Before Ms. Palfrey’s trial, she imparted flurries of sound bites to the media intimating that she was the custodian of too many secrets, and the government would be unlocking a Pandora’s Box if it prosecuted her. “I am sure as heck am not going to be going to federal prison for one day, let alone, you know, four to eight years here, because I’m shy about bringing in the deputy secretary of whatever,” Palfrey told ABC. “Not for a second. I’ll bring every last one of them in if necessary.”
I, like Ms. Palfrey, thought that the secrets I had amassed over the years would discourage the government from prosecuting me. After the Secret Service’s initial raid and ransacking of my home, and prior to being indicted, I remarked to a reporter: “Somebody set us up because they were scared about what we knew about high government official. . . . And anyways, if they do try to indict me, I’ll have some good stories to tell.” I was a mere 29 years old when I dispensed that quote, and, regrettably, I had the aplomb and inexperience of youth, which is an extremely flawed tandem when locking horns with the federal government. I woefully underestimated the ruthlessness and absolute power of my adversary.
Ms. Palfrey followed through on her threat and attempted to unfurl her secrets: She presented ABC News with 43 pounds of printed pages that contained the phone numbers of the thousands of johns who frequented her escort service over the years. Ms. Palfrey had no idea of the names accompanying the vast majority of the phone numbers, and she hoped that ABC would decipher that information. She felt that the potentially pyrokinetic scoop she handed to ABC would force the government on the defensive and impede its zealous crusade to imprison her.
But her counter-offensive spectacularly backfired: ABC refused to follow through on the revelations contained in the 43-pound printout. ABC correspondent Brian Ross announced that “based on our reporting, it turned out not to be as newsworthy as we thought in terms of the names,” even though it would emerge that Palfrey’s patrons included, for starters, a U.S. Senator, a Department of Defense consultant who developed the “shock and awe” doctrine deployed on Iraq, and State Department official Randall Tobias. In a stunning demonstration of hypocrisy, Tobias was the Agency for International Development’s Director of Foreign Assistance, and he managed agencies that required the foreign recipients of AIDS assistance to condemn prostitution. Moreover, it’s recently been demonstrated that Brian Ross has difficulties telling the truth.