There are a lot of formerly powerful people who must rue the day that Ronan Farrow abandoned his career as an also-ran opinion journalist and decided to do it His Way. Over the past two years, Mr. Farrow has become one of the most hard-charging and effective investigative journalists in America.
His reporting on the abusive sexual practices of America’s elite has, so far, felled Hollywood super-producer Harvey Weinstein, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and CBS honcho Les Moonves. And Mr. Farrow’s new book, “Catch and Kill,” describes the ways that NBC News suppressed reporting of Mr. Weinstein’s chronic sexual abuse.
One can’t help but wonder whether the enterprising Mr. Farrow has already begun work on a sequel.
He certainly won’t be lacking for fodder. Last’s week shocking revelation that ABC News had the goods on the alleged serial pedophile and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein some three years before his indictment on federal charges, yet declined to air them, points not only to deplorable editorial judgment on ABC’s part, but also to a subsequent conspiracy of silence and suppression by the broader media designed to make the story go away.
It all unraveled last week when Project Veritas, the pugilistic organization that has released many so-called “sting” videos targeting liberal enclaves like the media and academia, released a video of Amy Robach, a distinguished ABC News anchor, lamenting that she had “the story” about Jeffrey Epstein years ago.
The usual knock on videos released by Project Veritas is that they are “edited,” or even “doctored.” Not so the ABC video: It consists of several consecutive minutes of raw footage filmed in an ABC News studio. And it’s extraordinarily damning. In the video, Ms. Robach says she had secured the cooperation of Virginia Roberts, who had years before allegedly served as a sex slave to Jeffrey Epstein when she was a minor.
“[Virginia Roberts] had pictures, she had everything,” Ms. Robach said. “She was in hiding for 12 years. We convinced her to come out It was unbelievable what we had, we had [Bill] Clinton and everything.” Yet ABC News, by Ms. Robach’s account, declined to move forward with the reporting.
First, her bosses said, Jeffrey Epstein was too obscure to bother reporting on — a bizarre excuse, given Epstein’s close relations with numerous celebrities, including Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and Prince Andrew. According to Ms. Robach, ABC also moved to kibosh the story because the brass feared losing the opportunity to interview Kate Middleton and Prince William because Ms. Robach’s reporting implicated Prince Andrew. In other words, this putative news organization — it says “News” right in the title! — chose the potential for a high-ratings interview with British royals over the opportunity to break a truly important piece of news.
The video leak was a huge media story, with horrific real-life consequences. Consider how many girls Epstein and his friends may have raped in the three years that ABC sat on the story. The story, moreover, had obvious parallels with NBC’s apparent suppression of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Once again, a major television news network had blocked reporting on a prolific sexual abuser.
Yet the reaction of the broader media to ABC’s deplorable shenanigans was enough to shock even this cynical columnist. First, ABC declined to address the matter on air, and instead began a furious hunt for the leaker of the video. It did not find him or her — yet it did find someone else, a junior producer, who had apparently “accessed” the video of Ms. Robach.
That producer, Ashley Bianco, had subsequently moved from ABC to CBS. ABC informed CBS of their suspicions regarding Ms. Bianco and CBS — amazingly — promptly fired her. (One can only hope Ms. Bianco is currently conferring with an employment lawyer.)
Then came a conspiracy of silence, even from journalists whose beat is the media.
Columbia Journalism Review, which exists to cover, um, journalism, has not once mentioned the ABC video. NPR’s “On the Media,” produced partially with taxpayer dollars, has not mentioned the story — though the ostensibly media-focused program did run a lengthy segment on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ “black nationalist origins.” Jay Rosen, a prominent media critic and professor of journalism at NYU, has not once mentioned the story on his popular Twitter feed or on his widely read blog. (An emailed question as to why he has ignored the story went unanswered.) Neither has Margaret Sullivan, the media columnist at Washington’s other newspaper. And that’s double bizarre because Ms. Sullivan has been dogged in her criticism of NBC for its role in suppressing the news about Harvey Weinstein.
And then there’s CNN, which has not once mentioned the story on air.
Even its media-focused show, the “Reliable Sources,” completely ignored it, instead focusing relentlessly on the not-particularly-media centric story of the upcoming impeachment hearings. I asked a CNN spokesman whether there had been an order not to cover the ABC story (Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe had previously targeted the network), and he only pointed me to an email newsletter that had briefly mentioned it.
By banding together in an apparent effort to save ABC from embarrassment, the nation’s elite media are acting less like competitors than teammates — and certainly nothing like journalists. They’re acting like members of a guild, whose chief loyalty is to themselves and their professional brethren. That’s a big problem for journalists, whose central loyalty is ostensibly to the truth, and who are supposed to serve the public interest, not each other. By attempting to “catch and kill” the ABC News story, the elite media are validating every awful thing that even their harshest critics have said about them.
• Ethan Epstein is deputy opinion editor of The Washington Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ethanepstiiiine.