Monday, March 16, 2015

Robert Durst and the Hot Mic

A lengthy 30-year period of suspicion and, possible, evasion of justice is about to come to an end--maybe. Robert Durst, depicted as the uberwealthy scion of an incredibly rich and powerful property management company, has been arrested and awaiting extradition from New Orleans to Los Angeles. In Lotus Land, Durst is to be charged with the 2000 murder of Susan Berman, a friend and confident from his college days. Berman, as it turns out, may have played a seminal role in the initial disappearance of Durst's first wife, Kathleen McCormack, a fourth-year medical student.

The story is well known by now thanks to an explosion of publicity via the HBO special, "The Jinx," and the resulting interviews with the filmmakers and the rabid dissection of the special by vigilant journalists. It seems no one can put this to rest and let it play out in the court. Perhaps the reason may be that there is such intense interest in a man who may have successfully committed three murders or people just love to speculate on these prime-meat cases.

Everyone wants their moment in the limelight and I can imagine that anyone who played any role in the first investigation (of Durst's wife's sudden disappearance) will be on your national TV shortly. The cast of characters is growing as I type. Get ready for something akin to that famous Margo Channing quote of, "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night." Well, nah, it's not going to be as time limited as that.

I suspect the case will be drawn out for quite some time with lots of TV trial coverage, if they can only get the court to allow the live or taped coverage. You will hear lots of TV hosts yelling or posturing about their own suspicions regarding the "facts" as they are revealed. Some will, unabashedly, want to hang'em high. Watch for it.

The details of Durst's life are rife with difficulty and personal loss. First, if you can believe Durst's version, there was the suicide of his mother who jumped off the roof of one of their mansions. How did he come to witness such a grim spectacle? Well, of course, he said his father awakened him from bed, took him to the window and had him say "goodbye to Mommy" just prior to her jump.

Would any adult have done such a thing? Wouldn't the father have done everything to prevent the suicide and to preclude his son's viewing of it? It smacks of melodrama in the service of creating a vile characterization of someone--the man who would ultimately deny Durst his rightful place as the head of the family business. Bobby may hold a terrible grudge.

Then there's the graveside protestations of a child who sees his mother's coffin being lowered into the ground. He wants mommy out of that box and up with him where she belongs. Not possible and he's reassured that she will be fine. Any child who has ever played in a yard knows that something that is buried is never "fine" if you ever dug it up.

The interviews for "The Jinx" were never intended to provide a lengthy detailed accounting of Durst's childhood and relationship with his parents and peers. The fact that this is missing is unfortunately, but necessary. The special, after all, was about three murders, not the upbringing of a wealthy man-child who engages in bizarre behavior to say the least.

Urinating on a candy display in a store? Odd. Stealing a chicken salad sandwich when you have tens of thousands of dollars in your car and several hundred in your pocket? Add to that the fact that you've recently skipped bail in a murder case and the police are looking for you?

Yes, the rich and famous do engage in shoplifting. We have a sufficient number of newspaper articles about famous sports and movie figures to attest to that fact.  It's the joy of getting away with something, not the fact that you can/can't afford it. The adrenalin rush is almost sexual.  Some therapists do see it as a sexual act.

Currently, the dust-up centers around the timeline provided by the documentary makers. Please, people, this isn't a court hearing. It's drama and filmmakers do what filmmakers do--they manipulate for effect. Not only effect, but promotion and really high drama. The latter is, of course, the final fade out where Durst, live mic on shirt, goes into a bathroom where he "confesses" to himself about the murders.

Back to the hot mic. Have you ever been on a TV program? I've been on over 100 shows.  I've also watched people on live TV where it's eminently possible that they (as I) forgot you have a hot mic on and your every word is being broadcast to anyone with an earpiece or access to a TV. I've heard business conversations I never should have heard and we've seen Presidential meetings where the hot mic was forgotten and a personal comment was sent over the wires.

I can't say that Durst forgot he had the mic on but I can tell you one thing from my own experience about these wireless mics. Whenever I've been on a TV show with a wireless mic, the first thing the studio staff did was leap forward and take off that mic. You can't even stand up in your chair before they've gotten it off you. The reason there is that they're expensive. In the case of the Durst interview, it may have been intentional to see if they could catch any good audio that might be useful considering the fact that Durst has a tendency to mutter to himself.

How, then, did no one think to review all the audio from that session? They actually waited until 2014 when it was "discovered" by some new assistants they hired to log everything? Sorry, but I have a problem believing they wouldn't immediately review all the audio from each and every session, phone call, whatever with him to glean any hidden gems. This particular piece of tape was gold beyond belief or so we are led to believe.

Was Durst aware he had a hot mic on and decided to toy with the filmmakers as he had done when intentionally telling them he was in Europe and he was actually on the West Coast? He's already proven that he lies when it's convenient, so why wouldn't he provide a mouth-watering admission of murder? It would make things just so much more delicious and he could, maybe just one more time, show them how clever he is and, in the bargain, bring a bit more umbrage to his long-suffering family.

You decide: Hot mic forgetfulness or masterful deceit?

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