HBO's The Jinx tells the story of eccentric millionaire Robert Durst and his connections to three separate murder cases. The show's finale was scheduled for tonight, but the day before it aired, the news broke that its subject had been arrested in New Orleans. Soon after, The New York Times and AP revealed the crucial piece of evidence that could help convict Durst of the murders of his wife, his friend, and his neighbor — while conducting interviews with The Jinx's producers, the 71-year-old real estate heir apparently neglected to take off his microphone during a bathroom break. Alone in the room, he reportedly said he'd "killed them all, of course."
Hey NYT thanks for push notifying me a spoiler for the last Jinx episode that was super cool.— PJ Vogt (@PJVogt) March 16, 2015
The evidence could see a murderer receive justice, but others, invested in The Jinx as an entertainment experience, have criticized the publication for publishing "spoilers." Some even received push notifications, informing them both of the breaking news in a murder case that has run for 15 years, and ruining the "ending" a TV show they'd spent several hours of their lives watching.
The interview during which Durst appeared to mumble his private confession took place in 2013, but the tape itself wasn't discovered for two years. The show's producers had been co-operating with law enforcement officials since 2013, but they reportedly struggled with whether to inform police of the recording. If they handed it over too soon, they could invalidate the tape in court; if they spilled details on their sources, they were crossing a line of journalistic ethics. They eventually decided to pass the information on, saying they had "a moral obligation and an obligation to the families of the dead to see that justice was done."
The obligation of the press is perhaps less murky: hit a scoop on a long-running, high-profile murder investigation? Or wait a few hours until everyone is caught up on the facts in three cases in which three real people died? Like real-life murder mystery Serial before it, The Jinx has blurred the lines between documentary, drama, and police investigation. As more shows adopt the template, spending years researching real-life cold cases and presenting the evidence to the public at large, we'll have to decide — when do facts in a murder case become TV spoilers?