Karen Kilgariff, Patton Oswalt and Georgia Hardstark speak onstage at the 2019 Clusterfest.
(Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for Clusterfest)

The Queens of True Crime Have Many Controversies Under Their Belts

The true crime genre has raised a bevy of concerns over how ethical it is to profit and obsess over real-life crimes and victims, which makes the many controversies of My Favorite Murder quite relevant to this conversation. The podcast My Favorite Murder joined the true crime craze in 2016 and has since gone on to become one of the highest-grossing podcasts of all time, making its hosts, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, multi-millionaires. On top of the millions they already earned, Kilgariff and Hardstark recently signed a $100 million deal with Amazon, which has its own share of controversies.

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As mentioned above, the genre of true crime in itself has become controversial largely due to a lack of empathy from some of its authors and followers, who go as far as to call themselves “fans” of true crime. How one can be a fan of gruesome and tragic cases that impacted real-life victims is unclear. However, the genre has led to many problems, including insensitivity towards victims, shining a spotlight on atrocious criminals, and spurning netizens to become problematic internet sleuths and interfere in open cases. My Favorite Murder takes on an even more problematic premise than most true crime works, though, as it claims to be a “true crime comedy.”

While lots of true crime podcasts like Vigilante, The Retrievals, and Scamanda are hosted by veteran journalists or licensed private investigators, My Favorite Murder features two hosts with backgrounds in comedy. As a result, they tackle true crime through a humorous and gossipy lens, which isn’t always the most sensitive or factual. Unsurprisingly, their problematic approach to true crime and insensitivity have stirred up quite a few controversies.

My Favorite Murder insensitivity and ignorance

The biggest controversies surrounding My Favorite Murder have been a result of insensitivity and ignorance on the part of its hosts. Again, this isn’t very surprising considering that the entire premise of My Favorite Murder is insensitive and run by two hosts who former fans have accused of becoming increasingly resistant to any criticism, feedback, and change. As a result, Kilgariff and Hardstark have ventured into some pretty offensive territory in the past.

One prime example of their insensitivity and ignorance dates back to 2017 when they released a T-shirt for their podcast with a tipi printed on its front. It is well-known that the tipi has come to be seen by many as Indigenous cultural appropriation. Even if one disagrees with whether the tipi constitutes cultural appropriation, it’s impossible to argue with the offensiveness of the shirt pairing the tipi with “S.S.D.G.M,” which is an abbreviation of the podcast’s catchphrase, “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered.” The catchphrase is already bizarre and suggests that victims are responsible for keeping others from killing them. However, when studies have found that murder rates for Indigenous women living on reservations are 10 times higher than the national average, such a flippant and thoughtless quote alongside a tipi is inexcusable.

Hardstark and Kilgariff vaguely addressed and apologized for the situation. However, Hardstark was accused of deleting comments about the situation on the podcast’s Instagram and even liking a racist comment defending the t-shirt. Later, she apologized for liking the comment, and she and Kilgariff donated to the First Nations Development Institute. According to TikTok user @itslaralikesarah, though, Kilgariff and Hardstark also took their sweet time in taking down the merch from their website, likely selling plenty before finally removing them as promised.

It’s unclear how much Hardstark learned about sensitivity from the aforementioned incident, considering that she posted another extremely offensive and triggering post on social media in 2019. In the post, she was raving about and posing with anatomical dolls used in cases of child sex abuse. She even wrote that she was “a sick, sick person” for almost “crying with glee” over the dolls. Of course, this was highly triggering to many, especially abuse survivors, and simply incomprehensible to anyone why she would post this. Hardstark’s response to the backlash was eerily similar to the t-shirt controversy and included an apology and donation to a charity advocating against child abuse. However, that incident should’ve proven that her insensitivity had gone too far, and that maybe her career shouldn’t be based on discussing true crime.

Problematic framing of crime and law enforcement

Another major problem with My Favorite Murder is in the way it handles crime, law enforcement, and criminal justice.The podcast largely ignores BIPOC cases and focuses primarily on cases involving white women.

