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Messes and Misconduct

Over the weekend, Wondery Media announced that it was cutting ties with Sword and Scale, a true crime podcast, after creator Mike Boudet published a misogynistic Instagram post last Friday, which was also International Women’s Day.

The Wrap wrote about the move, pointing out that Boudet has a history not only of making derogatory comments aimed at women and the LGBTQ community (among other groups), but also of handling sensitive material in potentially harmful manners within the context of the actual show. According to a piece published by Mamamia, an Australian opinion and lifestyle site, the podcast has been accused of using raw 911 calls — some of which involved children and actual victims — without permission or censorship. The Mamamia piece also noted reports of Boudet engaging in “predatory, and downright creepy, comments towards female fans.”

In the past, Boudet’s conduct has sparked a boycott within the true crime podcast community (and beyond), which included condemnation by Undisclosed’s Rabia Chaudry, Lore’s Aaron Mahnke, Snap Judgment’s Glynn Washington, and Crime Writers On… ‘s Rebecca Lavoie. The Sword and Scale creator appears to blame the boycott for Wondery’s decision to drop the show.

“It’s not just his on-air and social comments,” said Lavoie, over email. “What pushed me over the edge is his direct harassment of people on social media, including his own listeners as times.”

She added: “The true crime podcast community is really small. Many of us know each other and we all attend the same events and conferences. I began to see him as actually dangerous — especially when I read about his behavior at meetups.”

Sword and Scale has a considerable following. The show has just under 15,000 backers on Patreon, and its Facebook group, to the extent that you can use it as a proxy, has over 100,000 likes and followers. Actual download numbers, of course, are hard to come by for specific shows, but I’ve heard talk of the show being a formidable audience driver, generating some substantial revenue as a result. With Wondery cutting ties, Boudet announced that he is exploring moving onto some sort of custom platform, where new episodes will be released behind a paywall.

This is a really messy situation, and it folds together a few different long-running issues about podcasting and digital media into one clump of controversy: open publishing and freedom of speech, freedom of speech versus freedom of reach (and, in this case, freedom of monetization), the moral responsibilities of businesses and advertising, the cost of low barriers to entry and a decentralized world — all of which we’ve seen play themselves out before, most recently in the Deplatforming of Alex Jones episode from last summer. But in many ways, it isn’t that messy at all. Certain conduct incurs natural costs, and this is an expression of that.

Wondery’s move to cut Sword and Scale comes as the Los Angeles-based company fronts a campaign to take over the prime “Podcast-to-Television Pipeline” narrative, now that Gimlet’s been gobbled up into Spotify. You can see that play out in recent pieces by Fast Company, The Wrap, and KPCC, rolling off the news peg of the company having auctioned off the IP for another podcast, Over My Dead Body.

I reached out to Wondery for comment hoping to get more insight into the matter, but didn’t get much beyond: “We have decided to part ways with Mike Boudet and Sword and Scale.”

Brace for a similarly-themed story. Earlier this month, Miel Bredouw, the LA-based comedian and co-host of Punch Up The Jam, published a Twitter thread that made public a protracted episode in which she was systematically harassed by Barstool Sports, the digital media company that often trades in controversy, after she filed a DMCA notice against them for re-posting an old video of her’s without credit.

The Daily Beast picked up the thread:

In exchange for rescinding a Digital Media Copyright Act violation she filed in December, after Barstool’s 1.47 million follower-strong Twitter account shamelessly reposted a video she created over two years ago, Bredouw was informed she could obtain items like a skimpy women’s thong with “degrade me” plastered across the front…

… When she didn’t respond to the site’s escalating offers, a slew of Barstool accounts bombarded every email address and social media account she owned, to the point where she had to shut down multiple points of contact. Despite making it clear from the beginning that she had no desire to engage with Barstool — and she was under no legal obligation to do so — the situation eventually reached the point where Barstool’s general counsel dangled $2,000. In the end, Barstool filed a counter-notification claim with Twitter, forcing her to choose between filing for an injunction and spending a good amount of money and time standing up for her rights, or letting the satirical men’s sports and lifestyle blog slide.

Currently valued above $100 million following a $15 million raise from The Chernin Group last January, Barstool Sports is additionally a prominent podcast publisher that reportedly brought in more than $15 million last year, per Digiday. Certain conduct incurs natural costs, or should. But some, alas, are more insulated from those costs than others.