Deliberately Obtuse: A Point-by-Point Critique of The New Yorker’s (and by extension much of the media’s) shallow attempt to unmake “Making a Murderer”

January 21, 2016


 

 

 

I expected something more thoughtful from The New Yorker. I’ve seen heaps of mindless junk put out by the media concerning the documentary, but I expected better from a prominent intellectual magazine like The New Yorker. Recently, Kathryn Schulz (2004 recipient of the Pew Fellowship in International Journalism) wrote an article for the magazine and made a variety of weak points in attempt criticizing the documentary. I’m going to briefly explain why her points are shallow and un-impressive. Enjoy.

 

The link to her article is here. I recommend reading it first

  1. 4 brief notes

    1. I assume we’re all up to date with the Avery case, so I’ll spare redundant details. If you aren’t, be a better citizen/ Netflix guzzler.

    2. When I say “she says,” it also usually implicitly implies most media outlets.

    3. I repeat words like “damning” and “legitimate.” I apologize - I wish I had a bigger vocabulary.

    4. I don't use the points chronologically (i.e. point 3 may have came before point 1 etc). I did this for structure, ease of understandability.

 

Point #1: It’s wrong for the documentary to be slanted, that “the choices made by Ricciardi and Demos fundamentally undermine ‘Making a Murderer.’

 

Why it’s weak: 1-sided, slanted, biased -- yes, Making a Murderer was one of these. However, the painful truth is that systemic corruption of justice was undeniably displayed. Any “bias” of the documentary balances this corruption.

 

A defense lawyer, she says, can be one-sided because “that mandate is predicated on the existence of a prosecution.” Basically, because there’s a balance in the courtroom. Okay, fair point, but it’s also fair to say that the courtroom/sheriff/ “justice”/media system here is undeniably broken, and thus revealed as its own corrupted and one-sided entity. Therefore, a semi-slanted documentary is not an improper response to.get.something.done.

 

This point comes down to what we call a “moral weigh-in”

 

Example: say a priest sexually abuses your child. For years. And when the Church is pressed to do something, it simply recycles him to another parish (See: Spotlight. And the systemic corruption of the  Catholic church). If you respond by producing a 1-sided yet undeniably damning documentary of this priest (and the Church’s handling of the matter) to get something done, does this discredit your documentary? In a way yes, but in the big picture, not really. Which is the less of two evils? Both sides are using ends to justify means, but one side is simply more evil. (Thus, when Laura says the documentary’s slant mirrors the justice system’s, it is a rather offensive exaggeration.)

 

Making the documentary slanted was about fighting for a True balance. Most citizens -- myself included -- already had so many emotional-points stored up against Avery, that slanting the documentary was a legitimate way to counter this emotional predisposition.

 

“Ya, but still, what about all the “damning” evidence they left out?”

 

Point #2: Unmentioned Damning Evidence delegitimizes the documentary (and consequently Avery and his case)

Why it’s weak: unless you show why it’s damning (instead of just saying the evidence without giving a possible explanation), you prove little (and in fact, since unchecked, the internet has a field day explaining it for you (see: reddit’s Making a Murderer))


This is a fair point. She mentions that Avery’s sweat was found on the hood latch of Theresa’s Rav-4. This, the *69 phone calls, and a variety of other things should have been in the series, but interestingly the internet has done far more with the unmentioned evidence. Laura’s “hoot-latch sweat” use here is just as 1-sided and shallow as the usage by Ken Kratz. If you’re going to say that unmentioned evidence is worthy of damning someone to life in prison, at least make a case for it.

 

Good “reporting,” which Ms. Schulz so esteems, would be making the case with the already or soon to be “undamned-by-the-internet evidence. Unfortunately, this takes work, takes brainpower and dealing with confusing emotions. Most reporters are hesitant to do so (especially when on a deadline). Ms. Schulz (and the rest of the media) opt out, I’m assuming and hoping, due to laziness as opposed to a more grand systemic corruption. (Btw: I’m not here to hit this evidence point by point, so maybe I’m just as bad, though I don’t get paid to write; I

am but a noisy peasant. I’m here more to call for better “reporting.”)

 

 

Point #3: The series is bad reporting. Laura says: Good reporters delineate the facts (df: describe or portray (something) precisely). Since the documentary did not do so, it is discredited.
 

Why it’s wrong: Truth, is rarely as simple as “ideal reporting” would wish. Truth is often complicated, blurry, and difficult.

 

She writes “good reporters delineate the facts rather than contribute to the confusion” to criticize the documentary makers (two women [which is awesome btw)]. If the ideal of reporting is “delineating facts,” maybe we need a new type of reporting, one that is more feminine. Part of being an over-masculine society is being afraid to explore and risk the not-knowing, is preferring a “this.is.this” style as opposed to accepting and exploring The Blur. The former is often overconfident, simple, and easy; the latter deep, questioning, and often painful.

