Myth Buster Jerri Williams
A significant part of my research into how the media has influenced citizen investigators over the years has, of course, involved movies and TV shows. I suspect that as we have consumed more fictionalized versions of real events and entirely made-up crime stories, our views about professional and citizen investigators have changed–for better and worse.
I think about how Nancy Drew, my girlhood idol, showed women in the 1930s (and later) what it looked like to be bold, curious, and in charge. She's a fictional character who quite literally changed how some people saw women in society. That feels only positive to me, especially when I consider how many people didn't have the opportunity to see women that way in their own lives.
But then I see countless movies and shows where cops, agents, and private citizens break protocol and do incredibly risky things. They result in getting the bad guy, and I cringe. Does the same thing happen when we see people being rewarded for ignoring rules and making high-risk choices? Are we also changing how some people see investigators in society?
Jeri Wheeler's books, podcast, blog, and resources have been amazing resources while I consider those questions.
FBI Myths and Misconceptions: A Manual for Armchair Detectives
I found Wheeler's books in a traditional internet search. I think I was looking for "investigation facts" or something similarly generic. I didn't expect to hit the goldmine of investigations facts and the media in one book. The short descriptions she provides is perfect:
Debunking FBI myths and misconceptions for those who read, watch, and write crime dramas about the FBI or want to become an FBI Agent.
I listened to the book and then purchased a physical copy because I found myself taking notes about movies and television shows I wanted to watch. The author held them in high regard, but also why she felt they were a good representation of the work of the FBI. I found her simple and respectful notes to be really helpful. For example, when reviewing Mississippi Burning, she acknowledged that the film was well-acted and mentioned critical acclaim. She then added:
"However, the questionable methods used by the agents to obtain confessions provided an in accurate portrayal of FBI procedures."
I feel like so many writers today adopt extremes and destructive language. I assume it's related to the importance of titles that make people click. Still, it is exhausting to read so many versions of "Three things this actor did to make the public hate cops…" or "How this movie got everything wrong…." Williams's content is wonderfully balanced. I suspect she may not get enough credit for that.
Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad Series (Pay to Play, Greedy Givers, and Spoiled Sport – coming soon!)
At the time of this writing, she also has three nonfiction reads on her site – I am planning to dig into my first one next week. I share this because I know my readers are always looking for book recommendations. Though I haven't read these yet, I usually have good luck with people who translate their real-world experiences into books. Having enjoyed FBI Myths and Misconceptions, I'm confident I'll enjoy this series.
Resources for Citizen Investigators & Internet Sleuths
This was initially a book review, but until I went back to the author's site, I had forgotten how many other resources she has shared!
Jerri Williams has a wonderful blog that reviews crime-themed movies and television shows. If nothing else, it's a great place to start on a Friday night when you know you want a crime story but can't decide what to watch!
The FBI Retired Case File Review is her podcast – she reviews real cases and has impressive guests to share their insights. With hundreds of episodes recorded since 2016, I guarantee you'll find the topic you're looking for.
She also has two amazing resources listed on her website that I wanted to call out specifically.
7 FBI Resources for Writers and Applicants – That's right… I'm providing you with a resource that is a list of resources!
20 Clichés About the FBI - Reality Checklist – If you read this, I'd love to hear which one(s) surprised you most! I have my own thoughts.
Have you read or listened to any of the resources listed here? Please share your thoughts in the comments!