Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, September 27, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ethics at Play in ‘Jinx’ Finale, Durst’s Arrest

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Have the creators of the documentary series "The Jinx" made life tougher for prosecutors in the Robert Durst murder case?

L.A. criminal defense lawyer Mark Geragos thinks so.

"There's going to be a suggestion that this was just done for the ratings, that it was nothing more than a made-for-TV prosecution," Geragos, who has represented Michael Jackson, Winona Ryder, and Chris Brown, told the New York Times this week.

FBI agents arrested Durst on March 14 in New Orleans for the 2000 murder of journalist and author Susan Berman.

The next night, in the sixth and final episode of HBO's "The Jinx," Durst was heard mumbling into a mic: "What did I do? I killed them all, of course."

Amid the fascination with a real estate scion at the center of multiple murder investigations that include a dismemberment and a missing wife, "The Jinx" finale also sparked a discussion about the ethics of crime reporting in a narrative structure that serves our appetite for suspense and act breaks.

Time writer Eliana Dockterman compared the ethical issues raised by "The Jinx" with a similar backlash that emerged after the podcast "Serial" investigated the 1999 murder case of 18-year-old Baltimore student Hae Min Lee.

Featuring "previously on" segments and cliffhangers, the show became the most popular podcast of all time, with tens of millions of downloads.

"It's a compelling storytelling strategy, but the burgeoning popularity of this narrative reporting also has critics wondering whether journalists are forsaking ethics for the sake of drama," Dockterman wrote.

Columbia Journalism Review was more forthright: "With 'The Jinx,' where does journalism end and entertainment begin?"

New York Times journalist Jonathan Mahler asked how much "The Jinx" creators knew, and when they knew it.

"Had justice been delayed - and a suspected murderer allowed to remain free - for the sake of their story? Could the climactic grand finale of 'The Jinx' ultimately become fodder for Mr. Durst's defense team?" Mahler wrote.

In an interview with the Times, "The Jinx" director Andrew Jarecki and producer Marc Smerling said that they wanted to finish their "business" with Durst before contacting the police.

"Obviously, we're not law enforcement officers, and it's important that we maintain our position as journalists and filmmakers," Jarecki said.

Jarecki and Smerling said they became aware of Durst's statements in June 2014, after going over interviews they had recorded with Durst two years before.

The two filmmakers did not specify exactly when evidence was turned over to the authorities.

"We need to be careful about how much we describe about the details of the case, so what we'll say about that is we provided the relevant evidence to law enforcement some months ago, and it's been in their court," Jarecki said.

Ironically, it's the fictional version of Durst's story, Jarecki's 2010 feature "All Good Things" that provided catalyst for the "The Jinx."

Durst reportedly enjoyed the movie (starring Ryan Gosling as the Durst-inspired lead, David Marks) so much he contacted Jarecki and offered him an exclusive interview.

The Guardian's Erin McCann argued the narrative devices in "The Jinx" can be found in works as varied as Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" and Lawrence Schiller's "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town."

"Spare me your hipster intellectualism and hand-wringing," McCann wrote. "We all may have spilled barrels of digital ink on 'Serial' and 'The Jinx,' but there is absolutely nothing new - or, frankly, all that wrong - about crime narratives serving as popular entertainment. At their very best, they can change lives, convict the guilty and free the innocent - and they have been doing so for centuries."

Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.