Last week, I gushed over my adoration for one of two podcasts currently playing on my car rides to and from work and now it’s time to share the second. You’ll notice I don’t use a word like “gush” or “enamoured” or anything like that because I have nothing incredible respect for the work and results accomplished by perhaps the most popular podcast in the world, Serial.
If you’ve heard of it before, it’s likely from their phenomenally successful first season where host Sarah Koenig and her team probed every corner in the case of Adnan Sayed and the first degree murder conviction of his high school sweetheart, Hae Min Lee. As a true crime buff, the concept of a serialized investigation into a seemingly open-and-shut-yet-vastly-complex murder case was intriguing, but what hooked me wasn’t any startling revelations of police corruption, botched forensics, or the usual fare you discover in such journalistic exposes. It was how the podcast brought to light a disturbing gaff in criminal cases: proof beyond a reasonable doubt. What Season One demonstrated was a case with a serious dose of reasonable doubt and yet here is this young man destined to spend the rest of his natural life locked up serving serious time for a crime no one can truly prove he committed. It seemed like a good fit and his own alibi is indeed lacking, yet none of it goes beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the murder. The entire first season is highly recommended listening, even if true crime is not your cup of tea. It may one day serve you well should you ever be summoned to serve as a juror. Or face a false accusation of your own. (On that note, one of these days I’ll have to share my tirade about a dangerous weakness in criminal justice, public accusations, and how they spit in the face of innocent before proven guilty. But that’s for another time.)
Season Two steps it up a notch by staying on the same theme, yet with someone who clearly committed their crime. Private Bowe Bergdahl went AWOL in 2010 from his post while serving with the US Army in Afghanistan. There’s no doubt about that. What’s questioned is whether or not he needs to serve time in an American military prison because of his capture and five year imprisonment by the Taliban. Torture included. A sentence far harsher than anything Americans would commit against their own (and I’m leaving all political conjecture aside, skipping past documented evidence of atrocities US forces and intelligence networks have committed around the world and cutting straight to the type of sentence Pvt. Berhdahl would serve if convicted). Like Mr. Sayed’s case, the facts presented (and they are thorough as Serial is true investigative journalism with only a slight smackering of editorialism) demonstrate the layers far beneath the headlines and show us why the story is far more morally complex than expected.
That’s what makes this podcast brilliant. It’s about the morale issues of what we consider to be blind justice. In our quest for security, when do we stop checking our souls at the door before innocent lives are shattered twice in one crime? With the recent success of Netflix’s Making A Murderer series along with Vice News, the rise of serious online investigative journalism is sure to increase. Plus it fits into one of podcasting’s true joys: learning something about yourself and the world around you.