ABC News faced questions Tuesday about its reluctance to air a sensitive story of alleged sexual misconduct after a leaked video emerged of reporter Amy Robach complaining about how her bosses handled an interview with a Jeffrey Epstein accuser.
The conservative web site Project Veritas released video of Robach venting that “every day I get more and more pissed” that her 2015 interview with Virginia Giuffre never made the air. Robach made her remarks late in August while sitting in a Times Square studio with a microphone but not on the air.
ABC said Tuesday that the interview didn’t meet its standards because it lacked sufficient corroborating evidence. Robach, co-anchor of ABC’s “20/20” newsmagazine, said the leaked video caught her “in a private moment of frustration.”
The episode was remindful of Ronan Farrow’s accusations that NBC News discouraged his reporting on Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s misconduct. Farrow then took his Pulitzer Prize-winning story to the New Yorker magazine.
ABC sought to minimize the comparison, saying it has pursued and aired other stories about Epstein, the New York financier who died Aug. 10 while in police custody on sex trafficking charges.
Project Veritas is known for its efforts embarrass mainstream media outlets, often sending undercover reporters to catch employees making statements that display an anti-conservative bent. But it needed no such help with the Robach video, which Project Veritas said came from an “ABC insider” it would not identify.
The correspondent was visibly exasperated as she complained that “I tried for three years to get (the interview) on to no avail and now it’s coming out and it’s like these ‘new revelations’ and I freaking had all of it.”
Giuffre, whose maiden name is Roberts, alleged that as a teen, she was forced by Epstein to have sex with prominent men, including Prince Andrew. The prince and Epstein both denied the charges.
In the video, Robach said she was told “who’s Jeffrey Epstein? No one knows who that is. This is a stupid story.”
Robach also complained in the video that lawyer Alan Dershowitz and the British Royal Palace applied pressure to ABC not to air the interview with Giuffre. She suggested that the network feared that airing the interview would hurt its ability to get interviews with Prince William and Kate Middleton.
ABC denied that outside pressure had anything to do with its decision.
“At the time, not all of our reporting met our standards to air, but we have never stopped investigating the story,” ABC News said in a statement Tuesday.
Giuffre first outlined her allegations against Epstein anonymously in a lawsuit filed in 2009, and she did her first on-the-record interviews about them with the Daily Mail in 2011. At the time of ABC’s interview, Giuffre’s lawyers were battling with Dershowitz, who was fighting back against her claim that he was among the men who had sex with her when she was a minor.
While her allegations received widespread attention, some news organizations have treated elements of her story with caution because the list of prominent men she accused was long and her allegations difficult to independently confirm.
The Associated Press doesn’t generally identify people who say they’re victims of sex assault, unless they come forward publicly as Giuffre has done.
Robach said in her statement Tuesday that she had been referring in the video to what Giuffre had said in the interview, not what ABC News had verified through its own reporting. Corroborating evidence of the type the network sought could include interviews with people familiar with Giuffre’s allegations or records that would verify she was at the places the alleged sex acts took place.
“The interview itself, while I was disappointed it didn’t air, didn’t meet our standards,” Robach said Tuesday. “In the years since no one has ever told me or the team to stop reporting on Jeffrey Epstein, and we have continued to aggressively pursue this important story.”
ABC says it plans to air a two-hour documentary and six-part podcast on the Epstein case next year.
It’s still unclear whether Robach’s Giuffre interview will be part of it. Now that it is four years old, it would likely need to be updated.