I hesitate in commenting upon the Jeffrey Epstein matter. After all, the motto of the RBC is that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Somehow, the feel of this story is more National Enquirer than, say, the sort of measured and sober analysis which this blog attempts to traffic in. However, the indictment and arrest of Epstein today, coupled with Wednesday’s decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unsealing vast amounts of material filed in a defamation suit in New York, take this matter outside of the seamy margins of “journalism” practiced by the likes of the Enquirer.
While I haven’t checked, I have to assume that these two coincident developments are “trending” on FaceBook and Twitter. There is, simply put, a tsunami of what might best be described as prurient speculation as to the identities of the famous and near-famous who might be implicated in Epstein’s alleged one-man sex-trafficking ring. However, let me point out the following:
- There has been a great deal of speculation as to the personal involvement of Alan Dershowitz. Yet, Dershowitz was one of the moving parties who sought to have the material unsealed. Presumably, he believes that, as to him, disclosure will be exculpatory.
- On the right, speculation has centered on the possibility that Bill Clinton might be involved. On the left, it’s Donald Trump who is the focus of attention. (Trump, of course, has fed speculation about his involvement by saying “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” If anyone other than Trump had made such a statement, that person would be convicted in the Court of Public Opinion of Stupidity in the First Degree.)
- In any sane world, Alexander Acosta, then the US Attorney for Miami and now Trump’s secretary of labor, would long ago have been forced to resign because of his gross incompetence as a federal prosecutor. But, of course, we’re talking about Trump’s Cabinet, which exists in Bizarro World.
- None of the contributors to this blog have yet been implicated.
I think that the caveat set forth by the Second Circuit in its opinion deserves more attention than it is likely to receive:
[T]he media does the public a profound disservice when it reports on parties’ allegations uncritically. We have previously observed that courts cannot possibly “discredit every statement or document turned up in the course of litigation,” and we have criticized “the use by the media of the somewhat misleading term ‘court records’ in referring to such items.” Even ordinarily critical readers may take the reference to “court papers” as some sort of marker of reliability. This would be a mistake.
We therefore urge the media to exercise restraint in covering potentially defamatory allegations, and we caution the public to read such accounts with discernment.
Slip op. at 23-24, footnote omitted.
The one thing that we know is that the public will not read “such accounts” with discernment. And, this lack of discernment is certainly stoked by the current resident of the White House who, for instance, claims that he was the victim of some vast electoral conspiracy. However, I have done my job by striking this cautionary note.
Update: I have uploaded a copy of the Epstein indictment here.