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How does the ‘true crime’ genre impact criminal investigations?

On Saturday, the six-part HBO documentary series “The Jinx” captured headlines when its subject, real estate heir Robert Durst, was arrested on a first-degree murder charge. In the film’s final episode, which aired Sunday, Durst is overhead talking to himself while in the bathroom, seemingly unaware that his microphone is still on. “What the hell did I do?” he asks himself, “Killed them all, of course.”

Over the past several decades, Durst has been a suspect in three murder investigations, beginning with the disappearance of his first wife in 1982. In 2001, he was arrested and later acquitted of the murder of his neighbor in Galveston, Texas. Durst admitted to killing his neighbor, but claimed it had been in self defense.

Many have speculated that Durst’s cinematic confession is the evidence that led to his most recent arrest, for the December 2000 murder of his friend Susan Berman. While legal experts debate whether or not this confession is admissible, there are other, ethical questions swirling around the film and the investigation it appears to have relaunched.

What are the dangers of series such as “The Jinx” and “Serial” that blur the lines between entertainment and law enforcement? Does pressure to create a scripted story arc affect the integrity of these works? Does public knowledge of the cases affect the integrity of the investigations?

We took the discussion to Twitter. New York Times reporter Jonathan Mahler (@jonathanmahler) and NPR TV critic Eric Deggans (@Deggans) each shared their take. Read a transcript of the discussion below.

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