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Returning to misremembered history


Homelessness
May 16
“We want stories that don’t exist in systems”: Mike tells Sarah what happened when Utah set out to solve one of America’s most intractable problems. Digressions include the Paleo diet, the planet Mars and the inadequacy of the term “up the river.” Jimmy…
Dan Quayle v. Murphy Brown
May 9
“Why did we make fun of Dan Quayle for misspelling the word ‘potato’ when we should have made fun of him for arguments like this?” Mike tells Sarah how a real vice president blamed a fictional single mom for causing one of the most divisive events of the…
Elián González
Apr 25
Mike tells Sarah how a 5-year-old kid transformed a city, divided a political party and (maybe) determined a presidential election. Digressions include World War II, Clarence Darrow and something called “Like, News with Skeeter.” Both co-hosts conclude…
The Preppy Murder
Apr 18
Sarah tells Mike how an aspiring rich kid became an emblem of a world he didn’t belong to. Digressions include drill teams, prep schools and eating disorders. The p-pops are worse than usual. Continue reading →
The “Ebonics” Controversy
Apr 4
Mike tells Sarah how a simple idea in a single school district became a nationwide racial panic. Digressions include slasher movies, Space Invaders and homeschooling. The taglines are becoming more esoteric. Continue reading →
Terri Schiavo
Mar 5
Mike tells Sarah how the media, the president and the Pope turned a simple medical story into a complicated legal one. Digressions include canine loyalty, unionized space-workers and polyamory logistics. Both co-hosts recorded in tiny rooms, but with very…
Anna Nicole Smith
Feb 20
Sarah tells Mike how a poor Texas girl made herself into an icon and America made her into a punchline. Digressions include massage technique, “Death Becomes Her” and (obviously) “The Godfather.” Mike sounds even sicker than he did last week. Continue…
Acid Rain
Feb 15
Mike tells Sarah how an environmental problem became a national rallying cry, a sticky diplomatic issue and, eventually, a conspiracy theory. Digressions include “Alien,” Field & Stream and NRA public service announcements. Both hosts are recovering from…
Gary Hart
Feb 7
Sarah tells Mike how a sex scandal ruined a rising star and established a new template for American elections. Digressions include “Good Will Hunting,” People Magazine and Linda Ronstadt. Michael Dukakis is described, for the first time ever, as “the…
Tammy Faye Bakker and Jessica Hahn
Jan 25
“She only said one thing her whole life”: Sarah tells Mike how two decent women became scapegoats for the actions of one terrible man. Digressions include Larry Flynt, NPR tote bags and Playboy back issues. The co-hosts discover they have wildly different…
Enron
Jan 16
Mike tells Sarah how a “bad apples” explanation kept us from seeing the real scandal at the heart of America’s largest corporate bankruptcy. Digressions include “Casino,” Thanksgiving economics and corruption catchphrases. Neither co-host truly…
The Challenger Disaster
Jan 3
It wasn’t an accident. Mike tells Sarah how the infamous space shuttle disaster came to be seen as a white-collar crime. Digressions include the Donner Party, George Lucas and “Jurassic Park.” Both co-hosts are audibly recovering from colds. Continue…
“A Dingo’s Got My Baby”
Dec 19, 2018
Sarah tells Mike how a tragic story became a hacky catchphrase. Digressions include raccoon anarchists, flu remedies and late-night Arby’s. Sarah’s Google Alerts will surprise none of our listeners. Continue reading →
The 2000 Election
Dec 12, 2018
Mike tells Sarah how a close election and an even closer Supreme Court decision established the political template we’re still living with today. Digressions include quarks, Ouija Boards and (sorry) moral philosophy. The “lemonade theory” turns out to be…
Amy Fisher
Dec 3, 2018
Sarah tells Mike about the sad reality — and the terrible man — behind the infamous Long Island Lolita. Digressions include software terms of service, the rise of beepers and Monica Lewinsky’s LinkedIn profile. Mike, a 36-year-old man, appears not to…
Roe v. Wade
Nov 21, 2018
Special guest Megan Burbank tells us about the history, limitations and loopholes of a landmark court ruling. Digressions include Betty Ford, “Maude” and naming conventions for anonymous defendants. The glories of Washington State politics are examined in…
The Duke Lacrosse Rape Case
Nov 14, 2018
Mike tells Sarah how a false rape allegation became a right-wing rallying cry and a left-wing conspiracy theory. Digressions include JonBenet Ramsay, “24” and “The Vagina Monologues.” Mike regrets not commenting on the metaphorical significance of being…
Lorena Bobbitt
Nov 7, 2018
Sarah tells Mike how a case of marital rape and spontaneous mutilation became a national punchline. Digressions include Ron Jeremy, Alan Dershowitz, Motörhead and the tortures of self-reflection. Sarah reviews John Wayne Bobbitt’s later works. Continue…
Stranger Danger
Oct 31, 2018
How inflated statistics, cultural anxieties and moral crusaders turned a tiny number of missing children into a decade-long political project. Digressions include 1870s parenting, “E.T.” and the lack of parks in Los Angeles. Both co-hosts secretly believe…
Urban Legends Spectacular!
