Jeffrey Epstein · Prince Andrew · Woody Allen

Plus: Watergate is the new hotness

Remember that AHS: Hotel episode “Devil’s Night”? That’s not quiiite where we’re at with this story, but close: According to the Daily Beast, about a year after Jeffrey Epstein finished his 13-month Florida sentence for procuring a child for prostitution, the disgraced financier held “an infamous dinner party” with Prince Andrew and Woody Allen as the guests of honor, while other attendees included Katie Couric, George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Rose.

Chelsea Handler, who was Couric’s +1, said in a recent episode of Rob Lowe’s podcast (that that wasn’t the weirdest sentence in this brief says a lot) that:

“I did go to dinner at Jeffrey Epstein’s house,”

 “I didn’t know who Jeffrey Epstein was. It was like twenty — I don’t know what year it was but it was a long time ago. I went with Katie Couric. Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn were there. Charlie Rose was there.”

“I was at that dinner party, but not for very long,” 

“When we got there I was like, ‘What is this gathering?’ Oh yeah, Prince Andrew was there with — no, with no one. He was there with Jeffrey Epstein.”

“Yeah, we had dinner and it was so awkward and so weird. I was like what are we doing here? And then I asked Woody Allen how he and Soon Yi met and that was when I left.”

That party wasn’t the only time Allen spent public time with Epstein: Here’s a Page Six report from 2013 headlined “Woody Allen pals around with child-sex creep,” for example. That piece details Epstein’s conviction, a nice reminder that everyone — especially folks in the news business who claim Epstein’s criminal history was under wraps — seems to have a very selective memory. — EB

Speaking of Woody Allen… In an interview with Slate, Allen v. Farrow’s directors say that public perception of the allegations against Allen are a product of the director’s spin machine. Here’s Kirby Dick:

When we started discussing and focusing on this story more specifically, I certainly was reluctant because it had been covered so extensively. What weighed in favor of it was Dylan’s initial interview, which was so complete and so revelatory from a personal perspective. It was very strong. But then Amy Herdy, part of our team and our producer and investigative producer, started digging into this story and started finding more and more and more information about it. We started realizing that even though there was all this coverage, there was so much more that the public wasn’t aware of. I think it was at that point, once we realized that no, this story has not only not been thoroughly investigated, but the spin that Woody Allen put out has really created a situation where this country has the wrong perspective on this story. We felt it was important to dive into it.

And here’s Amy Ziering:

Everything throughout surprised me. I never honestly … I didn’t have a predisposition either way. I’m in my late 50s. I’m the exact demographic to really have believed what I was told. I’m embarrassed to say it, but I sort of bought what the predominant narrative was. When we came in, I didn’t know where anything would land. So throughout I was continually surprised. I want to say that.

Reading Ziering’s remark struck me hard. I’m a little younger than her (I’ll be 50 in May), but, you know what? This 1990 New York Times piece on Farrow and Allen’s seemingly idyllic living arrangement resonated with me so strongly that I — consciously or not — made it a relationship ideal, right down to the fact that my husband and I have very different interests and tastes and live blocks away from each other. I know I’m not alone (especially in my coastal Gen X Caucasian demo) by having my existence informed, somehow, by the lifestyle Allen presented to the public.

When Ziering says, “I’m embarrassed to say it, but I sort of bought what the predominant narrative was,” she speaks for a lot of us, I think. I have a lot of respect for her willingness to reexamine that complacency and come clean about it. I don’t know if I would have had the same strength. — EB

Sarah liked John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise. This really surprised me, because in the pantheon of criminals we roll our eyes and go “oh god, not again” about when coverage of them comes up, Gacy is towards the top. How did the Peacock docuseries make the grade? Here’s what she said in her Primetimer review:

Devil In Disguise is skilled at pointing out the many opportunities law enforcement had in the '60s and '70s to neutralize Gacy permanently — and the ways in which societal attitudes towards sexuality allowed him to continue his murderous activities with impunity. The series is a good overview of the activities themselves, but where it really shines is in reviewing how Gacy's underground chamber of horrors was discovered, then using that to underline the fact that it didn't have to happen that way.

Maybe Gacy could have been stopped if prison officials were immune to his industrious breed of, as one interviewee describes it, "hail-fellow-well-met" networking. (This is the disguise the title refers to — not the clown make-up, but the turning of a harmlessly jolly face to the world.)

