In a leaked video posted yesterday by the right-wing media watchdog Project Veritas, 20/20 anchor Amy Robach is seen sitting in a chair at the GMA studio set, off-air, expressing her frustration to an unseen producer over the network’s decision not to broadcast her 2015 interview with a key accuser of the billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
As we noted yesterday, ABC News executives said in a statement that their journalists were simply unable to corroborate the details of the reporting sufficiently for broadcast, despite Robach saying otherwise in the video.
“We would never run away from that,” ABC News investigations chief (and former GMA producer) Chris Vlasto went on to tell NPR’s David Folkenflik. He later added: “We would never kill a story about Bill Clinton. Or we would never kill a story about Prince Andrew. That’s what’s ridiculous on its face. That’s a great story. So if we could do that story, we would have done it!”
ABC News has filed roughly two dozen digital and broadcast stories on Epstein since early 2015, when ABC started talking to the accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre. According to the network, its work has led to a two-hour documentary and 6-part podcast that will air in the new year.
Robach’s comments that were leaked and then posted yesterday were made on Aug. 24, 2019. They were apparently made only two days after Folkenflik reported that an interview with Roberts Giuffre existed and that ABC decided not to televise it.
In a follow-up story for NPR published yesterday, Folkenflik dives into the legal issues that were at play.
He reports that ABC says it was hindered by a development in the spring of 2015, just 10 days before it flew Roberts and her family from Colorado to New York for the interview with Robach. Giuffre had leveled many of her accusations in court papers against Epstein; Maxwell, his former girlfriend; and others she accused of being enablers, including celebrity defense attorney and frequent cable news legal analyst Alan Dershowitz.
According to Folkenflik’s reporting, on April 6, 2015, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that Giuffre could join a legal action against federal prosecutors. Giuffre accused the federal government of acting illegally by striking a deal allowing Epstein to bypass federal criminal charges without informing her until after the fact.
Yet Marra also ruled that many of the specifics of Giuffre’s allegations — whom she accused Epstein of trafficking her to and for what sexual interactions — should be struck from the record.
According to a network executive, the legal issues made life far more difficult for ABC’s reporting team, led by investigative producer Jim Hill.
“When allegations are contained in court documents, they are generally considered ‘privileged’ under libel law — giving journalists latitude to report accusations accurately, whether or not they have been substantiated out of court. Once those details were removed from the formal court record, ABC had to corroborate Giuffre’s claims more concretely, on its own authority, the executive said. And in subsequent court filings, Giuffre has amended some of her recollection of precise dates and details in her allegations of activities that occurred close to two decades ago.”
It’s been a turbulent few weeks for ABC News. Last month, a video aired during Sunday’s World News Tonight with Tom Llamas and Monday’s edition of GMA that depicted a Turkish military attack in northern Syria against Kurdish civilians. However, the video both programs aired was actually footage from a military gun demonstration in Kentucky that was posted on YouTube in 2017.
The network later said it regretted the error.