I just listened to what is, by far, one of the best podcast episodes to which I’ve ever listened, thanks to Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall and You’re Wrong About. The episode is about one New York City murder in March of 1964 and the way that murder of lesbian Kitty Genovese was so spectacularly mis-reported by an article in (where else?) The New York Times that was the genesis of the common urban legend about people being murdered in New York City and nobody – nobody – calling the police or coming to help.
Since You’re Wrong About doesn’t have transcripts anywhere, and I don’t feel like going back and doing one, I’ll let Wikipedia give you the background:
In the early hours of March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old bartender, was raped and stabbed outside the apartment building where she lived in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens in New York City, New York, United States. Two weeks after the murder, The New York Times published an article erroneously claiming that 38 witnesses saw or heard the attack, and that none of them called the police or came to her aid.
The incident prompted inquiries into what became known as the bystander effect, or “Genovese syndrome”, and the murder became a staple of U.S. psychology textbooks for the next four decades. However, researchers have since uncovered major inaccuracies in the New York Times article. Police interviews revealed that some witnesses had attempted to call the police.
In 1964, reporters at a competing news organization discovered that the NY Times article was inconsistent with the facts, but they were unwilling at the time to challenge NY Times editor Abe Rosenthal. In 2007, an article in the American Psychologist found “no evidence for the presence of 38 witnesses, or that witnesses observed the murder, or that witnesses remained inactive”. In 2016, the Times called its own reporting “flawed”, stating that the original story “grossly exaggerated the number of witnesses and what they had perceived”.
Winston Moseley, a 29-year-old Manhattan native, was arrested during a house burglary six days after the murder. While in custody, he confessed to killing Genovese. At his trial, Moseley was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. Moseley died in prison on March 28, 2016, at the age of 81, having served 52 years.
The main thing I love about Marshall and Hobbes, among many, is how thorough they are in bringing new details to life, or correcting the falsities that get repeated elsewhere.
For instance, that last paragraph from Wikipedia is wrong, or at least seriously incomplete.
Mosely was sentenced to life, and his sentence was later commuted to life. And he did die in prison in 2016.
But what You’re Wrong About adds to the known record is that he actually escaped from prison during the time he was serving for Genovese’s murder. He went on to attack other people and ended up in a stand-off with police, after which was arrested and was sentenced to a second prison term. It was during this second prison term that he died.
This is but one small thing in the You’re Wrong About Genovese podcast episode that astound you, renew your faith in (some) humankind, and make you curse the police and media.
Just another victory for this podcast that is the most engrossing to which I listen.
And since I came in very late after the podcast started, I’ve got many more to enjoy before I am caught up.