Reply All: #67 On the Inside, Part IV
June 9, 2016 7:13 AM - Subscribe

Paul Modrowski is in prison for a murder he claims he didn't commit, and he says he's been misunderstood because of his autism. This week, we bring you the conclusion of our story.
posted by eotvos (29 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm really not a fan of the artificial detective story slow-reveal. Finishing a two hour program with "oh, and also he stabbed a classmate and probably sent death threats and then murdered his ex's dog in a jealous rage before he was arrested for this crime" just feels manipulative.

Wasting months going deep on a story that isn't actually worth telling is shitty. But, deciding to tell it anyway, in excruciating detail, doesn't improve things. This would have made a pretty good 20 minute piece about blogging from prison.

Still, judges who are willing to say, on tape, that someone "looks like a murderer" really ought to quit their job and apologize to the public. One might hope even ethically bankrupt judges would have enough sense to pretend they're behaving professionally during interviews. I suppose there's some value in subtly pointing out that the US legal system is awful and judges and states attorneys are assholes, even when the system happens to be targeting suspects who probably are guilty.
posted by eotvos at 7:36 AM on June 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

So, I'm not sure what to make of all this. What I took away from the previous part was, he was mainly convicted on the basis of having loaned his car to the guy who did the actual killing. Which is weird because that guy, in a simultaneous trial, somehow got found not guilty. The suggestion being that the jury and judge decided to find Modrowski guilty just because he's an unsympathetic character, despite total lack of any evidence proving he'd done the killing.

So, this anonymous person who gives the detail about Modrowski in the shower listening to King Diamond after the murder - there's no way that person isn't Bob Faraci, right? The guy clearly knows stuff, based on his reactions to questions before. All I can think is between the two of them they know what went down, and if merely loaning a car to a killer is enough to be equally guilty of the murder, then I don't see how Faraci isn't also in jail.
posted by dnash at 8:38 AM on June 9, 2016

I think I'm in the minority here, in that I REALLY enjoyed the hell out of this series (my stepdaughter did, too, and has been making joking Bob Faraci references). While I would've loved a more clear-cut resolution (who wouldn't?), this episode absolutely changed my views on Paul. As someone with multiple family members on the spectrum, I was kinda predisposed to rooting for the guy, especially given the horrible trial and lack of physical evidence and sketchy witnesses. But it was that final interview with Shruthi that really altered my view... Paul sneeringly accusing her of being a "nosy little person" and demanding to know "where you heard that" was surprisingly chilling.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:44 AM on June 9, 2016 [9 favorites]

I also enjoyed it, although I didn't find this ending satisfying because it was confusing as FUCK. I realize that whoever gave her that information about him showering listening to a very specific metal band did so on condition of anonymity, but it was hard to follow the narrative exactly. However, clearly mentioning King Diamond freaked him out a lot. He got really angry at Sruthi all of a sudden.

dnash - I am not sure who it could be. Bob Faraci did talk to Sruthi on the record, so why would he not speak about this detail on the record?
posted by radioamy at 9:08 AM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

The unnamed source might be another person in Bob and Paul's criminal circle who knew that naming themselves would put them at risk: either for criminal prosecution, or revenge.
posted by SansPoint at 10:43 AM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I felt like this could have built, with a thoughtful touch, into an indictment of how our criminal justice system operates on how we feel about a person rather than what we know about them. Instead this episode is just the producer buying into that "is this person a 'killer'" idea hook, line and sinker.

As such the whole thing feels like the classic liberal "here's a thing! oh well", and now I wish I could delete this podcast from my mind.
posted by selfnoise at 10:49 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

My favorite part of this ep was when Paul compared Sruthi to Megyn Kelly.
posted by chrchr at 12:41 PM on June 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I liked this final episode! Getting Paul on tape losing his shit was pretty great and made up for some of my frustrations at how long the story has been strung along. I still have some question about why the producers thought this story was worth the time invested, but at least there was some payoff at the end. I also enjoyed the question about what it meant to have a classified mental disorder like autism or ADHD vs that trait just being part of who you are.
posted by Nelson at 3:45 PM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nelson - agree about the mental illness thing. I have terrible anxiety, and it's interesting to think about what is the disorder and what is just me.
posted by radioamy at 4:47 PM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ugh. That whole interview with Paul was hard to listen to.

