The “unreal” story related to Jeffrey Epstein, the shadowy financier who died in prison in August of an apparent suicide as he awaited trial for sex trafficking conspiracy and sex trafficking. His demise came after months of top-quality journalism — fronted by the Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown — exposed the absurd leniency of a 2008 plea deal he’d reached with federal prosecutors in Florida.
In August, NPR’s David Folkenflik documented how three news outlets — Vanity Fair, the New York Times and ABC News — “fell short” in tugging on various strands of the Epstein story. ABC News managed to conduct an interview with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who at the age of 17 had “become part of Epstein’s household.” She has alleged that Epstein “trafficked” her to his friends, including Prince Andrew. He has denied the allegations.
“I viewed the ABC interview as a potential game-changer,” Giuffre wrote in an email to NPR, whose story ran just days before Robach’s studio comments. “Appearing on ABC with its wide viewership would have been the first time for me to speak out against the government for basically looking the other way and to describe the anger and betrayal victims felt.”
As it turns out, Robach also viewed the interview with Giuffre as a game-changer. “Then the Palace found out that we had her whole allegations about Prince Andrew and threatened us in a million different ways,” says Robach. “We were so afraid we wouldn’t be able to interview Kate and Will that we, that also quashed the story. … She told me everything. She had pictures, she had everything. She was in hiding for 12 years, we convinced her to come out, we convinced her to talk to us.” Robach also mentions Harvard law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, who represented Epstein in 2008 and also stepped in as ABC News was working on the Giuffre-Epstein story. “I did not want to see [Giuffre’s] credibility enhanced by ABC,” Dershowitz told Folkenflik.
"It was unbelievable what we had — we had [Bill] Clinton, we had everything,” Robach concludes in the leaked video. “Everything,” however, hasn’t yet aired.
ABC News provides this explanation: “At the time, not all of our reporting met our standards to air, but we have never stopped investigating the story. Ever since we’ve had a team on this investigation and substantial resources dedicated to it. That work has led to a two-hour documentary and 6-part podcast that will air in the new year.”
These are inauspicious times for a large broadcast TV news organization to cite “our standards” for failing to act decisively on big scoops about malefactors. Similar language, after all, has issued from the front offices of NBC News to explain that network’s failure to land the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment/assault story while Ronan Farrow was working at the network as an investigative correspondent. In his recent book “Catch and Kill,” Farrow narrates the excuse-making cowardice of NBC News as it succumbed to pressure from Weinstein and his professional club. “After seven months, without one victim or witness on the record, [Farrow] simply didn’t have a story that met our standard for broadcast nor that of any major news organization,” wrote NBC News Chairman Andy Lack in a recent memo.
History has already hand-delivered its judgment: NBC News buckled to Weinstein in an act of legendary weakness. And so, it appears, did ABC News with Epstein and Prince Andrew. That the network is now teeing up a two-hour special and a podcast amounts to an admission thereof.
But unlike other Project Veritas efforts, the Robach video seems airtight — so much so that it triggered a statement from the anchor herself: “As a journalist, as the Epstein story continued to unfold last summer, I was caught in a private moment of frustration. I was upset that an important interview I had conducted with Virginia Roberts didn’t air because we could not obtain sufficient corroborating evidence to meet ABC’s editorial standards about her allegations,” reads the statement. “My comments about Prince Andrew and her allegation that she had seen Bill Clinton on Epstein’s private island were in reference to what Virginia Roberts said in that interview in 2015. I was referencing her allegations — not what ABC News had verified through our reporting. The interview itself, while I was disappointed that it didn’t air, didn’t meet our standards. In the years since no one ever told me or the team to stop reporting on Jeffrey Epstein, and we have continued to aggressively pursue this important story.”
Which Amy Robach do you believe: The one chatting candidly in her studio, believing that she’s just exchanging gossip with colleagues? Or the one who comes to you through a prepared statement distributed by ABC News?
In her 2014 book “Stonewalled,” former CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson inveighed against the mentality that might account for both NBC’s and ABC’s whiffs: “Many story topics are selected by managers who are producing out of fear and trying to play it safe,” she wrote. “Playing it safe means airing stories that certain other trusted media have reported first, so there’s no perceived ‘risk’ to us if we report them, too.”
In today’s age of utter media-on-media scrutiny, however, sitting on sensitive stories carries its own, peculiar risk.
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