Have You Been Listening to Serial Season 2?

 

logo-2Last year, NPR’s Serial podcast explored the case of Adnan Syed, a Baltimore high school student convicted of first degree murder following the 1999 disappearance and death of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. The series was so successful that it not only spawned countless parodies, but also a new subgenera of podcasts riffing off of host Sarah Koenig’s earnest-but-oh-so-NPR style. Many people wondered how they’d follow-up this year: would season two cover another murder, or would they apply the same treatment to an entirely different subject, as they intimated numerous times?

Last month, we found out: Koenig and crew are spending this season investigating the story of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the US Army soldier who left his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and spent five years as a prisoner of the Taliban and the Haqqani Network before being released in exchange for a number of Taliban members in 2014. That exchange was immediately controversial and became more so as the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture began to trickle out, as well as the costs of the attempts to rescue him (six soldiers died during operations to find him). Indeed, since the series premiered, the US Army has launched a court-martial against Bergdahl, charging him with desertion and endangering his fellow troops. More recently, his case has been cited by some of the Republican presidential candidates — including Donald Trump, who’s referred to him as “a dirty, rotten traitor” since at least August — as a textbook example of the Obama Administration’s fecklessness and America’s decline in general.

So far, the backbone of the season has been a series of interviews with Bergdahl conducted by author Mark Boal, in which Bergdahl details his motivations, actions, and experiences. That such interviews exist at all is rather amazing, but the show weaves them together with a great many other material, including interviews with some of the soldiers from his unit (who almost universally have contempt for him), other Westerners held by the same Jihadi networks, and even some members of the Taliban. The podcast’s website has a host of other information and media, as well.

According to Bergdahl, his desertion was a bone-headed attempt to expose gaps in security that went horribly wrong even before he was captured. He claims — and there is some corroborating evidence to support this — that he escaped once but was recaptured. Interestingly, the SERE team who debriefed him after his release has backed-up at least some parts of his story, that he was subject to terrible abuse by his captors, and stated that Bergdahl provided them a great deal of useful intelligence since his release.

Have you followed the series? Based on the material presented so far, it seems unlikely to me that the worst versions of Bergdahl’s story are true — i.e., that the was a Taliban sympathizer and/or collaborator — though it’s also fairly clear that very nearly everyone involved has reason to believe that. But even if Bergdahl wasn’t as bad as some claim, that hardly excuses his decision to leave his post, nor the skewed nature of the prisoner swap of him for five Taliban figures. I’ve found it fascinating, but it’s also lacked the suspense and addictive nature of the first series.

What do you think?

Published in Foreign Policy, Military
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  1. Eustace C. Scrubb Member
    Eustace C. Scrubb
    @EustaceCScrubb

    Haven’t listened yet, but I was disappointed when I first learned they were doing such a big, widely covered story. Part of the fun of the first season was going after something that was all new to most people.

    • #1
  2. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    I agree that it’s not as compelling as Season One, but I’m still enjoying it. I’ve been surprised that Bergdahl comes across as more sympathetic than I expected him to. That doesn’t excuse what he did, but even he admits quite openly that what he did was stupid and naive. He certainly didn’t deserve the treatment the Taliban gave him.

    I do find it odd that the producers chose to take on such a high-profile story, and one that’s still unfolding (indeed, they’ve slowed their release schedule and extended the season because new information is still coming to light, and I wonder how the court martial might factor into things).

    I had assumed that Season One’s “true crime” story was an indication of what the series would be about; but in fact, I think what defines Serial (as evidenced by the name) is the format, not the subject matter. So I suppose any subject that’s fit for documentary treatment is fair game.

    • #2
  3. Kim K. Inactive
    Kim K.
    @KimK

    I’m listening and trying to be open-minded about what I imagine the slant will be. After the first episode my impression was that Bergdahl is either stunningly naive, incredibly stupid, or a great liar.

    Some of the story details confuse me. He’s wearing sandals but when it’s time to move to a new place he hides the key-type item he found in his shoe. He is held in poor conditions, but when trying to move some plywood that is stuck keeps pouring water on it. He finds a battery and sharpens it into an implement. He doesn’t speak the language, but seems to always know what they are saying. Maybe I’m looking for inconsistencies, but his narrative sounds like something you’d read in a book.

    I have sympathy for him being held for 5 years. However, knowing he walked off in order to create a DUSTWON and wasn’t captured in the line of duty tempers that.

    Koenig’s over-earnestness is a tad annoying.

    I’ll keep listening.

    • #3
  4. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: According to Bergdahl, his desertion was a bone-headed attempt to expose gaps in security that went horribly wrong even before he was captured. He claims — and there is some corroborating evidence to support this — that he escaped once but was recaptured. Interestingly, the SERE team who debriefed him after his release has backed-up at least some parts of his story, that he was subject to terrible abuse by his captors, and stated that Bergdahl provided them a great deal of useful intelligence since his release.

