The role a local newspaper or media outlet can take in reporting matters of importance in a community is amply demonstrated in the case of the Albany Times Union [TU] and their coverage of one of their local businesses or, as some prefer to call it, “a cult.”
For almost two decades, the TU has been writing about Nxivm and its founder, Keith Raniere. One might argue that it was the TU, more than any other media outlet, that laid the foundations for Nxivm’s demise.
They also should be blamed or credited, depending on what side you are on, with most likely deterring untold numbers of people, maybe numbering in the thousands, from joining Nxivm or taking their classes because of the stories they wrote, which were easily found online and would give anyone pause who was considering taking courses or getting involved with this group.
James Odato wrote numerous stories about Keith Raniere and NXIVM for the Albany Times Union. Typically, the TU stories were written in sober language; not tabloid style, not salacious. Even sensitive stories involving sex and scandalous behavior were handled with dignity and, in my opinion, fair journalism standards. [Keep in mind that Raniere refused to talk to the TU, despite them calling him for comment on stories every time.]
Prior to Frank Report diving into the Nxivm story, the TU was the main source for matters concerning Raniere and Nxivm.
Their famous Secrets of Nxivm, a four part investigative series in 2012, was perhaps the most comprehensive and important series on the group ever written. That series included the story In Raniere’s Shadows, which contained quotes from named sources about Raniere’s alleged sex with underage females and other matters alleging improper sexual conduct.
This series was only part of a much larger, ongoing series spanning from the beginning of this century to the present.
As a side note, to emphasize the impact a media outlet can have without necessarily knowing it, I was told by a source who was one of the few who were handling arrangements for Raniere concerning Daniela, the women who remained in her room in solitary confinement for almost two years, that it was the publication of the TU’s Secrets of Nxivm that prompted Raniere to encourage others to prompt Daniela to leave the room and then to expedite arrangements for her to go back to Mexico. He wanted her out of Albany in case the TU found out about her and interviewed her.
“If it was not for the Secrets of Nxivm, Daniela would have been in the room a lot longer,” my source said. “It was 100 percent the reason that Keith wanted her out of the room and out of town.”
The TU coverage of Nxivm – overall and over the years – was seminal to the fate of Raniere and others of his group who were convicted of federal crimes. This was because the TU made a commitment early on, one led by their publisher, George Hearst III, to cover Nxivm with a serious, robust and bold point of view.
If, for example, Hearst, along with former editor, Rex Smith, and reporters Dennis Yusko, Jim Odato, Brendan Lyons, and Rob Gavin, had taken the same approach to investigative journalism in their coverage of Nxivm that law enforcement in the Albany area – from the US Attorney for the Northern District of New York, to the NY State Police to the Albany County DA, did to investigating the group – I am certain Nxivm would be prospering today.
It was the TU that called Raniere out and made him known in his community. The TU was neither intimidated nor bought off by Bronfman money, as some say local law enforcement officials were.
Complaint after complaint was filed with local law enforcement by people who claimed victimization and who reported tangible crimes, crimes that Raniere was later convicted of in the Eastern District of NY.
Nothing was done in Albany though. Well-connected and highly paid lawyers for Bronfman, Raniere and Nxivm would rush in and persuade law enforcement in the Albany area to halt their investigations and go after the whistleblowers instead.
The TU, however, was different. The Bronfmans were up against George Hearst and here is a man who comes from a family not easily intimidated. Hearst is the great-grandson of William Randolph Hearst and a director of the Hearst Corporation.
According to a source who was present, Albany Times Union publisher George Hearst III met with Clare and Sara Bronfman, along with Nancy Salzman, and at least one other Nxivm person, when the TU was just beginning their investigative coverage.
The Nxivm group offered a combination of complaints, cries of unfair coverage, faint hints of rewards if they stopped, and more than a hint of a possible lawsuit if they didn’t.
Hearst’s reaction was not what they expected. Although it was a meeting that ended pleasantly, Hearst made it clear that he would keep to the same path he believed he had provided in the past: fair and in-depth coverage.
From about that time onward, Nxivm officials made a decision not to cooperate with the TU and declined to comment on the record or even respond to requests for comments.
The important thing is that the litigious nature of the Bronfmans led by Raniere did not cause a cessation of coverage by the TU, despite a later lawsuit arising over allegations of computer trespassing by TU reporter Odato. That case was dismissed by the judge.
If one is of a mind that Raniere and his top-rank followers were a force for evil, the work of the TU must be credited. If you think it is a shame that a wonderful community was destroyed by the media, then blame the TU.
Many of the remaining followers of Raniere have reached consensus that of all those who published articles about Nxivm, that I am the most blameworthy for the fall of Nxivm and Raniere. So say the members of the Dossier Project. The Nxivm-5 also say I was the worst for Raniere and that I was the most damaging to people in Nxivm causing many to hide instead of support at critical times because they feared I would reveal their names.
Raniere’s attorney told the court that Raniere could not even get help from supporters seeking to offer bail money because they were afraid I would “out” them and destroy their lives.
So, if you think Nxivm was something wonderful, and its founder, Keith Raniere, was something divine or near to it, then I want to share the blame for their destruction with Hearst and his publication. Without their work and their credibility and for being a place of refuge, where those who were terrified of Raniere could go to seek justice, knowing they would not be outed to Raniere, as law enforcement seemingly did, Raniere and company, backed by the Bronfmans, would have run roughshod over Albany and been free to punish anyone who dared to fight back or criticize them.
Think of all the people who felt secure in speaking with the TU. Look at their archives and see how much of what we know today about NXIVM was reported there first – from the disappearance of Kristin Snyder, and Gina Hutchinson, to the commodities losses, the lawsuits, the political connections, the underage sex, the celebrities who were members, and the families of members who were afraid their children were in a cult.
For years before I arrived on the scene, the TU provided this in-depth coverage. Without them, Nxivm would be alive and well today.
I think it is indisputable that they laid the foundation for everything that followed, and without that foundation, Frank Report or anyone else, including the New York Times in their pivotal story, Inside the Secretive Cult That Brands Women, would not have been able to get a true foothold on the topic.
Part of the reason that the Times could publish what they did is that they had the years of other stories – mainly from the TU – to provide security and assurance for their reporting that this group was not a virgin to getting bad news coverage.
In fact, the Times sat on their story for months, trying to vet it, trying to ensure this wasn’t a giant libel suit waiting to happen, thinking, I rather suspect, that it was not that big of a story. Then, when the Times Union was about to publish the branding story and scoop the Times and the Times editors found out, they rushed to print and scooped the TU by perhaps 24 hours.
The TU wound up using the Times’ story by arrangement with the Times, as a subscriber to their wire service.
To get an idea of how many stories the TU did on NXIVM and what percentage of the stories over the years they offered the public, one might visit cult deprogrammer Rick Alan Ross’s website and take a look at the list of media reports he has compiled on Nxivm. The TU dominates the list.