Oct 24, 2018
Razorblades in apples, babysitters on acid, killers in backseats and “rainbow parties”: In this episode, Mike and Sarah investigate the scary stories Americans tell each other and discover the actual anxieties behind them. Turn on your high beams for this…
Halloween Special! Ed Gein and Slasher Movies
Oct 17, 2018
Sarah tells Mike how Ed Gein became one of America’s most famous serial killers despite not actually being one. Plus, the cinematic villains Gein inspired and what the slasher movies of the 1980s were really about. Digressions include Freud, summer camp…
Shaken Baby Syndrome
Oct 8, 2018
Mike tells Sarah how an over-simplified diagnosis, over-confident doctors and over-zealous prosecutors combined to get thousands of innocent parents thrown in prison. Digressions include food poisoning, Sherlock Holmes and 1950s medical ethics. Mike…
Multiple Personality Disorder
Oct 1, 2018
Sarah tells Mike how pop culture created a two-decade-long obsession with multiple personality disorder and repressed memories. Digressions include Dead Poets Society, restless leg syndrome and the low editorial standards of the American publishing…
The Obesity Epidemic
Sep 19, 2018
Mike tells Sarah that America has sent the wrong messages and done the wrong things about obesity for more than half a century. Digressions include height (again), sweatshops and Julianne Moore. Sarah and Mike’s mothers both make extended appearances.…
Columbine
Sep 17, 2018
Special guest Rachel Monroe (re-)joins Mike and Sarah to talk about all the myths surrounding the second-biggest news event of the 1990s. Digressions include car crashes, September 11, Diane Sawyer and the terrors of teenage journaling. Continue reading →
Iran-Contra
Sep 10, 2018
Mike tells Sarah why the biggest scandal of Reagan’s presidency provides more (depressing) lessons about current politics than Watergate. Digressions include Mormons, Top Gun and the X-Files. Both co-hosts have considered what they will name their…
Jeffrey Dahmer
Sep 1, 2018
Sarah tells Mike that shoddy policing (and Milwaukee generally) are responsible for one of America’s most prolific serial killers. Digressions include panel vans, Anita Bryant, early man and Hannibal Lector. Mike struggles, as usual, not to cry during the…
D.A.R.E.
Aug 18, 2018
Mike tells Sarah that the D.A.R.E. program did not, in fact, keep kids off drugs. But that’s just the beginning of the debunking. Digressions include Martin Scorsese, Iceland and control groups. Neither co-host was cool enough to be offered drugs in high…
Alpha Males
Aug 4, 2018
Sarah tells Mike that animal behavior is an imperfect template for human society. Digressions include rabbits, Bob’s Burgers and online dating. Mike makes an awkward observation about locker rooms. Continue reading →
Kurt Cobain and “Copycat Suicide”
Jul 28, 2018
Special guest Candace Opper tells Mike and Sarah about how the death of a rock star changed the field of suicidology (which is a thing). Digressions include eating disorders, car crashes and the insane grimness of the term “family annihilation.” The…
“The Godfather”
Jul 21, 2018
Sarah tells Mike about how America’s favorite gangster movie is really its favorite killing-the-American-Dream movie. Digressions include the Mona Lisa, Bruce Springsteen and the tyranny of height-ism. The sound quality continues to worsen. Continue…
10th Episode Spectacular!
Jul 14, 2018
Sarah and Mike take a break from debunking to reflect on the first 10 episodes and tell the secret history of how they met. Digressions include “Portlandia,” Snapchat and the The New York Post. The recording quality, as usual, is wildly inconsistent.…
The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
Jun 30, 2018
Mike tells Sarah that America’s most devastating oil spill was not, in fact, a DUI. Digressions include “Titanic” (obviously), the Cuyahoga River, Jennifer Lopez and marshmallows. Punitive damages make a triumphant return. Mike, a professional writer,…
Snuff Films
Jun 25, 2018
Sarah tells Mike about how snuff films don’t exist but lots of near-snuff films do. Digressions include “Basic Instinct,” gymnastics and YouTube’s righthand bar. Mike is palpably grossed out for at least two-thirds of the episode. Continue reading →
The Jonestown Massacre
Jun 16, 2018
Special guest Rachel Monroe tells Mike and Sarah what’s really behind the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid.” Digressions include David Koresh, East Germany and how flower children were the first millennials. Mike inadvertently reveals his prejudice against…
The Clinton Impeachment
Jun 9, 2018
Part two of our epic dissection of the Clinton impeachment scandal. This week: The story breaks, the House indicts, the Senate demurs and Mike rants more than usual about the media. Digressions include Mark Fuhrman, “Broadcast News” and gay porn. Continue…
Monica Lewinsky
Jun 2, 2018
Sarah and Mike talk about what America forgot — and never learned — about history’s most famous intern. Digressions include generational resentments, 1990s fashion and off-brand colleges. Also, Mike’s microphone breaks about 25 minutes in, so he sounds…
Anita Hill
May 26, 2018
Mike tells Sarah about the complicated legacy of Anita Hill and the not-particularly-complicated facts of her case. Digressions include “Tootsie,” Garrison Keillor and the Donner party. Mike, for reasons unknown, seems to believe that one flies “down”…
Stockholm Syndrome
May 20, 2018
It’s not a real thing! … OR IS IT? Sarah tells Mike about the convoluted history of a contested term. Digressions include James Bond, Charlie Manson and rat poison. Continue reading →
Matthew Shepard
May 12, 2018
But not how you think! Special guest Mike Owens tells Sarah and Mike about the (attempted) debunking of the gay-bashing victim. Digressions include Leopold and Loeb, Basic Instinct and Rolling Stone. The sound quality is even worse than usual. Continue…
Afterschool Specials
May 5, 2018
Mike tells Sarah that the TV movies of her childhood were both less and more problematic than she remembers. Continue reading →
Crack Babies
May 4, 2018
Sarah tells Mike about the long history of white anxiety over black motherhood. Continue reading →
Going Postal
May 3, 2018
Mike tells Sarah about the rash of mass shootings carried out by postal workers in the ’80s and ’90s, then brings out the debunkin’ turducken. Continue reading →
The Satanic Panic
May 3, 2018
The 1980s were real but the Satanists weren’t. Sarah tells Mike about why America spent a decade worried about witches running daycare centers. Continue reading →