    I haven’t followed the series, but I think it is possible the first sentence could be false and the rest of the paragraph still true.

    I think he probably did desert his post for reason unrelated to exposing security flaws (*), and after he got captured realized what a massive mistake that was.

    He was probably like many brainwashed Americans who believe that America is always wrong and our enemy is always morally upright.  He just had the bad luck to see our enemy up close and personal.  Unfortunately, not enough of left has the opportunity to see our enemies up close and personal, so they are willing to mindlessly repeat whatever the left tells them to believe about both the US and our enemies.

    (*) In what world does deserting in hostile territory to “expose gaps in security” make sense?  No rational world that I can think of.

    • #4
  5. Reckless Endangerment Inactive
    Reckless Endangerment
    @RecklessEndangerment

    As with Making a Murderer, part of the “enjoyment” is grappling with a story with no preconceptions. When I heard Bergdahl, that element went out the window. It is very low on my list of things to listen to.

    • #5
  6. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: Based on the material presented so far, it seems unlikely to me that the worst versions of Bergdahl’s story are true — i.e., that the was a Taliban sympathizer and/or collaborator —

    For those of us that haven’t listened, could you give a quick spoiler-alert for why you think this?

    His mistreatment by the Taliban does not, in my mind, preclude him from being a Taliban sympathizer prior to his desertion.   He may have even initially collaborated and only later changed his mind after being treated like a prisoner rather than receiving the heroes welcome he was hoping for.

    • #6
  7. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    It’s downloaded, but I haven’t listened yet because I even if it’s done well, I’m not the least bit interested in that guy’s story.

    • #7
  8. Ralphie Inactive
    Ralphie
    @Ralphie

    I listened to the first season, and it was interesting. I won’t listen after watching the first “Making a Murderer” on Netflix. It seems that documentaries can omit important facts.  I don’t like trials conducted in public.

    • #8
  9. PJ Inactive
    PJ
    @PJ

    I loved the first season and listened to the first episode of season 2, but it did not capture my interest at all.  First, I agree with Reckless Endangerment’s point in comment 5 that much of the fun in these things is going in with no preconceptions, which we all have regarding Bergdahl.

    But the bigger issue for me was that, even if you completely believe his story (i.e., he saw problems with his outfit, didn’t think he’d get anywhere with the proper chain of command, and so deserted to draw attention to the problems), he’s still the bad guy.  The interviewer at one point said something like, if you believe him he did it for the noblest of reasons.  Um . . . no.

    He was a private.  If you’re a private and you have concerns, you raise them with your immediate superiors.  If they don’t agree, you shut up and do what you’re told, or, at most, you write to someone higher up or an inspector general or something.  But if you do that and they still don’t agree, you shut up and do what you’re told.  Who is this guy to decide that everyone else is wrong and he’s right?  Don’t they teach The Charge of the Light Brigade anymore?

    • #9
  10. Ballstonian Member
    Ballstonian
    @

    I found season one compelling and have quickly lost interest in season two. The whole “did he or didn’t he” was what made season one interesting, and that premise is tossed out almost immediately in season two: Bergdahl admits he deserted. I don’t dispute being captured and mistreated by the Taliban is awful, but I don’t have much sympathy, particularly in light of those killed trying to find him and those released to get him back.

    • #10
  11. Online Park Member
    Online Park
    @OnlinePark

    I really enjoyed season one but I got bogged down on the boring detail of last week’s episode (4 I think) on Bergdahl. I will listen again this Thursday.

    I watched (skimmed really) the Making of a Murderer. I didn’t realize it was 8 episodes when I started and I wanted to finish quickly. I have  some sympathy for Steve Avery. He just doesn’t seem like a killer.

    • #11
  12. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    I’m glad to see this thread.  I should have liked Serial I –I’m an inveterate podcast listener, and a “true crime” aficionado.  However, I was only able to make it through two episodes.  I think that I’m so prejudiced against the “public radio style” documentary, with concerns about whether I’m actually getting the whole truth, that Serial I “triggered” (for want of a better word) a negative response in me.  I was initially put off, as I recall, by a focus on ethnicity, and thought “here we go . . . that’s why they chose this crime.”  So now I see endorsements from other posters who presumably would notice a slanted presentation, and I’m thinking maybe I should give the show another shot.  Maybe I’ll make it through this time.

    I’m going to have to get over my trust issues before moving on to the Bergdahl series;  that topic seems to have great potential for a slanted treatment.