I also noticed that when Sruthi caught him off guard with the whole "King Diamond" thing, he said something like "Yeah I did take a shower when I got back probably..." And I really wanted Sruthi to ask "got back from what?"

Because unless there's something in the part of the interview that we didn't get to hear, it seems kind of out of the blue in a "this is what Columbo's Just One More Thing That Nails You" kind of way.

Also...nineties dudes who are way too into The Kurgan are just so...sigh.
posted by sparklemotion at 5:35 PM on June 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yeah the "I guess I would have had a shower that night" thing struck me too, as did the "I'm not going to say I did it, I could get parole someday" thing near the end. Super chilling. I'm still not happy with this taking up so many weeks of Reply All but it did have a number of very affecting moments.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:27 PM on June 9, 2016

I think the idea I struggled with the most throughout was that her premise seemed to be somehow I can decide if someone is a killer or not based on what kind of guy I think they are. I appreciate the issues about wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice in the US-but writing a blog, having a diagnosis, or being really adamant about not being the kind of guy who kills people-none of that has anything to do with whether someone is dangerous or not (I work with charming, credible, intelligent batterers and sex offenders all the time). Prison interview was very powerful-and I wanted to know more about what was in the transcripts about ex's house-lots of lead up to that and then it disappeared.
posted by purenitrous at 8:54 PM on June 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

I had never heard of "Reply All", until I found it recommended someplace on the web as a thing for those who liked "Serial." I don't have a problem with them copying. "Serial" was a huge deal for podcasts, and I wouldn't have downloaded "Reply All" otherwise.

I think Sruthi was really out of her depth. I agree with the criticism Miko's had that she lacked the skills of a crime reporter. I think what turned Sruthi from being intrigued by Paul and open to the possibility of his innocence, to being critical of him when they finally met, was learning what he did to his ex-girlfriend. As a woman, that affected her more than a 20 year old murder, and zapped her into reporter mode.

For all its faults, the ending was MUCH more better than "Serial".

My favorite part of this ep was when Paul compared Sruthi to Megyn Kelly

Out of everything in this mini-series, that's what I'm curious about. Prisoners are watching Fox News? I assume because Megyn Kelly is very attractive. I get that Paul would likely be voting Republican were he allowed to, but it's odd that anyone in prison would be watching the news channel that represents the tough-on-crime party. Though I suppose the Democrats aren't different from the GOP there.

If a reporter could present the story in a non-partisan way, I would be interested to find out if Fox News is popular in prisons.
posted by riruro at 10:17 PM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hearing Paul in person didn't really change my idea of him. I've met many many many guys like that, as volatile, as 'intelligent' as... etc. etc, and I'm pretty sure none of them ever killed anyone, but I can't be positive. Which is the part I'm not sure about. Was I expected to arrive at a conclusion? I didn't think I was - which was, actually, the part I liked about this. His emotional outburst about his life being over is - true. And that sucks. But it also simply, the thing, the fact of it. Whatever happened that night, whoever did what when - He's now in prison and likely never getting out.

If his 'outburst' did anything, it told us that he has an acute emotional understanding of his situation and an ability to express it.

They did a good job with that, I think. But I don't want to hear anymore of these stories.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:07 AM on June 10, 2016

If his 'outburst' did anything, it told us that he has an acute emotional understanding of his situation and an ability to express it.

The impression that I got was that he understood what emotional reaction people expected him to have and he practiced it enough to be able to pull it out on command. And he was smugly proud of his performance.

If a reporter could present the story in a non-partisan way, I would be interested to find out if Fox News is popular in prisons.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if it was. It's news of the outside world, presented in a sensational way -- I'm sure CNN rivals it for that, but they don't have as much eye candy as fox news.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:34 AM on June 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Now that I've listened, I couldn't be more disgusted by the whole thing. Pennimaneni:

-stumbled an old, cold story through a blog (which I agree would have been the best focus of the story)
-got involved
-disrupted everyone's lives
-inserted herself into a case she had little perspective on and into a reporting situation in which she had little experience
-was overly credulous
-surfaced absolutely no new information
-concluded nothing
-turned it all into an entertainment spectacle

It was a vanity project, borderline unethical.

her premise seemed to be somehow I can decide if someone is a killer or not based on what kind of guy I think they are

Couldn't agree more; and Serial suffered from a lot of the same premises. This "could he have or couldn't he have" based on a personality investigation? Not the kind of thing a seasoned crime reporter would even begin looking into.

