Podcast host Sarah Marshall spoke about examining media coverage of scandals and crime on Tuesday night at Kelly Writers House.
Marshall is a freelance journalist and co-host of the popular podcast “You’re Wrong About,” which examines media controversies that have been misunderstood in the public imagination in the past. Time Magazine named her podcast the second-best of 2019.
At the event, Marshall spoke about her lifelong interest in women mischaracterized by the mainstream media and understanding the human side of violent crime, as well as lessons she has learned from the mechanics of podcasting.
Marshall began the event by telling the story of how her podcast was created. In 2014, she wrote an article for The Believer Magazine that synthesized previously existing reporting on the figure skating star Tonya Harding's scandal to retell the story. This prompted her podcast co-host Michael Hobbes to invite her to look at more stories that may have been misconstrued by the media.
“A lot of the time the information was there, but [the public wasn't] able to confront it in a meaningful way,” Marshall said.
Marshall discussed various examples of the kind of stories her podcast addresses. One example she referenced was the public and media backlash to Anna Nicole Smith, who married a man 63 years older than her.
"I will always find it fascinating that Anna Nicole Smith, who is guilty of marrying someone, is in the same kind of pariah category as murderers," Marshall said.
She said that there is no shortage of content for her podcast.
“If there’s any major scandal, though, there will be a book written about it by a woman who was involved in it and it will be out of print, and that will be the most interesting book about it,” Marshall said to some laughter in the audience.
Marshall also said she finds her show special because it highlights the joyful relationship she shares with her co-host and suggested that prospective podcast creators focus on developing similar relationships.
“Each episode is our relationship deepening and taking a genuine interest in listening to each other and trying to be a receptive audience,” Marshall said.
Kelly Writers House Program Coordinator Alli Katz organized the talk as part of the annual Bernheimer Symposium, in memory of former Comparative Literature professor Charles Bernheimer. Katz said she invited Marshall to speak because she is a fan of the podcast herself and was excited to hear that Marshall recently moved to Philadelphia.
Marshall's work has been published in BuzzFeed, The New Republic, and The Believer Magazine. Recent episodes of the podcast unpack the way the media has handled corporate crime, the D.C. Sniper shootings, and the O.J. Simpson trial.
Around 20 people attended the event, some of whom were undergraduate students and several of whom were friends of Marshall herself. There was a question-and-answer session for approximately 15 minutes following Marshall's talk.
College first-year Wes Matthews, who works at Kelly Writers House, said he enjoyed the event and was touched by Marshall’s dedication to challenging harmful tropes.
Sabrina Wallace, an attendee who is not affiliated with Penn and had never been to the Kelly Writers House, said she came to the event because she enjoyed the podcast and saw the event on Facebook the night before. She said she thought Marshall’s style was true to the podcast and enjoyed the event overall.
"I’m grateful for academic spaces like this that are so open to the public," Wallace said.
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