Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist, today channels her inner Jimmy Breslin and takes on the press coverage of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide in a federal jail. She contrasts traditional journalism and current journalism, and she makes good points.
Her traditional alter-ego reporter says this:
I’m thinking but this is the story with everything. Wealth, power, darkness. Princes and presidents. People with secrets. Rumors of spying. Even an English aristo moll on the lam.
He’s the most famous prisoner in America! They put him in a jail, where he supposedly tries to kill himself. So they move him to a special cell, heavily guarded 24/7. Don’t worry, he’s safe, he’s gonna face the music!
Then dawn on a Saturday in high August. Everyone important is away. It’s an entire city run by the second string—novices, kids and pension-bumpers at the police desk, the news desk, the hospital. It breaks like sudden thunder: Epstein is dead, he committed suicide in his cell!
And then, like, silence. Thunder’s followed by fog.
Government dummies up, no one knows nothin’. Finally on Monday the attorney general has a news conference. He’s very upset! What incompetence! That jail don’t work right!
But incompetence proves nothing, right? If Epstein killed himself, he chose the time he knew the guards were asleep. If Epstein was murdered, his killer chose the time he knew the guards were asleep. Incompetence is completely believable but insufficient.
Read the whole thing. The tone is amusing, and the critique is on point.
Noonan has an honest question for newshounds: Can’t anybody here play this game? Why so little interest in a second famous prisoner’s death in a federal prison in less than a year?
The most prominent federal prisoner of 2018, Whitey Bulger, was bludgeoned to death by one or more other inmates almost immediately after he was transferred from another facility to a “high-security” federal penitentiary in West Virginia late last year. Did the prison administration post a weekly “New Felon List” that let the other prisoners know he was coming? Of course not.
Clearly Bulger’s killer(s) had a plan in place by the time Bulger arrived. Does anyone doubt that there was, and still is, a robust communication network of “banned” cellphones connecting mobsters in prisons across the country? (I don’t know much about prisons, but even I know that providing burner phones to prisoners is a lucrative side hustle for prison employees, often guards.)
As in the Epstein case, Bulger died out of the view of guards and a presumably extensive camera system at the “high-security” facility. Curious, eh?
Recent reports, from the feds of course, suggest the feds soon may identify who killed Whitey Bulger, perhaps within a year after he perished in a “high-security” federal facility. Agatha Christie never would have let Hercule Poirot take more than a weekend to solve even the most intricate locked-room mystery.
Yes, truth can be messier than fiction, but that killing made the federal prison system look bad; it’s surprising that news organizations didn’t press that point months ago. We can hope the latest incident will cause news organizations to raise the issue, finally, in coming weeks, assuming they can tear themselves away from the important job of fulminating on the Twitter ramblings of politicians and celebrities.
Neither Bulger nor Epstein will be mourned by many, but it is hard to accept that either man’s case was handled well. It took the feds 15 years to find Bulger after he went on the lam — he was hiding in plain sight in an apartment near the beach in Southern California — and almost 20 years to gin up a serious prosecution of Epstein after years of stories about his sleazy predilections and behavior.
Now the autopsy report says Epstein killed himself, and the finding is reported as a straight fact. Given all that went before, why shouldn’t the press be suspicious?
The incuriosity is even more remarkable because Epstein died in New York City, which has more reporters and news outlets per square mile than any other place on the planet.
If you were a reporter in Gotham, wouldn’t you want to track down some of the many people who knew Epstein and find out what they had to say? Wouldn’t it be worth your time to wait outside his jail at the end of a shift and try to buttonhole workers before they went home? Or to pester prosecutors and defense lawyers, daily, by telephone?
If not, you would want to consider whether you are in the wrong business.