Sarah Marshall and Michael Hobbes are journalists who specialize in re-examining the stories, people, and ideas that we were sure we already knew about. Their podcast, “You’re Wrong About…” deconstructs events and scandals of the past to reveal a truth that’s more complicated than what we remembered—or even the complete opposite. On this week’s Longreads Podcast, I spoke with them about why our brains (and the media) are so easily misled.
Marshall wrote the definitive story of Tonya Harding for The Believer and is currently working on a book about the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Hobbes is a reporter for HuffPost who breaks down the nuance around issues such as homelessness and obesity. They tackle those same subjects for the podcast, including many other events we thought we remembered correctly—Amy Fisher, Anna Nicole Smith, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, the “Ebonics” debate. In many cases, tabloid news coverage gave us a distorted perspective on heroes and villains in a scandal, and Marshall and Hobbes shatter the idea that such labels even exist.
How a Myth Lives Beyond the Truth
In other cases, like the murder of Kitty Genovese, the story was completely wrong. According to Marshall:
“The way that we tend to encounter Kitty Genovese today is in social science and psychology textbooks. She’s used as kind of the textbook bystander apathy, which essentially is this idea where if you believe there to be more people around to offer aid to someone in trouble, then you will be less likely to do so. And the weird thing about that is that that wasn’t the case where she was, really.”
Part of our wrongness stems from the way we learn about these events in the first place. “We learn things in the wrong order,” Hobbes says. “I always thought it was really important to just go back for a lot of these stories and just tell them from the beginning. For me, my most radicalizing episode I think was Terri Schiavo. I read a million things about the Terri Schiavo case and I didn’t find one that just told her story chronologically.”
[1:33] Tonya Harding, Part 2
[3:54] Amy Fisher
[8:00] Tonya Harding Part 1
[9:36] Anita Hill
[14:04] Nicole Brown Simpson
[32:12] Jim and Tammy Fate Bakker
[45:48] Dan Quayle vs. Murphy Brown