You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Jeffrey Epstein Case Highlights Criminal-Justice Inequities, Power of Investigative Reporting

The sordid saga of Jeffrey Epstein has turned into a teachable moment for activists involved in criminal justice reform.

The criminal case unfolding in New York against the hedge fund manager accused of sexually abusing teenage girls also stands as a prime example of journalism’s role in holding the powerful accountable and putting a spotlight on shortcomings of the legal system.

Epstein was arrested July 6 in New Jersey and is facing multiple charges of what prosecutors called “a years-long scheme to sexually abuse underage girls” at his homes in New York and Florida. He is being held in a Manhattan jail awaiting a judge’s ruling on his bail request.

In 2008, Epstein was convicted in Florida on two state charges of soliciting prostitution with a minor. But he had been facing more serious federal charges – involving molestation accusations from dozens of underage girls — until he was able to cut a deal with federal prosecutors in Florida that has come under harsh scrutiny. The Miami Herald in November published a multi-part investigative series examining the secret negotiations around Epstein’s plea deal.

The circumstances surrounding Epstein’s prior prosecution underscore the vast differences in the criminal justice system for wealthy defendants compared to those who don’t have the means to hire a fleet of high-powered attorneys. Epstein’s plea deal was overseen by Alex Acosta, who was then the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of Florida. He was appointed Labor Secretary for the Trump administration in 2017 but was forced to step down last week amid growing outrage over his role in Epstein’s previous prosecution.

“This case is a constellation of events,” said Andrew Cohen, senior editor at the Marshall Project, a non-profit journalism venture focused on criminal justice reform.

“You’ve got a rich defendant accused of being a sexual predator. You’ve got a secret plea deal that was handled by a future Trump administration cabinet member. To the extent that this angers people who are thoughtful about justice, this makes you wonder how many other times wealthy and connected people got breaks that minimized the rights of alleged victims.”

The Miami Herald series written by Julie K. Brown was the spark for the renewed law enforcement investigation into Epstein. It also led to the Justice Department opening up an investigation into possible prosecutorial misconduct in the case.

“The value of investigative reporting has been reaffirmed,” Doug Foster, a professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. “To take a look at the Epstein case and to think about how it would have played out absent Julie K. Brown at the Miami Herald, (there is a) good argument that without investigative reporting, he would’ve gotten away with it.”

That dogged approach has unearthed other scandals. Veteran music reporter Jim DeRogatis has spent nearly 20 years documenting the disturbing sexual abuse allegations against R&B star R. Kelly, who was arrested last week for the second time in the past six months to face charges of child pornography, forced labor and obstruction of justice in Chicago and New York.

“We’re looking for every shred, every document – ‘Can you show me the photograph? Can you show me the bank slip? Can I talk to your mother?’” says DeRogatis. “And that’s the one that always kills me. ‘Can I talk to your mother?’ It’s f—ing impossibly hard. And very few people are inclined to do it.”

That kind of reporting takes immense resources that newspapers often do not have. And even when the proper time and effort is expended, such stories may go unnoticed.

“Julie Brown was ignored for years,” he said.

The Marshall Project’s Cohen notes that the Epstein story also highlights the immense power wielded by federal and state prosecutors at a time when plea bargain arrangements are so common.

“This shows how pervasive plea deals are and how prosecutors get to act as judge and jury. (Epstein’s) story offers a great deal of education for the public about the ability to prosecutors to use their own discretion” in settling cases, he said. Judges have the power to review and reject such agreements but “most judges do not do that,” he said.

More TV

  • Carolyn McCall

    ITV Revenues Dip in ‘Uncertain Environment,’ but Content Sales Rise

    ITV revenues were down by 2% in the first nine months of 2019. CEO Carolyn McCall, who has set a strategy refresh in motion, said the U.K.-based broadcaster’s performance was in line with its expectations, adding that, “although the economic environment continues to be uncertain, we are making good progress in executing our strategy.” Total [...]


    Sean Spicer Voted Off 'Dancing With the Stars'

    Sean Spicer will no longer appear on America’s television sets every Monday evening, at least as part of “Dancing With the Stars.” The former White House press secretary was voted off “DWTS” Monday night despite President Donald Trump’s earlier tweet urging the American people to vote for Spicer on ABC’s dancing competition show. The tweet [...]

  • US game show host Alex Trebek

    Alex Trebek Gets Emotional on 'Jeopardy!' After Contestant's Heartfelt Message

    Alex Trebek appeared to tear up on Monday’s episode of “Jeopardy!” after a contestant used his response to a prompt to convey the message “We love you, Alex.” As his answer to one of Monday’s questions, Tournament of Champions semifinalist Dhruv Gaur penned the message with a heart in place of the word “love,” betting [...]

  • Seinfeld

    Alan Horn Remembers How Rick Ludwin Saved 'Seinfeld'

    Rick Ludwin was the unsung hero of “Seinfeld.” That’s how Alan Horn, Walt Disney Studios chairman and former head of “Seinfeld” producer Castle Rock Entertainment, remembered the longtime NBC executive who died Nov. 10 at the age of 71. Ludwin was instrumental in getting the beloved “show about nothing” on to NBC as a regular [...]

  • ViacomCBS

    ViacomCBS Exec Shuffle Signals Move Toward $500 Million in Synergy Goals

    The latest cluster of high-level ViacomCBS executive announcements — which included CBS chief creative officer David Nevins and MTV/VH1 chief Chris McCarthy expanding their oversight, and Comedy Central head Kent Alterman exiting — likely constitutes the last round of public leadership shuffling ahead of the close of the Viacom-CBS transaction in early December, according to [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Sets 'You' Season 2 Premiere Date

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix announces the second season premiere date for “You,” and Quibi has named six more cast members joining its upcoming series “The Now.”  CASTING Samantha Richelle, Arthur Acuña (“Princess and I”), Nonie Buencamino (“Sparks”) and Ces Quesada (“Invisible”) have been cast in WGN’s upcoming drama “Almost Paradise.” The four members join previously announced lead cast [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content