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Mike Boudet, Sword and Scale, and the turbulent world of true crime’s most controversial podcast host.
Since its inception in 2014, podcast Sword and Scale has amassed legions of fans who appreciate host Mike Boudet’s uniquely dramatic retelling of events that showcase some of the very worst behaviour humanity has to offer. With episodes that delve into painstaking detail on topics such as child murder, shady abortion clinics and sexual cannibalism, this fascinating podcast is the audio equivalent of staring at a car wreck – you know you’ll probably regret listening further, but you just can’t help it.
Anyone who makes it their business to delve into such dark subject matter is bound to face controversy somewhere down the line, but Boudet has found himself repeatedly criticised for insensitively handling topics such as mental illness, starting feuds with other podcasters, asking female fans for inappropriate photos, and lashing out on social media at anyone who gives the show negative feedback. Such incidents appear to have occured with such frequency that a Facebook group, ‘The Problem with Sword and Scale’, was created specifically as a place for Boudet’s detractors to swap stories and opinions. He’s been hailed as a master storyteller by some, and dismissed as sensationalist and judgmental by others – so what’s really going on with true crime’s most controversial podcast host? We spoke to the man himself to find out.
Q: Hi there Mike, thank you for speaking with us and congratulations on creating a show that’s every bit as enthralling as it is disturbing. You’re something of a true crime podcast pioneer – when did you come up with the idea to create Sword and Scale?
A: The idea of creating an immersive true-crime podcast came to me in late 2013 and the show launched a few months later on January 1st, 2014. At the time there were hardly any podcasts in the true-crime space. Serial, the first podcast to go viral mainstream, wouldn’t launch until eight months later.
Q: What drew you to the podcast format?
A: I’ve always been a big fan of talk radio. There’s a certain romantic notion of a voice reaching out through the ether and connecting with its audience. You could be driving a rig cross-country in the middle of the night and you’re not really alone. You have this voice with you, reaching out through the darkness and telling you a story.
Q: You’ve enjoyed a lot of success with the show and you’re almost on your 118th episode. What aspect of the whole journey have you found the most challenging?
A: Dealing with the social media aspect. It’s not like anyone gives you an instruction manual on how to be a pseudo-celebrity and deal with criticism, which is apparently the only thing that social media is good for these days.
Q: Why do you think Sword and Scale has caused so much more controversy than any other true crime podcast?
A: I think we’re living in a time when platforms like Twitter and Facebook provide an empowerment to the masses that they didn’t have before. That can be a great thing, allowing a voice to important causes. But at the same time, like everything else, some bad apples take things to ridiculous extremes. For example, my Twitter wall these days is a constant rant of angry people yelling at each other about politics. Sword and Scale has never been about politics. It has also never been about me. In fact, for the first year and a half I didn’t even introduce myself as the host.
Q: How do you feel about your listeners suggesting that you handle certain topics insensitively?
A: The problem occurs when political extremist social justice warriors try to take over a platform like mine and “educate creators” on what to say, how to say it, and what tone to use. This is my show and my brand. I built it and I’m not going to let someone hijack it for their political purposes. So when that’s been attempted I’ve bluntly fought back, and in turn I’ve been personally attacked for it. Because that’s what these people do, when they can’t win based on a logical discussion, they resort to personal attacks. I’m not willing to play their game.
Q: The themes and topics you cover can spark a lot of debate. When people disagree with how you’ve covered a case, can it sometimes feel like a personal attack?
A: Of course. It’s not whether I feel that way or not, it’s a fact that’s plainly obvious to anyone who’s paying attention. Luckily, Sword and Scale isn’t about me or my views. It’s an entertainment podcast that explores the dark side of humanity. Although this doesn’t apply to a vast majority of the audience, these sort of topics will naturally attract a small contingent of mentally unhinged people who resort to personal attacks when they don’t get their way.
Q: Has there been any issue in particular that’s drawn a lot of criticism?
A: One of the major criticisms we’ve received over the years is that the stories we tell stigmatize the mentally ill. Of course, we are a true-crime show. We do tell stories about killings, beheadings and dismemberment. I think it’s common sense that you have to be somewhat crazy to commit any one of these acts.
Despite us having multiple psychology professors on over the years to discuss the issues, and repeat the idea that not all mental illness equates to violence, we continue to get this repeated criticism from this same group of virtuous people who think that the mentally ill should never be portrayed in a negative light, even when they kill others. It’s almost like they want us to just stop telling these true stories altogether, and that by doing so they’ll somehow magically disappear. Well, we’re not going to do that. You can choose to consume whatever entertainment you want, but you don’t get to control what everyone else watches or listens to. Sorry, not sorry.