News & Opinion | July 16, 2018 11:19 am

New Lawsuit Alleges Popular S-Town Podcast Exploited Suicide of Main Subject

John B. McLemore was the troubled, charismatic character at the middle of Brian Reed's podcast.

Nate Jones, Brian Reed, and Julie Snyder speak onstage during "Revisiting S-Town" on Day Two of the Vulture Festival. (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Vulture Festival)
Getty Images for Vulture Festival

The podcast Shit Town, typically called S-Town, was released last March to mixed reviews from general listeners as well as residents of said town, Woodstock, Alabama. Many felt torn about the depiction of John B. McLemore, the troubled but charismatic character at the center of the story. Now, a new lawsuit filed against S-Town’s creator, This American Life senior producer Brian Breed, accuses the Peabody Award-winning podcast of exploiting McLemore in life and following his death, reports Vulture. The suit was filed in Bibb County, Alabama, by Craig Cargile on behalf of McLemore’s estate. The suit claims that Reed, Serial Productions, This American Life, Chicago Public Media and others allegedly used “McLemore’s indicia of identity in a commercial manner” and seeks damages. The suit echoes concerns that were voiced by some listeners: That McLemore never consented, nor would he have, to the podcast revealing or speculating on the “mysteries” of his private life.

“None of these ‘mysteries’ are matters of legitimate public concern, nor were these matters that McLemore contacted Reed to investigate or write about,” the lawsuit says, according to Vulture. “The podcast itself acknowledges that McLemore did not wish certain information conveyed to Reed be publicly known, particularly with respect to McLemore’s sexual orientation” or “the intimate details of his sexual orientation and experiences, depressed thoughts, suicidal ideations, financial affairs, physical and mental health issues, and his interpersonal relationships with friends, family members, and sexual partners.”

McLemore had originally contacted Reed because he wanted the journalist to look into a murder he suspected had occurred in Woodstock. The lawsuit also says that there does not appear to be any written waivers signed by McLemore. And the suit claims that while Reed recorded a conversation in which McLemore admitted to having thoughts of suicide, Reed did not inform any mental health authorities or family members McLemore died by suicide in 2015.