A confession: I’m a true-crime fan with a bottomless hunger for stories of unsolved mysteries, cold cases cracked, and bungled investigations. I make lists of the best true-crime docs. I spend nights marathoning Investigation Discovery shows and 20/20. I return week after week to the grim yet reverent recountings of the facts on Casefile, the thoughtful explorations of quirkier crimes in Criminal, and the playful pursuit of making sense of mayhem in My Favorite Murder. I ravenously binged Dirty John, Over My Dead Body, Someone Knows Something and In the Dark. Yet my favorite true-crime podcast is one that repeatedly claims not to be a true-crime podcast: You’re Wrong About.
If you look over the podcast’s back episodes, you’ll see a lot of topics that are classics of true crime: Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, Amy Fisher, and The Preppy Murder, as well as an ongoing collection about the OJ Simpson murder trial. But the focus of this podcast is not to dust off the ghoulish details that have been gawked over on TV news and message boards for decades or uncover new details that might at long last bring an uncaught killer to justice. Instead, journalists Sarah Marshall and Michael Hobbes dig into the stories you think you know to reveal what you’re wrong about. More precisely, they push past our collective memory of big news stories like The Satanic Panic, the Clinton Impeachment, and the Ebonics controversy to uncover what stories were overlooked and why. So “true crime”—while a recurring topic—is not their core focus.
The co-hosts trade-off episodes, with one doing the research and other playing active audience to their discoveries. The latter will begin by giving a brief summary of how they remember a given news story, which often means evoking media narratives like “The Long Island Lolita” or the hysteria of stranger danger. Then, the lead host will unveil the complexities and forgotten facts behind the hype and headline-created caricatures. For instance, in the Simpson series, Marshall has done an enormous amount of work, reading archived news coverage as well as the many celebrity memoirs that came out of this ‘trial of the century’. Hobbes might start by remarking how Kato Kaelin came off as a happy-go-lucky goofball in the middle of this murder case. Then, Marshall exhibits Kaelin’s privileged background, his friendship with Nicole Brown, his knowledge of the domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of Simpson, and how this “comedy waiter” became the football star’s unlikely alibi. Through this two-part episode, we learn not just about who Kaelin is, but also about how a “good guy” like him can become a bystander to domestic violence and murder.
In this way, You’re Wrong About explores the societal pressures and biases that lie behind the headlines. A particular passion of Marshall’s is re-evaluating the so-called bad women of scandals. In episodes like “Monica Lewinsky,” “Amy Fisher,” and “Tammy Faye Bakker and Jessica Hahn,” she explores how the crimes of Bill Clinton, Joey Buttafuoco, and Jim Bakker were covered in contrast to the crimes—proven or perceived—of their female counterparts. In “Tonya Harding (Parts 1 & 2)”, Marshall not only revisits the attack on Nancy Kerrigan but also reveals the problematic omissions of the biopic I, Tonya, exposing how domestic violence was once more overlooked in favor of a flashier story. Marshall aims not to exonerate these women, but to restore to them the complexity of personhood that was robbed by labeling them as sluts, Lolitas, and jealous bitches.
Similarly, the series digs into taboo issues that are far more complicated than headlines might have us believe. “Human Trafficking,” “Sex Offenders,” “Gangs,” and “The Victims’ Rights Movement” explore how hysteria hyped by the media leads to misinformation spreading and well-intentioned but malignant laws. Despite all this darkness, the show has its heroes as well. In eps on Marcia Clark, The Stonewall Uprising, and “D.C. Snipers” survivor Mildred Muhammad, Marshall and Hobbes share stories of people who’ve faced incredible horror, yet persevered to kindness, service, and activism.
With a passionate drive yet conversational tone, the dynamic duo of Marshall and Hobbes unfurls tricky topics, nuanced arguments, messy narratives, and complex people with great intelligence and empathy. So even when they’re talking about a perspective or a person that might make you itch with discomfort, you feel open to hearing out their arguments.
You might think you know all there is to know about a topic, but then up comes a fact you didn’t, like that Gein wasn’t technically a serial killer, or that Kaelin wasn’t actually Simpson’s alibi. And there it is. A dangling thread tempting you to tug and discover what else you’re wrong about. There’s a curious pleasure in the tugging,
which Hobbes and Marshall clearly relish as they excitedly exchange ideas and witty jokes. They urge you to keep pulling the thread, unraveling it in your mind, following its twists and turns, its tangled knots and ratty holes. And in the end, what you have undone might be alarming. But it’s also exciting. Realizing what you’re wrong about cracks the past back open, giving us the chance to get it right and do better in the future. While each episode of You’re Wrong About feels as inviting as getting a cup of coffee with deliciously brilliant friends, it’s also a jolt to the system. Best of all, each episode—striving for truth and humanity—is a protesting bark back at the darkness of ignorance and fear.
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