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Jeffrey Epstein and local journalism

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Michelle Goldberg observes that without the kind of investigative journalism by local newspapers being strangled to death by Google, Facebook, and private equity goons Epstein would probably be a free man today:

At a news conference after Jeffrey Epstein’s 2019 sex trafficking indictment, a reporter asked Geoffrey Berman, then the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, if new information had prompted his office’s inquiry. The F.B.I., after all, had investigated Epstein’s sexual predation more than a decade earlier, and the crimes in the 2019 indictment took place between 2002 and 2005. Berman revealed little about what went on inside his office, but said that his team was helped by “some excellent investigative journalism.”

He was clearly referring to Julie K. Brown’s 2018 Miami Herald series “Perversion of Justice.” Brown had delved into how prosecutors led by Alex Acosta, who would later become 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 book with the same title, which both expands on the Epstein story and explains all that went into writing it. It’s a gripping journalistic procedural, sort of “Spotlight” meets “Erin Brockovich.” It also shows just how close Epstein came to getting away with his industrial-scale sexual exploitation.

Brown’s book, which comes out on Tuesday, is about a mind-blowing case of plutocratic corruption, full of noirish subplots that may never be fully understood. But it’s also about the slow strangulation of local and regional newspapers. Reading it, I kept thinking of all the malfeasance likely to go unexposed as many once-formidable newspapers outside of New York and Washington either shrink or disappear altogether.

Brown is, at long last, comparatively lucky — the Herald backed her up and kept her on staff (albeit with a pay cut) and Adam McKay is turning her work into a miniseries. But she’s 59 and doesn’t have a retirement account.

The big three national newspapers do a lot of good work but there’s a lot of things they can’t cover, and a lot of powerful people will get away with things because local papers in many markets are dying or being reduced to Potemkin cutouts.

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