A video leaked earlier this week of an ABC News anchor ranting into a hot mic showed once again how smaller independent news outlets are outshining the mainstream news media. On Nov. 5, Project Veritas, a nonprofit media watchdog group, published the footage of Amy Robach lamenting that ABC quashed her story on Jeffrey Epstein, the late billionaire accused of sex trafficking minors.
“I’ve had the story for three years,” Robach said to someone off-camera in the video. “We would not put it on the air. First of all, I was told, ‘Who was Jeffrey Epstein? No one knows who that is. This is a stupid story.’” Project Veritas said Robach made the remarks in late August, shortly after an NPR report criticized ABC News for not airing an interview it did with Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s accusers.
Authorities arrested Epstein in July on charges he ran a sex-trafficking ring that targeted girls as young as 14. Federal prosecutors said a network of Epstein’s associates recruited the girls to have sex with him and his celebrity friends. Giuffre accused Britain’s Prince Andrew, the middle son of Queen Elizabeth II, of having sex with her when she was 17 on a plane owned by Epstein. In the Project Veritas video, Robach said Giuffre, previously known as Virginia Roberts, had photos to back up her claims.
“The palace found out that we had her whole allegations about Prince Andrew and threatened us a million different ways. We were so afraid we wouldn’t be able to interview Kate and Will that we—that also quashed the story,” Robach said in reference to Prince William, who is the queen’s grandson and second in line for the throne, and his wife, Catherine.
On Tuesday, ABC News and Robach issued statements denying almost every claim Robach made in the video. They said the story did not air because it didn’t meet their journalistic standards. They also said they continued to work on the story and had produced a documentary and podcast that would air next year. Robach walked back specific accusations she had made against former President Bill Clinton (a known associate of Epstein’s) and Prince Andrew, saying, “I was referencing [Giuffre’s] allegations—not what ABC News had verified through our reporting.” She characterized her hot mic comments as “a private moment of frustration.”
ABC is not the only network in hot water for its decision not to run with a story about sexual abuse. Last month, journalist Ronan Farrow published a book detailing how NBC News refused to air his bombshell report exposing movie mogul Harvey Weinstein as a serial sex abuser. Farrow’s story ran in The New Yorker in 2017 and, along with reporting by The New York Times, kick-started the #MeToo movement.
Farrow claimed in the book Catch and Kill and in an interview with Variety that big corporate news outlets did not embrace reporting on sexual assault because of fears their own dirty laundry would be exposed. Some of the women who spoke out in the #MeToo movement accused NBC Today show anchor Matt Lauer of sexual harassment and said the network knew about it and did nothing. Lauer was fired in November 2017, and NBC denies it had foreknowledge of his behavior.
“What the book lays out is this pattern in the media world of what happens in an organization, whether it’s CBS or NBC … has a pattern of concealing the problem of sexual violence rather than addressing it,” Farrow said. “And [that pattern] makes them vulnerable to efforts to distort their news coverage.” The pattern might be continuing—on Thursday, the New York Post’s Page Six site reported that ABC had tracked down the former employee who the network believed leaked the Robach tape to Project Veritas. The woman had gone on to work for CBS, and that network fired her after ABC identified her. Former NBC and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly released an interview with the woman, identified as Ashley Bianco, on Friday.
Where big media have dropped the reins, independent, web-based organizations such as Project Veritas are picking them up. This week, Charisma, a magazine for Pentecostals and charismatics, published a report on habitual sexual misconduct by comedian and viral video star John Crist. Crist admitted his transgressions and expressed remorse in a statement to Charisma.
In the article, Charisma editors said they, too, were reluctant to publish a story exposing the sins of a high-profile male entertainer, but for different reasons: “Some evidence suggests certain Christian leaders have been aware of Crist's behavior and—through inaction—let it continue unchecked. This is why Charisma believed it necessary to warn the body of Christ about what Crist has been doing behind the scenes. To be candid, our editorial team does not relish being in this position. … Above all, we believe the body of Christ must police itself and has an obligation to protect the innocent and vulnerable among us.”