    • #12
  13. iDad Inactive
    iDad
    @iDad

    Hoyacon:I’m glad to see this thread. I should have liked Serial I –I’m an inveterate podcast listener, and a “true crime” aficionado. However, I was only able to make it through two episodes. I think that I’m so prejudiced against the “public radio style” documentary, with concerns about whether I’m actually getting the whole truth, that Serial I “triggered” (for want of a better word) a negative response in me. I was initially put off, as I recall, by a focus on ethnicity, and thought “here we go . . . that’s why they chose this crime.” So now I see endorsements from other posters who presumably would notice a slanted presentation, and I’m thinking maybe I should give the show another shot. Maybe I’ll make it through this time.

    If you enjoy prolonged handwringing culminating in indecision, by all means give season 1 another chance.

    • #13
  14. 1967mustangman Inactive
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    Hoyacon:I’m glad to see this thread. I should have liked Serial I –I’m an inveterate podcast listener, and a “true crime” aficionado. However, I was only able to make it through two episodes. I think that I’m so prejudiced against the “public radio style” documentary, with concerns about whether I’m actually getting the whole truth, that Serial I “triggered” (for want of a better word) a negative response in me. I was initially put off, as I recall, by a focus on ethnicity, and thought “here we go . . . that’s why they chose this crime.” So now I see endorsements from other posters who presumably would notice a slanted presentation, and I’m thinking maybe I should give the show another shot. Maybe I’ll make it through this time.

    I’m going to have to get over my trust issues before moving on to the Bergdahl series; that topic seems to have great potential for a slanted treatment.

    Are there any good intersections of true crime and podcast you listen to?

    • #14
  15. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Ballstonian: I found season one compelling and have quickly lost interest in season two. The whole “did he or didn’t he” was what made season one interesting, and that premise is tossed out almost immediately in season two: Bergdahl admits he deserted.

    Agreed. Season two has been (for me) very interesting, but it lacks the suspense and intrigue of season one.

    Ballstonian: I don’t dispute being captured and mistreated by the Taliban is awful, but I don’t have much sympathy, particularly in light of those killed trying to find him and those released to get him back.

    If Bergdahl is telling the truth about his capture, then I think he deserves some sympathy. Whether he deserves more than those who risked (and lost) their lives to get him back is another matter.

    • #15
  16. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:According to Bergdahl, his desertion was a bone-headed attempt to expose gaps in security that went horribly wrong even before he was captured…

    What do you think?

    I think a man facing a court martial is changing his tune rather conveniently.

    Sometime after midnight on June 30, 2009, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl left behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life. He slipped off the remote military outpost in Paktika Province on the border with Pakistan and took with him a soft backpack, water, knives, a notebook and writing materials, but left behind his body armor and weapons — startling, given the hostile environment around his outpost.

    • #16
  17. Sheila S. Inactive
    Sheila S.
    @SheilaS

    1967mustangman:Are there any good intersections of true crime and podcast you listen to?

    Another Ricochetti recommended Sword and Scale, which is very interesting, well done, and occasionally hard to listen to due to the primary source material. The guy who does it seems to be slightly left of center as best I can tell, and yet he did an episode on Kermit Gosnell, rightly pointing out at the beginning of the podcast that Gosnell falls firmly into the serial killer mold regardless of one’s opinions on abortion.

    • #17
  18. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    1967mustangman:

    Are there any good intersections of true crime and podcast you listen to?

    Other than Serial I, I haven’t found anything comparable to, say, true crime nonfiction books.  “Liar City” comes reasonably close, is not serialized, and is pretty well done (although the host insists on using profanity occasionally for some reason).  I also enjoyed “Mystery Show” but it’s much more lighthearted than true crime, even though it does involve a certain type of “mystery.”  “Lore” is IMO probably the best of the three, but focuses on some grizzly stuff.  The host is quite good.

    YMMV, but it shouldn’t take much listening to determine whether any are your cup of tea.  None of them  rang any “it’s politicized” bells for me.

    • #18
  19. Larry Koler Inactive
    Larry Koler
    @LarryKoler

    NPR is not a trustworthy organization to handle anything that is politically charged. They are leftists and anti-American and I don’t trust them to be fair on this.

    I’m 3 episodes into Serial 1 and it’s good but I find it tedious overall and I don’t know if I will finish it.

    • #19
  20. Sheila S. Inactive
    Sheila S.
    @SheilaS

    I listened to Serial 1 and enjoyed it. Much of the enjoyment was finding new evidence along with the creators, and since I wasn’t familiar with the Syad case, I had no opinions either way. Each episode was like peeling back the layers of an onion.

    I was very excited to hear they were releasing a second season, and quickly disappointed when I found out the subject matter. I haven’t listened yet, although I am in the process of packing our house to move and neither Ricochet or Sword and Scale produces podcasts frequently enough to keep me entertained, so I may just get desperate enough to give a listen. I’m glad to hear several say it’s not a complete waste of time.

    • #20
  21. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    A-Squared: For those of us that haven’t listened, could you give a quick spoiler-alert for why you think this?

