The Dilemma of the Journalist Who Talked to the Maxwell Juror
I got a call last night from Australian freelance journalist Lucia Osborne-Crowley. I had gotten to know Lucia, who is 29, while covering the Ghislaine Maxwell trial. Lucia was always upbeat; always thoughtful and alert. Her reporting and work ethic impressed me so much that I wrote to Rolling Stone editor-in-chief Noah Shachtman about her. I suggested she could be a potential star reporter and writer for him.
But, last night, she was very upset.
“I’m in turmoil,” she said. “What do I do?”
Photography: Sarah Hickson. Courtesy of Lucia Osborne-Crowley.
Lucia had broken the world-wide exclusive that has had the potential to cause a mistrial in the Maxwell case.
In other words, she had done something very difficult, journalistically speaking.
It was Lucia who first reported in Britain’s Independent newspaper that Juror Number 50 (who asked that he be identified with his first and middle names: "Scotty David") had himself suffered sexual abuse and talked about it in the jury room. Significantly, according to Lucia’s reporting, David said he couldn’t remember the details of the preliminary questionnaire potential jurors had to fill out—which asked jury candidates whether they or family members or friends had been victims of sexual abuse, assault, or harassment—but he was sure he had filled it in correctly.
The consequence of Lucia’s reporting is that Maxwell’s defense team has asked for a new trial, implying—we don’t know for sure—that David answered incorrectly.
David is now lawyered up. And Judge Nathan has asked for motions from both sides in the coming weeks. And the U.S. Attorney General is reportedly now investigating what happened. So we have to wait and see whether there will be a do-over.
But poor Lucia, meanwhile, has been savagely attacked by those who have accused her of deliberately sabotaging the trial, suggesting she is part of a pro-Maxwell conspiracy.
Lucia’s dilemma touches on an incredibly profound issue to do with the difficulty of reporting the truth in a climate in which, given current polarizations, the truth is not always welcome. Substack was founded precisely because some journalists such as Bari Weiss and Andrew Sullivan (and, yes, yours truly) believe that the stories we want to tell do not always sit comfortably with the narratives that large institutions feel obligated to tell—or to ignore—given the sentiments of the audience on which they are dependent.
Now, I understand, as does Lucia, how greatly upset people everywhere—most of all Maxwell and Epstein’s victims—are at the idea they could be robbed of the guilty verdict. It’s fairly incredible that the justice we all felt was served may—once again—be taken away
But should the target of the anger—the hatred, the misery, the pain— be a journalist doing her job? Telling the truth? As painful as that truth is?
These are not simply rhetorical questions.
What makes this such a thorny issue is that, when you think about it (and I have thought about it, given my own experiences covering the Epstein/Maxwell story), where else can the anger be directed?
It’s hard to blame the juror himself, given that he’s a victim of sexual abuse. It’s hard to blame the judge or the lawyers because they are relatively faceless. It’s impossible to blame “the process” because it’s intangible. (Although one does wonder why Judge Nathan allowed the jurors to speak to the media following the trial. She wasn’t obligated to let them.)
But, for now, the missile containing the mass ire has lasered in on the only target available: the person whose reporting appears to have caused the dominoes to fall—Lucia.
If you take a minute to think about what happened, it’s scarcely as if she were the driving engine here. Scotty David was.
David didn’t talk just to her. He ultimately spoke to several outlets. It’s obvious that he wanted to talk about his experience in that jury room. If Lucia hadn’t been the journalist to break this news, some other journalist would have been. And, let’s remember, she had absolutely no idea what he was going to tell her when the interview began.
Was she supposed to then conceal what he told her?
Of course not.
We are not living in China or Russia.
It would be wrong to blame Lucia for honest reporting. And it would be wrong to blame her for going after the story and getting it. What happened in those jury deliberations is a matter of public interest. And journalists are supposed to report on matters that are of public interest.
But the irony here is that Lucia is herself a rape victim who has written extensively about the trauma of sexual abuse. And that’s not something she keeps buried: she has been public about it, and it informs her identity as both a thinker and writer.
When she was fifteen and slated to be an Olympic gymnast on Australia’s team, Lucia was raped. Her outstanding gymnastics career ended, but the trauma and its on-going psychological and physical effects have never been over. In her essay “I Choose Elena,” she writes about the solace she found in writers such as Elena Ferrante. Lucia’s 2021 book My Body Keeps Your Secrets is about the secrets—from puberty, to pleasure, to pain—of a modern body, and it established her as a major feminist thinker of a new generation.
Her writing is a wonderful literary experience. I remember how difficult it was to be published in Granta back in the day. Not a problem for Lucia, apparently – and she is still so young. I am still making my way through her work and loving the prose—and learning a great deal.
So what could have been done differently? I wonder: What do you readers think?
Here’s what I have been thinking:
Given who Lucia is, I wonder if the Independent could have possibly couched Lucia’s outstanding exclusive on Scotty David with an explanation at the bottom of the piece, giving her background not just as a rape victim but as a public intellectual.
I wonder if they could have offered her the chance to write about the personal conflict she feels about reporting and publishing a story that has such a potential massive consequence. It’s a subject that is ripe for the times.
They could still give her that opportunity. I hope they do.
Perhaps Lucia’s attackers would then understand. Then again, in this environment in which passions run so hotly, maybe they would not. The pity is that “right” and “wrong” are now more subjective and less objective than they used to be. It’s so hard to get your bearings.
“Did I make a mistake?” Lucia asked me last night, sounding miserable. “Doesn’t the process have to be done right? Doesn’t that matter?”
Of course it matters.
I told her that, in my view, this is not actually even complicated. It’s simple. There’s only one mantra that journalists must abide by: That is to tell the truth.