expect him to say that? After all, there was also a $100,000 reward offered for information that led to his arrest. Surely that was an incentive, too?

One of the reasons I’m getting cranky about this is this headline from the L.A. Times: “Cops made a crime podcast to capture fugitive multimillionaire Peter Chadwick. It helped.” But within the story we see that Adams cited “good old-fashioned police work” and a tip that led to Chadwick’s capture, with staff reporter Hannah Fry writing “The exact nature of the tip was unclear, including whether it came from someone who listened to the podcast.”

So, in actuality, we don’t know that the podcast played a role in the arrest, and even Adams, who has the most to gain by saying his department’s tactic worked, isn’t saying that it definitively did. But that headline was enough to spur reblog after reblog item saying that a podcast brought a fugitive to justice, and burying the actual quotes and details beneath SEO-enhanced content. Okay, maybe I should go eat something, I’m getting too bitter, here. But you guys see what my concern is, right? -- EB

Nicholas Quah has some backstory on how Bundyville: The Remnant made the transition from longform journalism to podcast. The Longreads/Oregon Public Broadcasting collab on anti-government extremism was initially conceived by journalist Leah Sottile as a written piece, but “Early on in the reporting, I went to my editor at Longreads, Mike Dang, and said, ‘I think we have enough for a series,’ and he said, ‘Sounds great to me — also, we’re also interested in doing a podcast, do you know anything about that?’” 

Quah covers some of the inside podcast baseball elements of Bundyville on his site, and also did a longer Q&A with Sottile and Bundyville editor Ryan Haas for Vulture. In addition, Sarah and guest Toby Ball covered Bundyville: The Remnant on The Blotter Presents in June, and said it gave them “just the Frontline-ian perspective we craved.” You can listen to the Bundyville pod and/or read its stories here. -- EB

FX’s true crime plans extend beyond American Crime Story. As discussed yesterday, the cable network has announced that Impeachment will be Murphy’s next ACS, with an premiere date of September 27, 2020. In addition, the channel is planning at least three other true-crime (or true-crime adjacent) properties, with air dates that remain TBD. Here’s the rundown, per WRAL:

A Wilderness of Error, a six-ep series based on the Errol Morris book A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald. I’m already looking forward to Sarah’s take on this one!

The Most Dangerous Animal of All, which is based on Gary L. Stewart ‘s memoir The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father…and Finding the Zodiac Killer. But did he, though? I don’t know, y’all…

Hip Hop Untold, another six-parter on “the power brokers who operate from the shadows of hip hop and the street culture that produced them.” Maybe this time we’ll really learn who killed Jam Master Jay.

Outlaw: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur, a series “told through the eyes of those who knew the late hip hop icon and his activist mother.” Without seeing this, I’d argue that it’s only true crime adjacent, as any story that ends in an unsolved high-profile homicide might be. I’ve written about Afeni Shakur (who died in 2016) before, and found her to be a fascinating figure, so I’m hopeful the show spends as much time on her work as an activist as it does on her son’s arguably more glamorous career. -- EB

Friday on Best Evidence: Do you have your own IMDB page? If you said “no,” then you’re probably not a famous murderer.

What is this thing? This should help.

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