    It’s a judgement call — and one that’s subject to change — but I’ve yet to see much evidence in favor of the proposition that he intended to defect, and I found the de-briefer’s comments compelling.

    He may have been a traitor, but it seems more likely to me at this point that he was more reckless and stupid. Do I think it’s absolutely appropriate for the Army to charge him.

    • #21
  22. David Knights Member
    David Knights
    @DavidKnights

    Ms. Koenig would make an excellent defense lawyer.  If you aren’t familiar with criminal defense, one of the  effective techniques is to humanize your client.  Its done on the sly.  Notice how she almost always refers to her subject as Bo.  Not Pvt. or Sgt. Bergdahl.  Much of what is being presented is the version taking your eye off the tragic crime by talking about how bad the criminal was treated as a child and how he’s really a good boy, with good intentions, who “just made a mistake”.  In this case, the crime is the death of his comrades who had to try and rescue him, the Taliban stand in for the abusive parents and poor Bo is the criminal you are to feel sorry for.

    Its not objective journalism, its defense dressed up as story-telling.

    • #22
  23. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    David Knights: Its done on the sly. Notice how she almost always refers to her subject as Bo. Not Pvt. or Sgt. Bergdahl.

    I agree that that’s been a bad choice.

    David Knights: Much of what is being presented is the version taking your eye off the tragic crime by talking about how bad the criminal was treated as a child and how he’s really a good boy, with good intentions, who “just made a mistake”.

    I believe episode two dealt with this in some detail and a expect it will be given more treatment later in the series. If they don’t return to it, it’ll be a black mark on the show.

    • #23
  24. 1967mustangman Inactive
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    Sheila S.: Another Ricochetti recommended Sword and Scale, which is very interesting, well done, and occasionally hard to listen to due to the primary source material.

    Yeah the use of primary source material is really hard.

    • #24
  25. Larry Koler Inactive
    Larry Koler
    @LarryKoler

    In the end NPR is a politically active leftist organization. They are congenitally unable to be unbiased.

    • #25
  26. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    PJ:He was a private. If you’re a private and you have concerns, you raise them with your immediate superiors. If they don’t agree, you shut up and do what you’re told, or, at most, you write to someone higher up or an inspector general or something. But if you do that and they still don’t agree, you shut up and do what you’re told.

    I agree with that entire paragraph, but nothing in it precludes the possibility that he acted “for the noblest of reasons.” He just chose the wrong course of action as a response to those reasons.

    (Note that I’m not saying I think he acted for the noblest of reasons. Frankly, I haven’t yet heard his supposed reasons clearly explained; just some vague discontent about his commanders’ decisions.)

    • #26
  27. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: It’s a judgement call — and one that’s subject to change — but I’ve yet to see much evidence in favor of the proposition that he intended to defect, and I found the de-briefer’s comments compelling.

    Do they discuss the note he left behind

    Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl left behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life.

    Why he  “sent all his belongings home — his computer, personal items” and the e-mail he sent to his parents shortly before he “vacated the premises”

    “I am ashamed to be an American. And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools,” he concluded. “I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting.”

    Those are not the actions of someone trying to expose gaps in security.

    • #27
  28. PJ Inactive
    PJ
    @PJ

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.:

    PJ:He was a private. If you’re a private and you have concerns, you raise them with your immediate superiors. If they don’t agree, you shut up and do what you’re told, or, at most, you write to someone higher up or an inspector general or something. But if you do that and they still don’t agree, you shut up and do what you’re told.

    I agree with that entire paragraph, but nothing in it precludes the possibility that he acted “for the noblest of reasons.” He just chose the wrong course of action as a response to those reasons.

    I take your point, that his reasons don’t change simply because he chose a poor course of action in response, but I do think the nobility of his cause is tarnished by his failure to understand his role.  The noble and honorable thing to do in his situation was to make his views known and then suck it up.  That means his reasons for deserting included not only, “I think my comrades and I are in danger due to poor leadership,” but also, “my opinion is so important that I don’t have to abide by regular military order.”

    • #28
  29. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    NYT: Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl left behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life.

    Assuming that’s what the note said, that would certainly change things. I’d be curious to actually see that letter, but — again, if the NYT had it right — that would rather change things.

    FWIW, the NYT article is from quite a ways back.

    • #29
  30. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    PJ:

    That means his reasons for deserting included not only, “I think my comrades and I are in danger due to poor leadership,” but also, “my opinion is so important that I don’t have to abide by regular military order.”

    That’s a good point. Some of his comments in the interviews indicate that he now sees his desertion as naive and stupid, but I don’t remember him acknowledging the level of arrogance that it also suggests.

    What he went through during his captivity is not to be wished upon anyone. Having said that, though, I have the feeling that he grew up an awful lot during those five years. One would hope that he also came away from the experience with a bit of humility. Perhaps that will be revealed by how he conducts himself during the court martial.

    • #30
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