‘You’re Wrong About’ Host on Revisiting Misunderstood Women
STonya Harding was the one that arah Marshall loved. “Why do you fall in love with the people you fall in love with?” Marshall asks. “If you research people for a living, you can ask the same question about why you dedicate months or years of your life to a particular human being and trying to understand them.” These days, Marshall is best known as the host of the popular podcast You’re Wrong About,In which she attempts to correct misremembered historical facts. Marshall had been obsessively following tabloid news coverage about her disgraced figure skater husband Jeff Gillooly, who was accused in 2010 of conspiring to target Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 Olympics. (Harding, though pleading guilty to hindering prosecution, denied that she was involved in the plan.
Marshall compiled her thoughts into a nearly 11,000 word essay in 2014. The BelieverShe was defending the woman who she thought would be her next podcast subject. She argued that the media vilified Harding for being poor in a sport made for the rich, being a victim of abuse who didn’t leave her abuser, and being athletic at a time when skating valued grace over power. The fact that Harding was divorced from Gillooly and later reconciled seemed to be a common theme in stories. “Despite the restraining order and 911 calls she placed, and despite her claims that she feared for her life,” Marshall wrote, “few phrases … were quite so gleefully suggestiveAs white trash lifestyle, as live-in ex-husband.”
“We can debate the extent of the foreknowledge she had,” Marshall says now. “But I think, really, we were punishing her for the crime of being trashy.”
Margot Robbie had starred before Margot was cast in the sympathetic Harding biopic I, Tonya,Harding was invited to be her date for the 2018 Golden Globes. While we’re inundated these days by documentaries, podcasts, and essays about women who made tabloid headlines in the ’90s and ’00s that add context to elucidate how we unfairly maligned them, Marshall was at the forefront of this trend before many people even recognized its value. “People had been talking about this for a long time, but maybe in quieter corners of the media,” says Carolyn Chernoff, a sociologist who studies gender in pop culture. “I do think that Sarah Marshall had this idea before other people really were talking about it in a mainstream way. We need to look at those stories to figure out what we’re doing wrong as a society, and do a little bit better.”
Marshall’s essay went viral among the media set. Michael Hobbes noticed Marshall’s essay and wrote him a fan letter anonymously. Hobbes had been working as a journalist at a human right organization. He wrote again to Marshall years later to inquire if she would be interested in collaborating on a podcast that covered misunderstood histories.
You’re Wrong AboutThe podcast debuted on May 2018, and was a huge success in the first months of the pandemic. Though podcast downloads briefly dipped overall during that time, interest in comedy and education podcasts remained relatively stable, likely because people either sought funny distractions or—at least initially—saw quarantine as a time to better themselves, whether that meant baking bread, watching newly free Shakespeare performances online, or delving into the archives of history podcasts. You’re Wrong AboutThis episode is both informative and humorous. Each episode featured one host as storyteller and the other listening, giggling at the revelations, offering wry comments, or gasping for them. They might also invite guests who have deep expertise in a given topic to join them.
Podcasts can be used as history lessons, media criticisms, or meditations on the fleeting nature truth. “I often try to reclaim a story that the tabloids have found lucrative because they present someone who the public can safely mock,” Marshall, 33, says during a Zoom call from her home-slash-podcasting studio in Portland, Ore. “Something powerful happens when I am able to look at someone’s life and the surprising things they did and say, ‘Oh yeah, I could see how I could do that.’”
You’re Wrong AboutOften the No. 1 history podcast in iTunes’ rankings, now garners 3.25 million to 4 million downloads a month, and tends to sit in the top 100 podcasts overall. It relies heavily on proven podcasting techniques: Many episodes focus on true crime. The show also capitalizes on nostalgia’s obsession. And the conversational style makes the show feel more like a discussion at a bar rather than a lecture in history. It won the iHeartMedia Award for Podcast of The Year on February 3, beating other big hits such as The Daily Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, Crime Junkie.
