Here are four pitches for stories for our show. All of them made it onto the program.
This first story was the anchor for show #385 Pro Se. Jon's been on the show before, is a veteran reporter and author, and reported the story himself.
From: Jon Ronson
Date: Wed, 10 Jun 2009 16:11:53 +0100
This story is about the Scientologists. It's about the crack team of scientologists called the CCHR who are dedicated to destroying the industry of psychiatry. They think psychiatrists are the most evil people in the world. Anyway, I had lunch with the British leg of the CCHR and they told me about a guy called Tony. They said Tony had beaten a guy up 13 years ago, and had subsequently faked madness to get into mental hospital. He thought it would be cushier than a few years in prison. But to his horror they believed him and they sent him to Broadmoor, which is Britain's most notorious asylum for the criminally insane. He's surrounded by serial killers, he's totally sane, and nobody will believe him. And this was, like 15 years ago!
So I went to visit Tony. All the other Broadmoor patients were fat and had given up and were wearing sweatsuits. But Tony came to meet me in a pinstripe suit, like a young businessman.
So is Tony telling the truth, and he's trapped like a real life Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest? Or is he a crazy psychopath, and the Scientologists are petitioning to get a crazy psychopath released?
Let me know if this interests you...
This next one ended up in show #394 Bait and Switch. Ira interviewed David Dickerson, who sent the pitch and had been on the show before, and also a pastor named Jim Henderson.
From: David Dickerson
As an ex-evangelical, I was responsible for using the bait-and-switch technique to sell salvation to college students. Our theory was that people wouldn't sign up for Jesus if they knew that's what we were asking, but if we could just get them to hear our message without prejudging it, they'd like it despite themselves, and we'd have saved a soul from hellfire. So it was--and is--a common practice to send out fliers for a "movie night--followed by a discussion" where the agenda isn't revealed until after everyone's watched "The Princess Bride" or whatever, and the main speaker says something like, "Westley and Buttercup pursued true love throughout that film. How do you define true love?" Of course, Jesus had the greatest love of all, and so the peoples' opinions are being elicited only as an excuse to get to the sales pitch. Anyway, I still have friends in the evangelical community--two of whom work at college ministries--and it might be interesting to ask them their point of view about this practice. Is it moral? Is it justified? Do they have any qualms? Does it even work?
This next story also wound up in #394 Bait and Switch. Michael reported it, with one of our producers at his side during the tape gathering. Our producers edit and mix the audio for nearly all the stories on our show.
Date: Tue, 21 Jul 2009 18:02:56 -0500
Subject: Bait car pitch
From: Michael May
I'm working on a story for the local daily that I think might be a perfect short piece for TAL. It could work for a show with a theme like "My Brush With The Law," or "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished."
Here's the story:
Around a year ago, Mark Ledford, a homeowner in North Austin, and his girlfriend Asia Ward came home to find an unknown car parked in front of his house with the windows rolled down and the keys in the ignition. He suspected the worst kind of trouble, but never imagined that he'd be the one in it.
He first knocked on several of his neighbors doors to see if it belonged to one of them, and then called the police. He worried that it was a stolen car, or, at worst, someone had been abducted from it. But when the police came, they didn't seem at all concerned. They told him the car was parked legally and there was nothing they could do. They brushed off his concerns about foul play, and said they weren't going to bother tracing the vehicle.
The officers withheld one crucial fact. The police had put the car there themselves, as part of their 'bait vehicle' program. It was stocked with surveillance equipment and left on the street, waiting for a thief to drive them away.
After the car sits there for three days, Mark and Asia go from concerned to freaked out. They notice that the key ring has feminine bangles on it and there's some sort of lingerie in the back. They start to speculate that a woman was abducted and might even be trapped in the trunk. They decide that the right thing to do is try to figure out who owns the vehicle. Mark puts gloves on (because he's worried it's a crime scene), opens the door and starts to go through the car. The keys won't open the trunk -- because it's a bait car and the trunk is filled with video equipment -- and that only feeds their paranoia. They try to use a screwdriver to open the trunk.
After about ten minutes of searching through the car, four police cars pull up. The officers charge Mark and Asia with burglary of an automobile (even though they didn't steal anything).
Since then, the case has languished in the justice system. Prosecutors have offered them deferred prosecution -- if Mark and Asia confess to the crime, they will face no penalties as long as they don't commit another crime for a year. They have refused to plea to a crime they didn't commit, and have repeatedly demanded a jury trail. The case will finally be tried next Wednesday.
I think this would work well as a 6-8 minute story that is told primarily from Mark and Asia's perspective, with an emphasis on the Kafkaesque elements of the story and the effect it's had on their personal psyche. (Mark: "I think twice now before jumping in to help someone.") The story also reveals a dark side of bait cars, a police tactic that is used across the country, but has gotten very little scrutiny in the press. Also, I have video and audio from the surveillance cameras in the bait car, as well as their taped police interviews. The story is going to run on the front page here on
Sunday, so I'll send the link when I have it.
I hope we get a chance to talk more about this.
This pitch came in out of the blue to our storypitch email, with a seven-page transcript attached as a separate document. It was such a great story it led us to do a whole show on infidelity, #393.
From: ruby wright
To: <[email protected]>
Date: Tue, 21 Jul 2009 20:09:43 +0000
Dear This American Life,
I'm a regular listener to and a huge admirer of the programme. In 2005, when I was working at BBC Radio 4, I interviewed separately my mother, father, and my dad's best friend, for whom my mum left our family, about what happened when this triangle started. I pitched the story to Radio 4 through a current affairs journalist called Mark Savage, but it was rejected. This is what Mark said in the pitch:
It is an exceptional insight, with exceptional access into the dynamics of an extra-ordinary set of personal relationships. Radio does it well because it is one to one. It has been recorded and put together by a woman whose mother was having an affair with a friend of her father's. I haven't heard anything quite like it. The listener explores an unfaithful relationship through the medium of the 'child' who was at the centre of the affair(s).
In a recent programme (This I Used to Believe), Ira said that he is most interested in stories in which people change, which is why I thought the piece might be of interest to you: at the end of the interview, my mother describes the process of redemption which she went through as a result of the trauma she'd caused.
Attached is a transcript of the rough edit that I made. There is of course lots more material, including another whole affair.
If it helps, I'll also send the audio. They all have excellent voices, but are very British. For your info, I have regularly contributed documentaries to Resonance FM in London, and also have a fortnightly music show on Radio Nowhere, but the Triangle piece has never been aired.
Many thanks for your time,