Untouchable · Bad Blood · Forensic Genealogy
Plus: true crime podcast beef!
|Best Evidence||Sep 3, 2019||1|
Untouchable's predictable rhythms contain important testimony. Hulu's long-awaited documentary on “the rise and fall of Harvey Weinstein” dropped yesterday, and while I'd not looked forward to it -- I knew it would make me furious -- rainy weather here at Best Evidence Brooklyn HQ meant I had to face it sooner than I’d have liked. And on a strictly structural level, it’s fine: it has the rhythms you expect, paired with excellent access to former Miramax execs and staffers, industry journos, and survivors of Weinstein’s predations.
It’s those survivors relating their experiences that makes Untouchable significant. Director Ursula Macfarlane (Charlie Hebdo: 3 Days That Shook Paris; One Deadly Weekend) creates a safe space for Hope d’Amore, Zelda Perkins, Paz de la Huerta, and others to take us through what happened to them, and while it isn’t easy to hear, it is...well, the word “important” is overused, but what you hear over and over again as the women he assaulted recall their experiences is 1) an almost instinctive return to self-blaming phrasings -- not in every case, but often enough for me to note; 2) a genuine difficulty, after years and sometimes decades, relaying what happened (d’Amore in particular has to take a long pause to stay collected after remembering Weinstein’s not-very-subtle threat); 3) a need to explain, to make viewers really understand, how little choice any of them had, why they froze, what it feels like to realize that there is no “just leaving.” We know about these things, of course, but it’s worth hearing them again, and worth remembering how easily Weinstein could intimidate his victims and/or buy their silence -- and the silence of everyone around him, be it executives, journalists, or agents and directors. The rage-fueled wrestling match he had with two HW staffers at a party, and the fact that it got functionally no coverage at the time, is typical...and stories like it are part of why I wasn’t eager to watch the docu. Nobody stuck up for them; the EIC said something like, “Harvey’s Russia,” don’t go against him; there was, at the time, no thought that anything could be done or any line could be drawn.
Untouchable ends not long after Weinstein’s arrested, but one commentator notes that his arrest isn’t the end of the story; every company has its Weinstein, and most of the people who turned a blind eye -- or worse, made women the active parties in these “transactions” that “got them” key parts -- will never answer for continuing to work with him and look the other way. Like the rest of the film, it’s a down note that’s worth keeping top of mind, because Weinstein’s finally having to go to court in this matter doesn’t mean “justice” is served forevermore. (If you’re interested, but don’t think you can stomach an hour and forty minutes, Frontline’s episode from 2018 is a briefer take on the topic -- and comes in podcast form if you’d rather listen than watch.) -- SDB
True-crime writer James Renner is launching a cold-case nonprofit. The Porchlight Project is intended to boost “awareness of long-unsolved cases” and raise funds for DNA research, Renner tells the Akron Beacon Journal. Renner’s been in the true crime game for over 15 years, he says, covering cases for papers in Cleveland and writing a couple books on area cases.
Unofficially operating out of the Nervous Dog, a coffee shop in West Akron, Renner says that The Porchlight Project will initially focus on the unsolved homicide of Barbara Blatnik, whose 1987 slaying remains featured on the Ohio attorney general’s site. Renner and his band of “unpaid but dedicated volunteers” hope to solve the case by raising $4,000, the cost of DNA testing of evidence from the crime scene. The plan is to use forensic genealogy (the DNA database matching strategy that allegedly nailed the Golden State Killer) to find links to suspects in the Blatnik case, then turn that information over to police in Cuyahoga Falls. You can follow or assist The Porchlight Project via their website, which you can find here. -- EB
Bad Blood author John Carreyrou left the Wall Street Journal because he wanted to take advantage of paid speaking opportunities. It was Carreyrou’s reporting on Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes that provided the bedrock for his bestselling book, which Sarah and guest Stephanie Green discussed in this episode of The Blotter Presents back in September of 2018. But it was the success of the book that spurred his departure, Carreyrou tells The Daily Beast, saying that he’s leaving the WSJ after nearly 20 years over its policy against getting paid to speak places.
“The Journal has a pretty blanket ban on its reporters taking money to speak publicly,” he says. “If I were to do that or my colleagues do that it compromises the Journal. I respect the reasons for their policy but for me it meant leaving quite a bit of money on the table. I’m in pretty high demand due to the success of the book. I’m grateful for everything they’ve done for me.”
(The WSJ policy is a fairly common one for legacy publications -- when I was in upper management at the San Francisco Chronicle, I was allowed to take paid gigs (typically on “the future of news,” as if I had any idea hahaha sob ha) if the money was donated. Let’s just say that Grateful Dogs, the place that saved my then-bff Franny, had a pretty good couple of years.)
While we’re on the topic of getting paid for Theranos chat, now is a good time to remind you free subscribers (whom we love, don’t get us wrong) that if we get 2000 paid readers by August of 2020, when the Theranos trial starts, not only will you go from getting this newsletter twice a week to getting it five days -- but I will cover the trial, in person, from its courtroom in San Jose. And if we get 3000 paid subscribers, Sarah will fly out and join me. So, if you’re interested in that, upgrade today! -- EB
The cast for The Trial of the Chicago 7 is coming into shape. The dramatic adaptation of the September 1969 conspiracy trial of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner has been in the works for a while, but it was just this weekend that Mark Rylance was announced as William Kuntsler, the lawyer for the defendants. Other cast members include Eddie Redmayne (Tom Hayden) Sacha Baron Cohen (Abbie Hoffman), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Richard Schultz), and Frank Langella as judge Julius Hoffman. Aaron Sorkin will direct the film, which is based on his screenplay -- which is described by Deadline as having “long been considered one of the best unmade screenplays.” There’s some wisdom here about how everything is great before it’s made, but I was up all night with a dog (he’s fine, just anxious) and just don’t have it in me. But you know what I mean. -- EB
Beef over criticism of the Sword and Scale podcast might have tanked reviews for a competing show. The trouble apparently began with this profile of Obscura’s Justin Drown in the Tampa Bay Times (which we also discussed here). In it, he mentioned Sword and Scale host Mike Boudet, a polarizing podcast figure we discussed here. Drown tells The Verge that since the piece, Obscura has been hit with hundreds of one-star reviews, lowering its rating from five stars to 3.5. Drown suspects that Boudet and his following made “an attempt to decimate my podcast,” and perhaps “hired an automated service to bombard his show with one-star reviews.” Boudet hasn’t responded to requests for comment.
It’s unclear how much of an impact the negative reviews have on Obscura’s success -- while Apple’s platform (one of the few that allows public reviews) is the biggest podcast game in town, it’s hardly the only one. But anyone who’s been faced with public comments knows the toll the negative talk can take, even if you think it’s fake. “The initial impact of it is crushing,” Drown tells The Verge. “You work so hard to build up your show and then to see that star number shoot way down. It’s a lot to deal with.” --EB
Wednesday on Best Evidence: No podcast this week, so I thought I’d tell you about some of the stuff I consumed over the holiday weekend (spoilers can be found in our open thread).
What is this thing? This should help.