Sarah Koenig today updated fans of the wildly popular, game-changing podcast series Serial with an update on the new shows, yet another award they won and the recent news about the case against Adnan Syed. Syed was the subject of the podcast and is currently serving a life sentence, 15 years in, for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, 17 year-old Hae Min Lee.
While there have been plenty of websites salivating over the recent update on Syed’s case, including Huffington Post, The Frisky, and a few others, there is still a glaring flaw in the story that began with Serial and continues with the media covering the story.
What was never covered? That this was a domestic violence case. Violence against women is and has always been off the charts, particularly in relationships. Usually there is prior abuse but in this case there wasn’t any. Or was there? Serial left out almost every single piece of evidence that pointed to Syed as someone who was possessive, controlling and unable to let go of Hae Min Lee. Koenig left it out probably because she didn’t want to incite a mob but it’s something the media has never covered. They treat this case like your standard wrongful conviction case, like The Thin Blue Line or the Memphis Three. In fact, the case against Syed is strong. The evidence overwhelming. Why isn’t anyone in the media talking about this?
When the website The Intercept covered the story from a different angle, two of its reporters Natasha VC and Ken Silverstein found that the state indeed had a strong case. They interviewed the prosecutor, Kevin Urick, and the state’s witness, the one upon whom everyone freely lays blame, Jay Wilds. Once it was known that Glenn Greenwald’s site was defending the state and not the victim, Adnan Syed, the two were put through turmoil and resigned. That’s how badly the media wants this to be — NEEDS THIS TO BE — a wrongful conviction case. The thing is, okay, if that’s so, show me. So far, no one – not the lawyers on Undisclosed (the self-appointed defense team’s biased podcast that is working to sway public opinion and rip apart the case), not Koenig’s Serial. After all of this time, Asia McClain is what they’re going with. That and Adnan Syed never being given the chance to appeal his case.
You have to do some digging on your own because you won’t find it listening to Serial (unless you listen multiple times and carefully). You have to read the trial transcripts and pore over the interviews. You have to look logically at what happened that day, where the cell phone pinged (butt dial my ass) and who lied about what. Further complicating matters is that there are many missing pages from the transcripts that many have been trying to obtain to fill the gaps. These have yet to be released and there is some speculation that they are being deliberately withheld to mitigate potential damage until the courts work through this latest appeal. Maybe there is nothing on the missing pages. Maybe there is something. With this case, the more you read the more damning the case against Adnan Syed becomes. Most people don’t know this. The journalists writing their updates stories on or about the case certainly don’t know this.
What is unforgivable both in Serial’s coverage of the story and in the recent coverage by the media is to overlook what likely caused Lee’s death and many women and girls just like her.
Here is what Serial just put up on their website about the Syed update:
Adnan appealed the circuit court’s decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, and was due to have a hearing next month. But last week, the Court of Special Appeals essentially paused the case, saying that Adnan can ask the circuit court to re-open his post-conviction proceeding so he can present a new statement from Asia. In January of this year, after Serial finished airing, Asia reiterated in an affidavit that she’d seen Adnan at the public library on the day Hae Min Lee went missing in 1999. And she also stated that Kevin Urick, a prosecutor, had discouraged her from testifying at Adnan’s post-conviction hearing. “Urick convinced me into believing that I should not participate in any ongoing proceedings,” Asia says in the affidavit.
Once again, Serial talks about Asia McClain without bringing up the contradictory evidence that she says, on Serial, “I would not have remembered if not for the snow.” She then adds “It was the first snow of the year.” Well, it didn’t snow on January 13th. There was an ice storm in the early morning hours of the 14th but no one would have noticed it on the 13th, certainly not waiting in the library. The first snow of the year and also a day school was closed was the week before, January 8th.
Serial did not check the weather before recording episode 1 and only updated their website to report on the weather. Even they conclude it probably wasn’t the 13th, yet no mention of that here on Koenig’s update which seems to suggest that Serial is responsible for the swaying of public opinion and/or pressure on the courts to allow McClain’s testimony to be examined.
