Culture

Brother Of ‘Serial’ Murder Victim Slams Podcast On Reddit: “You Don’t Know What We Went Through”

The man claims to be Hae Min Lee's little brother, the first member of her family to comment publicly about the podcast.

By now, Serialthe true-crime longform podcast put together by the team behind This American Life has become a truly global phenomenon. Narrated by Sarah Koenig, the serialised project, which centres around the 1999 murder of Baltimore teenager Hae Min Lee and the questionable conviction of her boyfriend Adnan Syed, has broken iTunes records, hit the top chart position in the United States, Australia, Canada and Britain, been downloaded by over five million listeners, and even spawned a parody series.

But it’s also spawned a world of backlash, centering on narrative bias, racial stereotyping, “white reporter privilege“, and the sensationalism of a real murder. Moreover, as Stephanie Van Schilt writes in Spook, the victim herself has so far been glaringly absent from the story: “At this stage in the serial, Lee – the victim of brutal, systemic violence – is merely a peripheral force. She’s been packaged as entries from teen girl’s lovelorn diary, as quotes from her high school best friend and as mass of hidden hair and an exposed foot and a concealed corpse …  Is Serial unwittingly murdering the victim by silencing her in her own story?”

Which is why a brand new Reddit post, posted on the forum overnight, is attracting so much attention.

Entitled ‘I am Hae’s brother – Do not AMA (Ask Me Anything)‘, the post comes from a man claiming to be little brother to the murder victim, who decries the podcast’s sensationalism of his sister’s murder: “TO ME ITS REAL LIFE.”

“To you listeners, its another murder mystery, crime drama, another episode of CSI. You weren’t there to see your mom crying every night, having a heartattck when she got the new that the body was found, and going to court almost everyday for a year seeing your mom weeping,crying and fainting. You don’t know what we went through. Especially to those who are demanding our family response and having a meetup… you guys are disgusting. SHame on you. I pray that you don’t have to go through what we went through and have your story blasted to 5mil listeners. (sic)”

The man, who a Reddit moderator claims was verified, says he wishes this particular story hadn’t been picked by the podcast. That said, he has been listening since episode one and believes Sarah Koenig to be an “awesome narrator/ writer/ investigator. No wonder why this podcast is so popular”. Still, he remains skeptical of her motives: “Being a media person that she is, she wants some big ending. you can tell [by] her reaction to innocent project taking her case and private investigator,” he says, referring to Koenig’s decision to employ third party professionals to investigate the potential innocence of Adnan Syed. (The fact that The Innocent Project — an organisation dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people — took up the case is a fairly hopeful sign for Adnan, who applied many years ago but was rejected. With Koenig herself admitting she’s only two weeks ahead of the listeners, the case itself has been reopened by US prosecutors.)

While the man claims not to have known about the podcast until he got a call from his cousin (he says his mother still doesn’t know about it), his initial Reddit post contained a Facebook  chat message from producer Koenig, informing him of the podcast and inviting him to participate.

The screen shot was since deleted from Reddit as it contained Koenig’s personal information, but a redacted version is doing the rounds on Twitter:

The post has been commented on by hundreds of Reddit users sending signs of support — one of which will strike a familiar chord among Australians. “I can empathise with your situation,” writes Reddit user highbury_fields. “A friend of mine (though more a friend of my partner’s) was raped and murdered, and her case became something of a media sensation. It’s very hard to read the comments that get thrown around on social/other media: there’s always an element of victim blaming … but in all honesty, and despite what a vocal minority might say, I do think that the vast majority of people are empathetic and DO actually care,” she writes. “Sometimes I listen to my friends talk about this person’s murder, and it sounds exactly like the comments/discussions on social media, and I feel like screaming ‘SHE’S NOT JUST A NEWS STORY’.” The user later confirms she is referring to the case of Jill Meagher, “though I was hoping that the gist of the story was more important than the specifics.”

Reddit has been fascinated with the podcast since it began, with a number of threads dedicated to discussing the case and attempting to solve it. Occasionally on these threads, a message will pop up from an involved party — including Rabia Chaudry, and her younger brother Saad. Rabia contacted Koenig with the story a year ago, claiming her friend Adnan Syed had been wrongfully convicted; a lawyer and national security fellow at New America Foundaton, she has also been writing columns after each episode on her blog.

For the most part, Rabia supports the way the case has so far been presented — she even jumped into Saad’s Reddit AMA, urging him not to spoil Koenig’s work.

spoil

“We all come with certain privilege, that doesn’t make you a manipulative or malicious person,” Rabia said in an interview with refinery29. “To me, that’s not a condemnation of Sarah. It just means she’s a white woman. She put more time and energy and nights away from her family into this case than other Muslim Pakistanis who just walked away.”

Feature image including Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed (centre, top and bottom) via SerialPodcast.org