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Top Story:  “What’s true crime without the ‘truth’ part?”

Views expressed in this geopolitical news update are those of the reporters and correspondents.  Accessed on 18 April 2023, 1242 UTC.

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By Adam Sternbergh

Culture Editor, Opinion

When real-life events are adapted into dramatic forms, characters get changed, conflated or eliminated, facts elided and dates rearranged, events overlooked or accentuated for dramatic effect. This is true in fiction, of course — and can also be true in true crime, the ostensibly nonfiction genre that dramatically recounts often traumatic real-life events. “The truth is more important than the facts” is a quote often attributed to Frank Lloyd Wright. (Did he actually say that? It’s hard to prove, but it feels like the wisdom of an enigmatic architect.) It’s a sentiment that’s often cited, and occasionally abused, when questions of factuality come up in narrative storytelling.
So it may be surprising, on its face, that a simple error of fact in “Boston Strangler,” an otherwise not particularly notable movie about an actual string of murders, bothered Sarah Weinman so much, as she recounted in a Times guest essay. (The movie claimed someone was still alive who was, in fact, dead, and had been for years.) It was Weinman’s annoyance at this relatively small but vexing error that evolved into a broad consideration of the state of the true crime genre and its relationship to, well, truth.
Weinman is especially, perhaps uniquely, positioned to deliver such an assessment. She is the crime fiction columnist for The Book Review, as well as a true crime author and the editor of several anthologies of the genre.


Ever since the explosive popularity of the podcast “Serial” a decade ago, true crime is seemingly everywhere: Not only in the many copycat podcasts but also in the apparently endless parade of streaming docuseries (how many investigative episodes or series have been produced about the Nxivm cult alone?). Then there are films like “Boston Strangler” and “Dahmer” that are fictionalized recountings of real-life stories.
With increased demand comes increased pressure to cut corners, fudge facts and gloss every story to a tabloid sheen, damn the particulars. Each individual misstep might seem explicable but, according to Weinman, together they paint a portrait of an industry in serious jeopardy.
But if her assessment is a harsh one, it’s one that comes from a place of deep investment and affection. After all, as Weinman pointed out early in our discussions about the piece, part of the stated purpose of “Boston Strangler” was to celebrate the heroic investigative work of Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole, two reporters who broke the story. At the very least, if you’re celebrating dogged investigation, you should take the trouble to get the facts straight.
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Carolina Moscoso


Truth Is Drifting Away From True Crime

From movies to podcasts and documentaries, true crime is booming. But somewhere along the way, accuracy got left behind.

By Sarah Weinman


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