 

Proper reporting, Schulz implicitly argues, would have Ricciardi and Demos (the directors) “present a coherent account of Halbach’s death” or of at least “multiple competing ones.” This is the most obtuse statement of the article, and borderline makes me question whether Ms. Schulz even watched the documentary. The series made it so, so, so clear that coherent and arguable alternative accounts of Theresa’s death were unobtainable, un-makeable, because no other suspects -- including the gentlemen that magically cracked Theresa’s cell phone password, nor the suspicious gents that made sure they had an alibi because “they passed each other on the road” -- were investigated.
 

 

Point #4: the Rhetorical Shift: attacking the innocence-believers

 

She writes, “To me, the fact that the response was almost universally ‘Oh, my God, these two men are innocent’ speaks to the bias of the piece. A jury doesn’t deliberate twenty-some hours over three or four days if the evidence wasn’t more complex.”

 

These are two of her weaker points (or one point, two parts). The twenty-some hour deliberation comes from such convincing evidence from Avery’s defense vs what they’d been taught by the media and captain Ken Kratz, prior to and during the trial. This was citizens having to grapple with emotions, logic, and Truth in a pretty extreme and complicated way. This hardly negates or cheapens the universal “these men are innocent” reaction.

 

 

Point #5: Further implied rhetorical shift: the beginning of the relent. Maybe the sheriff’s office was malicious, maybe but most cops aren’t malicious so the Manitowoc cops probably weren’t either.
 

She writes, “[the series] also implies that the misconduct was malicious. That could be true.” Could here is a gross and deliberate understatement. Then to undermine this “could,” she writes that “the vast majority of misconduct by law enforcement is motivated not by spite but by the belief that the end justifies the means—that it is fine to play fast and loose with the facts if doing so will put a dangerous criminal behind bars.” Fair point (regardless of truth), but this vague generality does little address the fact that there is actually substantial evidence that there was maliciousness, that there was an “intent to harm” a man and his future (that was inconveniently about to sue them for 36 million dollars).

 

Her implied logic: say you find a turtle that’s pretty clearly orange and but then say “most turtles aren’t orange so I bet this turtle isn’t orange” without going further.

 

 

Point #6: More relent: okay okay, even if he’s innocent or there was corruption, the documentary should’ve attacked the system (instead of trying to save Avery) and not doing so was a failure.

She’s disgruntled that the documentary was “far more concerned with vindicating wronged individuals than with fixing the system that wronged them.” I hear this, yet, sad to say, no matter how much logic we hear that something should be fixed, oftentimes it’s emotions that do the heavy lifting, and this documentary bulked up millions’uv American amygdalae, made millions express outrage that something must be done. This (sadly?) is often how progress is made.

 

Put another way: Herb Brooks didn’t make a logical, rational argument to tell the US Olympic hockey team, it “was their time,” to inspire their underdog transcendence. He used what passion-laden statements he could. A calm, non-slanted in their favor speech probably wouldn’t have worked. If “Making a Murderer” had been completely balanced or had taken the route of attacking the established system, instead of focusing on Avery as an individual and on his individual case, it’s the lasting effect wouldn’t have been so gargantuan. Further, if wrongs actually do get righted either for Avery or in the judicial system, does this not speak volumes for the individual-focused style?

 

 

Point #7: Random naive point: critiquing the petition to the President as “misdirected”
What she’s actually saying: Silly Americans, you’re clearly dumb because you’re petitioning the President. No wonder you believe the documentary.

 

Ms. Schulz criticizes the petition as “misdirected” because “the President doesn’t have the power to pardon [Avery].” Yes, his case is a state, not federal crime. Sadly, yet again, this is part of politics. External political pressure and favors are often a crucial part in reworking systemic failures. “You won’t work with us on this, we won’t fund you for that.”

 

Lastly, she says an exoneration of Avery is the wrong demand, saying the documentary “may have presented a compelling case that Avery (and, more convincingly, Dassey) deserved a new trial, but it did not get anywhere close to establishing that either one should be exonerated.” This is completely debatable; this is “shoulds and shouldn’ts.”

 

With respect to the unnecessary hell Avery went through prior, and with respect to the police douche-baggery obviously displayed here, it’s completely sane that both deserve to be freed. The justice system does not get another chance to condemn because it so immorally failed multiple times already.

x

 

Do I have a bone to pick with the justice system? No, not really; it’s goofy but there’s goofiness everywhere (from kiddidlers to cheating football teams). Avery might be guilty. Further, life might actually be better when cops are above the law (so that they can more capably send the bad guys away, even at the expense of the few innocent).

 

 I do, however, pick bones with poor logic and arguments.

 

Hope you enjoyed it.
Thanks for stopping by.

 

Note: There’s a few other lines that are potently ridiculous, like,“While Avery’s story is dramatic, every component of it is sadly common.”Or like her ridiculous closing statement, but I’ll let you guys deal with that stuff.

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