Podcast | Author Patrick Radden Keefe on the ethics of true crime

In a live taping of The New Yorker’s Critics at Large podcast, Keefe and a panel discuss the genre’s enduring popularity – and its problematic aspects.

New Yorker Critics at Large on stage at Cascade PBS Ideas Festival

Alexandra Schwartz, Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry and Patrick Radden Keefe on stage at the Cascade PBS Ideas Festival on May 4, 2024. (Christopher Nelson for Cascade PBS)

The appetite for true crime is more insatiable than ever, but audiences, authors and podcast producers are also grappling with the ethics of the genre. Patrick Radden Keefe, author of books including Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family and Say Nothing: A True Story of Memory and Murder in Northern Ireland, has made a career out of telling nuanced stories about unconscionable acts and the people who commit them. 

As part of the Cascade PBS Ideas Festival in early May, Keefe got on stage to speak with Alexandra Schwartz, Naomi Fry and Vinson Cunningham, co-hosts of The New Yorker podcast Critics at Large, about his work, the state of true crime and what it's like to write about terrible things. 

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In this episode of the Cascade PBS Ideas Festival podcast, Keefe shares his process and his approach to the genre. Rather than dwell on gory details, he seeks to understand the underlying circumstances that lead people to commit crimes. He discusses the role of the journalist in this work, the challenges of adapting this kind of writing for the screen and what he’s learned from past stories, including “The Oligarch’s Son,” an article he wrote for The New Yorker about the sudden death of a London teenager, which he’s currently expanding into a book.  

This conversation was recorded on May 4, 2024. 

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