Maybe Gacy could have been stopped if attitudes towards crime, and specifically sexual assault, within the LGBTQ+ community at the time weren't consistently blown off by police as not worth investigating. Maybe Gacy could have been stopped if law-enforcement's understanding of serial killers and their patterns were more developed, or if various police departments had investigated missing-persons reports with some vigor instead of lazily telling anxious parents that their sons had "just run away."

Sarah advises against binging the six-hour series, but I might ignore her advice. So many Gacy-focused properties seem reluctant to examine why investigators so often took Gacy at his word (hard not to think about Dahmer here), likely because he didn’t fit their idea of what a killer looks like. I get why this might be — if you want to retain access to a case, you have to play “nice” with the police, crime writers in past years realized. If this show, which drops on Thursday, moves past that, that’s progress, indeed. — EB

Watergate is back in the true-crime news. Properties about the Nixon-era scandal is making headlines this week, one a show-to-be, another a show that was allegedly stifled. Here’s the rundown:

  • Katie Holmes To Produce & Star In Adaptation Of ‘The Watergate Girl’ Memoir By Jill Wine-Banks [Deadline]

    Watergate prosecutor turned MSNBC analyst Wine-Banks’s autobiography was released a bit more than a year ago, and I know I read it, spurred on by this interesting interview on Fresh Air. The pandemic has driven the details from my mind, however, other than the memory that she faced nasty misogyny and harassment, which you probably could have guessed. Now Katie Holmes — herself no stranger to surreal experiences — will play Wine-Banks in an adaptation of the book. No other players have been names as of yet, but in a press release Holmes said that “I am constantly inspired by these strong female protagonists, and it is a world I will always want to explore.”

  • Filmmaker’s Suit Says A&E Networks Suppressed Watergate Series [New York Times]

    Four-hour-long doc Watergate made a splash on the film fest circuit in 2018, with Variety writing that a Telluride Film Fest screening presaged “a theatrical release Oct. 12 and a television bow on History Nov. 2.” But after that single airing on History, the movie never played again, which director Charles Ferguson says says was because A&E Networks “was worried about potential backlash to allusions the documentary makes to the Trump White House.” Now Ferguson is suing the network, saying that his show was quashed as part of a “pattern and practice of censorship and suppression of documentary content” at the channel. A&E denies the claims, and says that “Watergate, which premiered in prime time on Mr. Ferguson’s desired date, drastically underachieved in the ratings, which was disappointing to all of us.” If you want to see what the fuss is about, History has the show on its streaming platform (and offers a free 7-day trial), or you can buy it for $14.99.

In our Best Evidence budget document, this item was denoted “Fuckin' Dr. Phil.” Of the Oprah-boosted true-crime-adjacent doctors I hate the most, Dr. Phil is slightly edged out by Dr. Oz, but this report on Turn-About Ranch — a venue repeatedly promoted by unlicensed TV therapist Phil McGraw, who holds a PhD from the University of North Texas and therefore to avoid seeming hypocritical I must refer to him as Dr. if he wishes I do so even though I really, really don’t want to — might allow him to pull ahead.

The Escalante, UT facility for “troubled teens” was a frequent destination for “out of control” youth who appeared on McGraw’s TV program, one of whom — then 17-year-old Hannah Archuleta — says she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a staff member. Now she’s working with Gloria Allred to sue the ranch, alleging that when she reported the attack she was “forced to face a wall or shovel manure for hours, left outside in freezing temperatures, and forced to sleep on a wooden plank,” Fox 13 reports.

In a statement, Turn-About Ranch denied the claims and repeatedly mentioned a “cash settlement” allegedly “solicited” by Allred, a very common step (and one actually requested by most judges) prior to filing a lawsuit. But 18-year-old viral star/rapper Danielle Bregoli, who goes by Bhad Bhabie, spoke out in support of Archuleta, saying that she, too, experienced physical and mental abuse at the facility. Dr. Phil also sent Bregoli to the ranch, she says, urging McGraw to apologize “not only to me but to Hannah and any other child that you sent to Turn-About or any other program like this.” As of publication time, McGraw has not publicly responded to either Bregoli or Archuleta. — EB

Wednesday on Best Evidence: Our budget doc runneth over, so I am sure Sarah has some good stuff for you.

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