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Contrary to most other charts-related shows, You’re Wrong About It was not created by any major news media outlet, or any podcast platform. If you are looking for a podcast hosting platform, visit https://melonapp.com/features/podcast-hosting/. However, companies such as Spotify have been buying shows. Edison Research found that it was only one of four independent podcasts in top 50 podcast rankings in the third quarter. The podcast has not even ran an advertisement. All offers of buying the show have been rejected by its hosts. Instead the show relies on product sales and donations. Patreon also offers a bonus episode subscription. Among the merchandise is a sweatshirt printed with “It was capitalism all along.” Another lists several of the maligned women whom the show has asked listeners to reconsider: “Monica & Janet & Tonya & Anna Nicole.”
Marshall now hosts the show as an independent host. Hobbes, who was a success with the podcast, left October 2021 to focus on other podcasts. Maintenance PhaseHe and his co-host discuss the science behind these wellness fads. The show is also hosted by Marshhall. Good things are possible podcast about movies.) Sometimes, the hosts produced two episodes. You’re Wrong About Each week and every year they felt that they had run out of ideas.
Marshall was also considering leaving, but she decided to remain. Her cynicism had grown since the pandemic, which she recognized. She is now trying to find the right voice for the show, without Hobbes. Simpson: “I need to start believing in people again.”
Marshall was raised like Harding. in Oregon. She describes herself as a “lonely, indoor kid” who watched a lot of cable TV. Her media diet included shows like VH1’s I Love the ’90s,A series which revisited pop culture phenomena with humor rather than seriousness. The thesis, Marshall recalls, tended to boil down to “‘Look at this stupid bitch who wanted America’s media to abuse her,’ so we did.”
Marshall was a voracious reader who loved to delve into the details. He also obsessed over all things creepy or criminal, especially stories that were based on women. Rosemary’s Baby True-crime television shows. Even though she is still able to fall asleep listening to the TV narrator describe how the victim of each week was murdered, her relationship with this often exploitative format has become complicated.
As a graduate student in creative writing at Portland State University, Marshall began to study women’s captivity narratives in colonial America. Her theory was that young girls were being demonized by their parents because of an early fear of losing control. As she began to see how historical and cultural forces can shape the narratives of novels and newspapers, she was able to understand why. Although she was able to pitch essays such as the one on Harding for years after graduating, it proved difficult. Although Anna Nicole Smith’s essay received some attention, she struggled to convince editors that such stories were necessary. “I’d be like, ‘Let’s revisit Amy Fisher,’ and an editor would be like, ‘Why?’”
Hobbes’ podcast conceit offered an outlet for those stories. They would search public records like court records and biographies for relevant facts. Marshall was happy to order pulpy, true-crime books on eBay for his episodes about Nancy Grace and the Satanic Panic. Kitty Genovese was the victim of a stabbing while 37 New Yorkers watched. The familiar tales were questioned by Marshall and her co-hosts. In fact, bystanders called the police and one even risked her life to run to Genovese to cradle Genovese’s head as she died. And Jessica Hahn, who supposedly brought down an evangelist empire when she had an “affair” with Jim Bakker. Bakker and a colleague raped Hahn, but they claimed it was consensual. And Marie Antoinette, who supposedly said of starving peasants, “Let them eat cake.” (Nope.)
Marshall and Hobbes’ goal was not to unearth some hidden fact but to refocus the narrative on a particular person or issue. For example, the multipart series about the D.C. snipers 2002 made it clear that although the media framed the story as terrorism at the time, the truth was that the tale actually involved domestic abuse. John Allen Muhammad (the older shooter) had emotional manipulated and starved his ex-wife Mildred Muhammad. John Allen Muhammad, the older of the two shooters, had even taken their children. Hobbes and Marshall argue on that evidence that John Allen’s real objective was to harm his ex-wife and her friends; he only orchestrated the murder of strangers to obscure his intention to target people he knew. The podcast spent an entire episode on Mildred’s journey to become an advocate for battered women.