I know I have overly strong feelings about this stuff, but I'm so very disappointed that my new favorite podcast did this. And listening to the crime writers' podcast - it's pretty chilling. "Delightful," the interviewer says of the clumsy car interview with Faraci. Pennmaneni and the interviewer kibitz about how "telling" the King Diamond moment was - but hey, wasn't this whole show supposed to be about how easy it is to take circumstantial evidence too far? That bit of tape is delivered like it's some kind of a clincher. It's not. It's weird, but it's no more damning than anything else in the trial. She's basically playing 13th juror here - and the interviewer is right to ask "how much of this story is about a possible wrong conviction and how autism prejudiced the jury and how much is it about you?" It's 100% about Pennimaneni. The whole thing never needed to have happened. This is the radio equivalent of one of those late-night cable TV crime reality shows. It's not a journalistic development that's good for anyone.
posted by Miko at 8:15 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I had never heard of "Reply All", until I found it recommended someplace on the web as a thing for those who liked "Serial."

Man, that bums me out. Serial is everything I don't want in a podcast (drawn-out, impressionistic and yet fussy; I think I made it through two episodes before I gave up on it) and I'd hate to think that Reply All would be moving away from its strengths (snappy, engaging, slice-of-life stories) toward that model.
posted by psoas at 9:17 AM on June 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Good critical piece:
Between our pity-soaked initial read of the misunderstood Modrowski and our impression of the easily-agitated oleaginous Faraci, we’re given a seat on a jury without capacity to work through any of the evidence in the case...This distinction in the optics of the situation results in a disingenuous character study where the cliché’s of fictional serial killers and sociopaths cloud our interpretation...I don’t have the means to determine whether Modrowski is guilty or not. And ‘On The Inside’ isn’t going to provide anyone who listens that means either. So for Reply All to not only indulge in gossipy analysis of hearsay but to hold the series up as a definitive statement on the case is frankly irresponsible.
posted by Miko at 10:45 AM on June 14, 2016

So for Reply All to not only indulge in gossipy analysis of hearsay but to hold the series up as a definitive statement on the case is frankly irresponsible.

I'll admit that there was certainly "gossipy analysis of hearsay," but lets be honest -- that's the kind of stuff that makes true crime reporting more interesting than actual trials.

What I don't think though, is that Sruthi or the show every tried to "hold the series up as a definitive statement on the case." I get the impression that early in her reporting, Sruthi might have had a sense that Paul was innocent and treated unfairly. But I think that based on how the series was presented from Episode #64 onwards, there was never any promise or implication that this series was going to lead to The Answer.

Yeah, Sruthi found a crazy person blog and went in too deep. When she came out, she had a story that wasn't really about the internet (except, of course, for the extent to which the internet lets you go in too deep), but was an interesting look at the case of a guy that I wouldn't otherwise have heard of. That I learned some stuff about autism that I didn't know before, was icing on the cake.

I for one, am grateful that this series got made, though I will be looking forward to more random and silly stories (not really) about the Internet.

(speaking of which...was I the only one who got super excited to find a new Reply All in her feed yesterday? Only to have hopes dashed when I realized that perhaps I was actually time traveling?)
posted by sparklemotion at 12:40 PM on June 14, 2016

that's the kind of stuff that makes true crime reporting more interesting than actual trials.

As I reflect, I realize that the issue for me is that "true crime" is not the same thing as "reporting." And that's very true for this series. Nothing was reported. Not a thing. And I'm concerned about the way this type of media is causing people to conflate journalism with voyeuristic entertainment.

As true crime entertainment, sure, I suppose that's long been a genre, though not a highly respected or respectable one. In podcasting that positions itself as informational reporting, rather than entertaining storytelling - I have a lot of ethical trouble with it.
posted by Miko at 1:31 PM on June 14, 2016

Nothing was reported. Not a thing.

You seem to be working from a definition of "reporting" that is different from my layman's view. Can you elaborate on what you were looking for that was completely absent from this series?
posted by sparklemotion at 1:56 PM on June 14, 2016

A journalistic definition of reporting isn't reducible to "recounting facts." A description of this style of reporting - essentially investigative in shape if not content - would generally go something like: providing a fresh examination of issues and events with significance to society through the revelation of new information and/or the presentation of new analyses based on previously known facts.