Even more problematic for McClain as a witness, though, and the prosecutors have made this abundantly clear in their response to the recent inclusion of McClain, her testimony was conditional. She made it clear numerous times that she would only testify in Adnan’s favor if she knew for a fact he was not guilty. She offered her “help.” Yeah, no. The truth doesn’t work that way. You were there, you weren’t. You saw him, you didn’t.” She was such an unreliable witness, Syed’s defense attorney would have been a rookie to put her on the stand. The prosecution would have eviscerated her.
And finally, McClain might have even seen Syed in the library – that doesn’t exonerate him from having murdered Hae Min Lee. They don’t want to find something to exonerate him. They don’t need to. They merely have to show that he did not get a fair trail and hopefully get him out of jail.
Whether he gets out of jail or not is not my concern, personally. I do care about the truth and I do care about the murder of a promising, intelligent young 17 year-old. And I do think Serial and every piece of mainstream media coverage that has come after it has ignored what very likely happened to Hae Min Lee and continues to happen to women all over the world every minute of the day.
Here are the pieces of the story Serial left out, inexplicably, and what everyone else is leaving out – completely ignoring the dynamics that might have led up to the murder.
In order to find proper coverage of the relationship I had to dig down deep in the main Serial Reddit sub to find a post that lays out things pretty clearly – a statement by “Debbie”–
Adnan was very over protective of Hae. He never made her sustain from seeing her friends but he did suggest she spent more time with him. He wanted to know where she was going, when she was going, who was she with, almost like he was her father.
From Hae’s Diary:
The second thing is the possessiveness. Independence (indiscernible). I’m a very independent person. I rarely rely on my parents. Although I love him, it’s not like I need him. I know I’ll be just fine without him, and I need some time for myself and (indiscernible) other than him. How dare he get mad at me for planning to hang with Aisha?
Serial leaves out “possessiveness” when covering this. Koenig writes it off by saying Hae then says “he brought carrot cake!” In every instance where she could have told Hae’s story a little better she deflects any possible suggestion that he was a controlling, possessive kid who could not handle his girlfriend dumping him for an older man.
Serial also leaves out that Hae once hid from Adnan and had a teacher lie for her when he showed up looking for her. She was due to work with the teacher but opted out, trying to avoid Adnan. The teacher, by the way, is never mentioned on Serial at all, nor is any of her testimony.
Even with all of that deflection, though, Serial cannot exonerate Adnan Syed. Everything they checked checks out. They flail around at the end with Nisha call, finding some tiny print that YES, maybe it could be a butt dial for over two minutes. That is just one improbability. To find Syed not guilty you have to accept the least probable situation all the way down the line. No one has yet calculated the percentages on that but I’m guessing they would be up there with getting struck by lightning.
As a fan of Serial I am so amazed and appreciative that Sarah Koenig kicked ass as she did. As a mother, a woman and a feminist I’m heartbroken that they could leave out something so important as Adnan’s behavior leading up to the murder. While it started out telling Adnan Syed’s story it never adequately told Hae Min Lee’s. They tried but never got there. They owed it to Lee’s family to bring up the issue of domestic violent homicide – to even use those two words together on the podcast. They never did.
These are important words to “leave in” considering the prosecution thought of this as a “domestic violence case” but how many listeners of Serial got that? How many reporters writing their update stories the case even bother including that? Adnan is treated as the victim again and again.
Because public opinion is shaped by the media, and the media wants this to be a wrongful conviction case, this story will keep rolling along until the public gets what it wants. Adnan Syed’s verdict will be overturned, he’ll go free. Sarah Koenig and Serial will take partial credit. Rabia Chaudry and her Undisclosed podcast will take the rest of it. Fan letters will pour in from all over the world. Syed will be on every network news programs – morning, noon and night. This is the direction the story wants to go in.
It doesn’t want to go in the direction of the even bigger tragedy. Probably the most thorough read on this has been covered by only one person, as far as I can tell, and that is Ann Brocklehurst who wrote “Serial podcast rehabilitated a schoolgirl’s murderer, so where’s the feminist outrage?” Read it.
Where is the feminist outrage? Completely missing in action.