Daredevil: A fun series that needed better research

daredevil, marvel, mathew murdochI just about fell off my couch, I was screaming so loud at the TV. I’m usually not vocal when I watch TV shows but the premise being thrown out willy nilly was so ridiculous I couldn’t contain myself.

On the series Daredevil, a Netflix Marvel series, a newspaper editor tells his reporter, a character who later becomes central to the story, that crime stories don’t sell any more, and that he should do a story on the possibility of a new metro line.

You’ve got to be kidding me. Listen, as someone who made a living covering crime, I can tell you that maybe no more ridiculous an assertion has ever been made in the history of journalism being portrayed on TV. Of all the things that generate views, clicks and internet commentary, crime and sports are the top two. While I saw other beats being condensed all around me, my crime beat remained untouched.

It used to be an assumption. People would always talk about crime stories, so it was assumed that people were reading them. The old adage of “if it bleeds, it leads” is a cliche for a reason. Today, that no longer is an assumption. Every newspaper has its hands on software that provides metrics about what is being read, how much and for how long. I can tell you nothing gets clicks quite like crime. (Other than cute animals – nothing gets clicks like cute animals.)

To put a real point on it, when I worked at a daily newspaper, I put together a feature called the crime gallery, a listing of mug shots from the week. It was the second most clicked on page on the entire website, second only to the MAIN PAGE. Take the landing page out of the equation, and no other page even got close to the clicks that it did.

So if you’ve seen that in real life, such as I have, you know how utterly ridiculous the idea is that an editor would tell a reporter to cover a hypothetical subway line rather than a crime story. That reveals a basic lack of research, because anyone who has spent a week in a newsroom would know that sentence would never be uttered. (In fact, I’m pretty sure this basic fact is generally known by the average Joe.)

The lack of research extends to the law firm of Murdock and Nelson. They constantly talk about being broke (forgetting that they accepted a big retainer fee early in season one they said would keep them afloat for awhile).

Here’s the thing. New defense attorneys don’t typically wait for cases to walk through their door, especially the indigent clients who would be appointed a public attorney. Besides a public defenders office, many clients are doled out to qualified defense attorneys. Most people starting a practice will rely on those cases for much of their work until they’ve built enough of a reputation to start drawing clients who pay privately. The clients paying Murdoch and Nelson in pies and cookies wouldn’t ever come across them in the first place.

There’s also the sticky fact that many of the clients they represent are not criminal cases, even though that’s the type of cases they are qualified to represent. It would be rare for a defense attorney to represent someone in a landlord case, such as Mrs. Garcia. That’s a different type of law than a criminal defense attorney would have specialized in. Though lawyers get something of a general law education in addition to their specialty, most will shy away from law they haven’t specifically studied. (I once had a defense attorney ask my advice on libel law, for example, because it was well outside his area of expertise. He wouldn’t have advised a client on this because it wasn’t the area of law he specialized in.)

Also, I’m pretty sure their secretary, Karen, working for free is a labor law violation.

Now all that being said, I like Daredevil – I like the spirit of the story and think the characters are great. It’s just hard to watch two professions I’ve had a lot of interaction with represented so inaccurately. There’s a difference between the suspension of disbelief and lack of basic research for the topics you’re covering. The portrayals of these two professions seem like someone’s assumptions of what they’re like based on watching other television portrayals, rather than the result of basic research.

It won’t stop be rooting for good ole DD, though.

UPDATE: A murder trial in a week? A speedy trial request speeds up a trial to three months after the arraignment. No way the prosecution could put together a case in that amount of time, let alone comply with discovery.



  1. Most of your issues are actually addressed in the show…Karen only worked one day for free. Since “walk-in clients” are unlikely, Foggy bribes early on a cop to throw “interesting” cases in their way. They didn’t accept the retainer, they took one case on a “test phase”. But yeah, the cases they cover are ridiculous broad, though they have actually more experience in contract law than anything else, given their internship.

    • Actually, not quite. It was clear in order to get the retainer fee, all they had to do was meet with the client, which they agreed to. And if they’re contract attorneys, it doesn’t make any sense that they would be representing criminal clients, and would have a cop on the inside feeding them interesting cases; and even if they were strictly criminal defense attorneys (in which case they wouldn’t have interned at a contract law firm), it wouldn’t make sense to get clients through a connection with a cop, and do the work for free for clients who qualify for state-funded defense. Also, if they’re routinely not making money, then I don’t see how they’re paying Karen, let alone their bills.

      But the whole premise is ridiculous in the first place (a point I forgot to make in the original post), because defense attorneys don’t usually represent clients because they’re innocent. It’s a common misconception many in the public have, particularly because of how they’re portrayed in the media. A defense attorney’s role is to make sure a client is treated fairly, is given their due process and reaches a deal that allows their client the best chance for rehabilitation. A defense attorney is more of an advocate than anything. In the cases where a client is innocent, of course, a defense attorney would attempt to take it to trial and prove the client’s innocence. But those are rare – most cases are actually fairly open and shut, and go to a plea deal. Something like 95 percent of cases. I spent years covering courts and covered a handful of trials, despite writing about 100s of cases.

      Things they did get right? Cops not liking defense attorneys, or reporters for that matter (though I would have to think someone on the beat as long as Ben Urich would have built a relationship with most of the cops by then. Even the most press-weary cops see you around long enough, they tend to get used to you.) DAs being pushy behind the scenes.

      The journalism bit really got me though. Crime reporting is still the bread and butter of any newspaper. No editor would ever say crime stories don’t sell. Just doesn’t happen. It’d be like saying the Super Bowl doesn’t get ratings. Ok, rant over. lol

      • I was more bothered by Karen’s easy career change…I get that she is a researcher, but writing articles is not that easy (but then, the piece she wrote in the end was terrible).

      • Yeah, that’s very troubling. I’m still working my way through the second season but just got to the part where she starts researching. I mean, maybe she’s a natural, but there’s a lot to learn, about ethics, procedure, news style, interviewing sources, etc. Even people who come out of J school have a lot to learn. Her copy must have been atrocious.

      • I just got to the last episode. Now I know exactly what you’re talking about. She has Pulitzer winning material to work from, and instead writes some whimsical essay? That was almost more head-shaking than the “crime stories don’t sell” statement.

      • I’ve been in journalism 10 years, and I’ve never had close to the material that she has to write about. I mean, I was a crime reporter, and covered some crazy cases. I’ve been in a basement of someone accused of murder, with tables covered in assault rifles. The kind you simply can’t believe. But to have been in contact with a vigilante who just went through likely one of the biggest trials in decades, who later escaped, to have been shot at, attacked by a source and saved by said vigilante – and all you come up with is some generic essay? I get that it served a narrative function, but good grief. Also, an editor even with an experienced reporter would be talking them through the story, how to approach it, etc. There’s no way he would say to a completely green reporter “well, write something.” I know it’s just a silly superhero show, but this is the era of good television – writing about professions based on assumptions instead of putting in some time to know what you’re writing about is inexcusable in my opinion.

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