Opinion | Julie Brown’s Fight to Expose Epstein’s Crimes — and Earn a Living

At a information convention after Jeffrey Epstein’s 2019 intercourse trafficking indictment, a reporter requested Geoffrey Berman, then the U.S. lawyer in Manhattan, if new data had prompted his workplace’s inquiry. The F.B.I., in any case, had investigated Epstein’s sexual predation greater than a decade earlier, and the crimes within the 2019 indictment occurred between 2002 and 2005. Berman revealed little about what went on inside his workplace, however stated that his staff was helped by “some excellent investigative journalism.”

He was clearly referring to Julie Okay. Brown’s 2018 Miami Herald sequence “Perversion of Justice.” Brown had delved into how prosecutors led by Alex Acosta, who would later grow to be Donald Trump’s secretary of labor, went behind the backs of Epstein’s victims to give the pedophile financier a scandalously lenient deal.

She has now written a ebook with the identical title, which each expands on the Epstein story and explains all that went into writing it. It’s a gripping journalistic procedural, type of “Spotlight” meets “Erin Brockovich.” It additionally reveals simply how shut Epstein got here to getting away together with his industrial-scale sexual exploitation.

Brown’s ebook, which comes out on Tuesday, is about a mind-blowing case of plutocratic corruption, filled with noirish subplots that will by no means be totally understood. But it’s additionally concerning the sluggish strangulation of native and regional newspapers. Reading it, I stored considering of all of the malfeasance probably to go unexposed as many once-formidable newspapers exterior of New York and Washington both shrink or disappear altogether.

Thanks to Brown, the fundamental outlines of the Epstein scandal — not less than the half that preceded his baffling demise — are well-known. As she summarizes it in her ebook, “A supremely wealthy money manager with political connections wrestled an incredible immunity agreement out of the federal government — despite having molested, raped and sexually abused dozens of girls.” Rather than many years in federal jail, Epstein served solely 13 months — with every day work launch — in a county jail, the place his cell door was left unlocked and a TV was put in for his leisure.

Because of Brown’s reporting, Epstein appeared on the verge of actual authorized accountability when he died in his cell, apparently by suicide, in 2019. That reporting was achieved within the face of highly effective headwinds. She was up towards Epstein’s intimidating authorized staff and fears about her security.

But Brown additionally had to deal with the punishing economics of the contracting newspaper business, which for the final decade has been shedding skilled reporters and forcing those that stay to do way more with a lot much less.

Brown, who has labored in journalism for greater than three many years, acquired her begin in Philadelphia at a time when newspapers have been thriving. “We had so many news organizations and papers and it was so competitive,” she advised me. There have been individuals masking “every single city council, planning board, zoning board” assembly. In the previous, she stated, newspaper journalists have been “used to uncovering all this corruption. We’re used to finding injustices pretty easily and writing these stories pretty easily. And now we just don’t have the staff to do that anymore.”

“Perversion of Justice” begins in 2017 with Brown attempting to get employed at The Washington Post after greater than 10 years at The Herald. “I hoped it would offer me the kind of stability that I never felt I had at The Herald, where layoffs, pay cuts and unpaid leaves were an annual ritual,” she wrote.

The Herald wasn’t distinctive: As the Pew Research Center just lately reported, newsroom employment has plummeted 26 p.c since 2008. Journalists in the midst of their careers — these 35 to 54 — have been hit the toughest, as Pew discovered final yr.

At The Herald, stated Brown, veteran reporters have been pushed out as a result of their salaries have been too excessive. She was in a position to hold on, however she had to settle for a 15 p.c pay lower in 2009. “I consoled myself by remembering that I still had my waitressing chops from my early years in journalism in case I needed them,” she wrote.

While ready to hear concerning the Post job, which she didn’t get, Brown began digging into Epstein. She’d spent 4 years masking prisons for The Herald, which led her to begin reporting on intercourse trafficking. You couldn’t analysis intercourse trafficking in Florida with out coming throughout the Epstein case. So when Trump nominated Acosta, Brown figured the Epstein deal he oversaw could be a problem in his affirmation hearings.

It wasn’t. “I was astonished that Epstein’s name barely came up, and that the questions Acosta was asked showed that the senators didn’t understand the gravity of what Acosta had done,” she wrote. She pitched her editor on the thought of monitoring down a few of Epstein’s victims and speaking to them.

She would finally determine round 80 girls who stated that they had been abused by Epstein after they have been ladies, and she acquired 4 of them to communicate on the file. It was a journalistically grueling course of. Many of the ladies’s names have been redacted in authorized paperwork, making it a problem simply to work out who they have been.

At first neither the ladies nor their legal professionals responded to her telephone calls. She tried knocking on doorways, however acquired nowhere. Finally, she despatched out practically 60 letters. Every week later one recipient, Michelle Licata — who’s referred to as Jane Doe 2 within the case recordsdata — known as her.

Brown’s ebook is richer for together with a number of reportorial impasses and rabbit holes; it reveals what a painstaking and usually maddening course of investigative journalism is. People ought to perceive, she stated, “that journalism isn’t always about success. To be honest a lot of it is about failure.”

To preserve going within the face of inevitable frustration — fruitless reporting journeys, false leads, fraudulent would-be sources and a barrage of authorized threats — Brown wanted not simply private fortitude however institutional assist. Even in its attenuated state, The Herald supplied that, she stated.

“I’m fortunate that they let me do the project, really,” she stated. “They weren’t excited 100 percent, but I think they trusted that it was worth letting me pick away at it and see what I would come up with.”

Yet she nonetheless had to juggle the Epstein investigation with different assignments. She would generally pay her personal bills slightly than justify them to higher-ups, whilst she was counting on payday loans to make ends meet.

Brown is lastly in a higher place financially. She’s working with Adam McKay, the director of “The Big Short,” to flip “Perversion of Justice” into an HBO mini-series. After years of renting, she was just lately in a position to purchase a apartment. “I’ve been able to pay down some of my horrible debt that I have accumulated,” she stated. But she’s 59 and nonetheless doesn’t have a retirement account.

I requested Brown whether or not she plans to keep on the Epstein beat, since there are nonetheless so many free ends. She stated she was torn. There are nonetheless a lot of mysteries about Epstein, however loads of different reporters are digging into them.

“I felt like at one point almost every journalist in the world hopped on this story,” she stated. “At some point you sort of feel like, ‘What is your purpose?’ I feel like maybe my purpose right now isn’t this story anymore. Maybe I need to move onto another story like this that nobody was paying attention to.”

The extra newspapers collapse, the extra such tales there are probably to be.

The Times is dedicated to publishing a range of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you concentrate on this or any of our articles. Here are some ideas. And right here’s our e mail: [email protected]

Follow The New York Times Opinion part on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.