“Serial” didn’t set out at first to tell the Bowe Bergdahl story for its second season. But after obtaining 25 hours of audio recordings with the Hailey native, producers of the popular podcast figured Americans wanted to hear the one voice missing from the conversation.
“I had seen the videos that the Taliban had released when he was released and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my God, that guy’s got a story to tell,’” said Julie Snyder, the podcast’s co-founder and executive producer. “This was a story I was dying to hear.”
The podcast wove Bergdahl’s statements throughout its 11-part season, giving Americans their first chance to hear directly from the soldier since his return to the U.S.
The series, which ended last week, humanized the war, Snyder said. It’s easy to see decisions being made by huge institutions without appreciating that those institutions are made up of people trying to make decisions on the fly, she said.
“It’s very human in terms of the plans and when things go awry and taking risks and having goals. There’s also hubris at times that we all experience,” Snyder said. “That, for me, is what changed my opinions and impressions that I had, especially about the war.”
Still to come, of course, is Bergdahl’s court-martial. It’s not clear whether his interviews featured on “Serial” will have any repercussions for him at trial. On the flip side, some critics of the show worry that placing Bergdahl’s story in greater context could reduce his eventual punishment if he’s convicted.
“I don’t know what effect this will have in a larger way. I really don’t,” Snyder said. “I feel for us, all we can do is put it out there. We’ll see. We’ll see.”
It turns out Bergdahl has a mental disorder
An Army Sanity Board found that Bergdahl suffered from schizotypal personality disorder at the time of his capture, a detail first confirmed by “Serial.”
Folks with schizotypal personality disorder are often viewed as odd or eccentric, Kyle Davis, a psychologist with St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center, told The Idaho Statesman. They’re often described as “beating to their own drum” and often have odd beliefs about how the world works or how they interact with the world, he said.
They’re often more paranoid than the average person, Davis said. They’re suspicious about the world and see themselves as being persecuted by others or the government or the world, he said.
Above photo credit: Ted Richardson/AP.
“Speaking of Serial”: What stood out to us
Eight Idaho Statesman and Boise State Public Radio journalists listened to the second season of “Serial” and discussed it on a companion podcast, “Speaking of Serial.” Selected reactions after they finished the season:
Nate Poppino: “Easily the biggest thing that came from this season was the chance to hear from Bergdahl himself. He’s been incredibly private since his return to the U.S. I think the country badly needed to hear him explain himself in his own words.”
Frankie Barnhill: “As a civilian news consumer, the podcast helped me understand the intricacies of the war — not through the institutions leading the efforts but through the people fighting and strategizing around it. ‘Serial’ humanized the war in a way no other reporting I’ve encountered has accomplished.”
Anna Webb: “The format lends itself to a kind of intimacy and old-style anticipation that I can only think approximates what people once felt about radio dramas, FDR’s fireside chats, et al.”
Scott Graf: “Serial provided an avenue for the Boal interviews to reach the public and broke the news of the Bergdahl mental issues. Both are big deals. So while podcasts are still a niche for many, if you were interested in the Bergdahl story, you needed to pay attention to this one.”
Katy Moeller: “The interviews that Sarah (Koenig) got with a plethora of his friends, fellow soldiers, commanding officers, government officials and even a member of the Taliban was a coup — hearing their voices and stories made the experience so vivid. I’m surprised that so many military folks were willing to speak publicly, allowing their names to be used.”