This isn’t just disappointing, but also problematic because it creates the illusion that white women are the most common victims of true crime, as well as exaggerates the likelihood of anyone being a victim of a serious crime like homicide. Simultaneously, to diffuse the unfounded fears they raise, the hosts try to dispel them by hyping up law enforcement. It’s easy for law enforcement to be romanticized in these discussions, as listeners love stories with a hero or a masterful detective that brings justice to the bad guys. If Kilgariff and Hardstark are going to feed into their (mostly) white female listeners’ paranoia that they’re going to be victims of crime and urge them to call law enforcement anytime their paranoia surfaces, they should also be raising conversations about bias-based calls to police and police brutality.

Now, Kilgariff and Hardstark giving a nod to particularly strong detective work in a case here and there isn’t necessarily wrong. However, the pair sometimes go overboard with their praise, even making former investigator Paul Holes a celebrity in their circles for his work with Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office on the Golden State Killer case. Holes’ work does deserve mention in the case, but so does the fact that the Golden State Killer was also a former police officer. The hosts only seem to like showcasing the positive aspects of law enforcement while shying away from the topic of police corruption. Of course, law enforcement professionals are not always heroes and have, at many times, been the criminals in true crime cases, as well as inhibitors by refusing to fully investigate cases involving victims who aren’t white and heterosexual.

My Favorite Murder has also been accused of being bloodthirsty, with Kilgariff and Hardstark advocating for harsh punishment, including the death penalty. Again, this is a narrow way of viewing criminal justice without accounting for wrongfully accused individuals and racial and economic biases.

The Billy Jensen controversy

In response to the copaganda, insensitivity, and ignorance, fans can use their tired defense that we just “don’t get” My Favorite Murder and its humor. However, it’s difficult to see how they can excuse the allegations regarding Billy Jensen. After My Favorite Murder took off, Kilgariff and Hardstark founded Exactly Right Media in 2018. It is a podcast network that includes 16 podcasts, including My Favorite Murder and The Murder Squad. The Murder Squad was a podcast run by the aforementioned Holes and journalist Jensen. While the podcast was a hit, it was abruptly canceled in 2022. It soon surfaced that the podcast was canceled amid sexual misconduct allegations against Jensen.

@itslaralikesarah

Replying to @Annie ??? their fans are already coming for me lol #mfm #myfavoritemurder #truecrumetiktok #truecrimepodcast #crimejunkie #deepdive #fyp @lara (like sarah) ?✨? @lara (like sarah) ?✨? @lara (like sarah) ?✨?

♬ original sound – lara (like sarah) ?✨?

Podcaster Jenn Tisdale came forward with allegations of assault and harassment against Jensen on her podcast Too Many Jennifers. After she came forward, a multitude of other women with similar allegations quickly followed. However, Tisdale’s podcast also revealed some shocking allegations against Exactly Right Media. Tisdale explained an employee of Exactly Right Media reached out to her and detailed their own allegations of sexual harassment against Jensen. The employee went to the higher-ups at the company with their allegations but was allegedly told to continue working with Jensen. This even led to the employee filing a lawsuit against Exactly Right Media for the way they ignored their allegations and forced them to continue working with Jensen. Tisdale claimed she was called to testify in the lawsuit, which was ultimately settled in mediation.

It’s unclear if the allegations against Exactly Right Media are true. However, if they are, it certainly raises scrutiny of Kilgariff and Hardstark. They are the founders of the podcast network that ran The Murder Squad and likely would’ve been among the higher-ups involved in Jensen’s case. While they are not responsible for Jensen’s actions, they certainly are responsible for protecting their employees, which they failed to do in the most egregious manner if Tisdale’s allegations are true. To this day, neither Kilgariff, Hardstark, nor Exactly Right Media have publicly addressed the allegations surrounding Jensen.

(featured image: Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic for Clusterfest)


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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.