A couple definitions.

The Society of Professional Journalists has a Code of Ethics statement that might also be interesting; the Center for Investigative Journalism builds on that in greater detail.

This story wasn't truly investigative reporting, as it yielded no new information and no new insight. What it was was an audio diary by a curious person who did not know a lot about criminal trials or investigations, and doesn't seem to have talked to many other convicted criminals, as they learned about how complex and confusing that world is and how slippery the facts and representations made by nearly all parties will be. Which in fact would be closer to fine it had been framed that way, as a personal journey. It was her story, not Paul's; I'm just sorry she had to involve so many people in chronicling her passage from innocence.

Anyway, I guess I'm not surprised that a lot of people enjoy it, and I know that I tend to come from a unique perspective on these matters. Fan boards really aren't the ideal place for me to discuss or review these concerns. They're fan boards. What I'd really like is some meaty professional conversation among journalists about how Serial created a new level of blur in the line between professional news and investigative reporting and true-crime entertainment storytelling, and how its more inept spinoffs and copycats are blurring it even further. One thing I find disturbing about On the Inside is that it treated its subject(s) much less fairly even than Koenig did in Serial - the editing was done in such a way as to create a very strong bias toward the subject's guilt that is evident in fan reactions, yet that conclusion is still entirely circumstantial, which was supposedly the critical justice-related question at the heart of the initial investigation. I find that outcome really concerning.
posted by Miko at 3:57 PM on June 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

I thought the new insight was in to his autism. Wasn't it?
posted by taff at 6:28 AM on June 23, 2016

Did you listen to the whole thing?

How do you think the autism argument squares with the way she cornered him at the end, and how she chose to present his objections to that tactic? Did that support the point that autism may have influenced his fair trial, or undermine it?
posted by Miko at 6:43 AM on June 23, 2016

How do you think the autism argument squares with the way she cornered him at the end

I don't think that she intended to "corner" him with a question about an old metal band. His reaction to that was genuinely surprising. Like, maybe the followup question about "I have a secret source who says X, Y, and Z happened" was a little combative, but again, it's not like she was boxing him in and trying to trap him in a lie.

If anything, it was a particularly lame line of questioning, and innocent or guilty, autism aside, you would have expected it to be more like:
"What's King Diamond?"
"King Diamond is a band I used to like... I had their first 2 albums, why?"
"I have a secret source who says X, Y, and Z happened while you listened to King Diamond and showered off the blood"
"I listened to King Diamond in the shower all the time, but that night I was at my dad's birthday thing"
I doubt she expected to get useful tape off of it. But instead she got, well, him flipping out. And THEN she got the rant, which he basically admitted was an act. Which is all good radio, regardless of the quality of the "reporting".

The only thing that still bugs me is that I don't know that we ever got independent confirmation of when Paul's father's birthday was. Because believe Paul or no, he apparently has a whole family full of alibi witnesses.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:36 PM on June 23, 2016

I doubt she expected to get useful tape off of it. But instead she got, well, him flipping out. And THEN she got the rant...

And then she chose to edit it in. And then she framed it so as to suggest that despite his autism, he was, in fact, capable of displaying emotion and apparently capable of a violent crime. Which is still a lot of circumstantial hooey, but is certainly not an argument for exoneration or a serious attempt to critique the court system.
posted by Miko at 6:30 PM on June 23, 2016

you would have expected it to be more like:

Also: She didn't expect it to be like that, though. She got it from someone she chose not to name, and that someone gave it to her because they knew it would incite a reaction, and she saved it for this conversation because she expected it to incite some reaction.

I'm sorry, it's all really lousy stuff to do with your access to a radio platform, IMO.
posted by Miko at 6:32 PM on June 23, 2016

FWIW, as part of their holiday hiatus, Crimetown aired On the Inside Part II, followed by an interview with Sruthi (starts at about 34:00). (Original episode on Fanfare).

Sruthi talks about how, as a science reporter, crime reporting was a new challenge for her. Also interesting (given the timing of Crimetown's debut) is that the Crimetown guys helped her out a fair bit with the story after joining Gimlet, which says something about how long Crimetown was in development for.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:56 PM on January 22, 2017

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