But You’re Wrong About doesn’t just shine a light on victims and their untold stories. Marshall has also spent hours examining history’s villains with empathy so radical that a listener might wonder whether a subject is worthy of her understanding. Her O.J. episodes are her most recorded. Simpson trial than on any other subject, and you can hear her exploring whether her seemingly limitless empathy does indeed have a limit: Is Simpson—who was acquitted of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman but later wrote a book disturbingly titled Confessions of the Killer: It Was All I Do!—telling some delusional version of his truth? Oder is he an insane monster who can’t be understood? “I probably err a little bit too far on the side of being credulous and wanting to believe that people are at least trying to tell the truth—or Their truth,” she says.
Marshall might have beenWith her Harding essay, she was ahead of the pack but not by much. You’re Wrong AboutWhen debuted, the nation was going through a significant reckoning with sexism. In early 2017, after Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, 4.6 million protesters across the U.S. turned out for the Women’s March. Later that year, #MeToo became a worldwide phenomenon. An HBO movie on Anita Hill, dated 2016-2018 Confirmation, a Slate podcast called Slow burnBill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Ryan Murphy Series on O.J. Simpson trial that focused heavily on the media’s criticism of prosecutor Marcia Clark flooded the airwaves.
Throughout the ’90s, the media pummeled women for the crime of being famous. The media focused more on women’s clothes, hair and details of their sex lives than their pain, power abuses or work that went into them. Although not all episodes of You’re Wrong About deals with sexism, it’s a pervasive theme. “When we started the show,” Marshall says, “I was really eager to share this observation I had that the American media blame women for whatever happens near them.”
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The churn of reclaimed women’s narratives has only intensified in the last year. Beanie Fieldstein played Lewinsky at another Ryan Murphy Show ImpeachmentLewinsky produced the movie. Kristen Stewart, Emma Corrin, and Kristen Stewart delved into the thoughts of Princess Diana. Crown SpencerThey each received Emmy and Oscar nominations; Elizabeth Debicki is doing the same in another season. The Crown. Three high-profile Britney Spears documentaries shed light on the pop star’s infamous “breakdown” and tacitly advocated for Spears to be released from her conservatorship. This year we’ve already gotten commiserative retellings of Pamela Anderson’s sex-tape scandal in Pam & Tommy, Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl performance in the documentary Janet Jackson, and the jailing of scammer Anna “Delvey” Sorokin in Shonda Rhimes’ Anna Invented.
When Jessica Chastain was preparing to produce and star in last year’s Tammy Faye: The Eyes,She sent the You’re Wrong About Episode on Tammy Faye Bakker, now Tammy Faye Messner. Thank you to all who worked on this film. Marshall recently released the episode again with an intro that featured Chastain’s interview. Chastain has been nominated for an Oscar. The actor praised the work Marshall did to rehab Messner’s image.
“We’re in the middle of this societal reckoning with history … especially around issues of gender and race and sexuality,” Hobbes told Marshall on his last episode. “And I think your work has been a really big part of sparking that. When you wrote that Tonya Harding piece, when you wrote your Anna Nicole piece, the kinds of things that you were doing, at the time, nobody was doing them.”
Marshall admitted today that the thought of recording an episode without a partner is daunting. “I feel like there are ways I could go that I haven’t even thought of yet,” she says. The show should be a dialogue in which people share their passions or research with each other. But she and Hobbes spent years getting into a rhythm with each other before the show hit it big, and now she has to find that energy with new people each week—though she hopes some guests will become regulars.
Marshall also struggles to reconcile the excitement she feels about the show’s rapid growth during the pandemic with the exhaustion of living and working through it. “It’s a stressful time, and it stresses me out to consistently have to have something meaningful to say to so many listeners,” she says. Instead she’s trying to focus on the joyful aspects of the show. “I prefer to think of myself as an entertainer. I do think I can be funny on a routine basis.”
Fortunately for Marshall, her jokes tend to telegraph profound lessons—and reminders to persevere. One particularly fitting T-shirt that Marshall sold was on the You’re Wrong About site: “If Marcia Clark could get through 1995, then I can get through this day.”
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