Madeleine Baran (GSAS ’04)
A Reporter’s Determined Quest for Answers
By Dulcy Israel
Portrait courtesy of Madeleine Baran
Among those moved to action by In the Dark, American Public Media’s podcast hosted and cowritten by Madeleine Baran, are 60 Minutes, which spotlighted the series’ work; the jurors that honored the show with two Peabody Awards; and the United States Supreme Court, which overturned a death row conviction thanks in part to the series. She holds an MA in Journalism and French studies from the Graduate School of Arts and Science.
Season 1 investigated a botched 27-year-old child abduction investigation, and Season 2 the case of Curtis Flowers, a condemned Black man tried six times for the same crime in Mississippi. What makes a good subject? We’re looking for stories that hold powerful people and institutions accountable. With Season 1, we felt that in an era of discussion about law enforcement accountability, one thing not getting much attention was whether law enforcement even solved crime. Season 2 was about the idea that this elected prosecutor could commit prosecutorial misconduct over and over again and yet not be removed from the case. Was racism a major factor in Flowers’s story? It is the single greatest throughline. The main reason Curtis was tried so many times was because the prosecutor was striking Black people off the jury. Black witnesses told us that they felt threatened by law enforcement, like they had to say something regardless of whether or not it happened. Your reporting led our highest court to hear Flowers’s case and reverse his conviction. We’re fortunate to have enough reporters to do the jury analysis that got the attention of the Supreme Court. It was surprising how quickly everything unfolded. The Supreme Court granted cert [reviewed the case]. I thought if our findings were going to play a part in his case, it would come years later through a lengthy post-conviction process. How has COVID-19 impacted the podcast? We were starting Season 3 when it hit. We thought, we can’t go there, but we can use our contacts to report on what life is like during the pandemic in the Mississippi Delta. We looked at churches, sports, what it’s like to be a guy in jail on a low-level offense. A doctor at a hospital recorded herself giving a tour, football players recorded their Zooms with their coaches, that kind of thing.