The press likes to determine the point at which mere information rises to become news. We all have our own methods and beliefs about how this works; often it doesn’t. But our systems start to go haywire when we’re deprived of any information at all.
The Ghislaine Maxwell jury was sent to its deliberations at 4:48 p.m. on Monday. The five alternate jurors were put on the back burner; the 12 regulars went to work. (“How did you spend your Christmas pandemic wave — trapped in a room with 11 strangers?” No thanks!) Without our daily parade of witnesses and filings, the courtroom press has nothing to fill our lunchtime local-news stand-ups, our newsletters, our live blogs. There is a bit of fritzing out going on, a bit of short-circuiting in the wiring.
Don’t ever read anything into the deliberating jury’s requests, everyone at the courthouse says — and then, starved for a lack of court content, we immediately did.
Those requests have been simple so far — copies of transcripts or copies of a document the jury hadn’t been allowed to see. This is a decent summary, if you’re hungry to read tea leaves.
With nothing else happening in court, the nightly ritual of chasing down Maxwell’s family and friends from the court is one of the few things left to do. Apart from that, reporters (minus some of the more unvaccinated crew, who aren’t hanging out) wait and read. The only actual news event at a trial, in the media’s own terms, is a verdict. To miss that would be to miss everything, we like to think.
Matthew Russell Lee was part of the crowd awaiting Maxwell’s crew at the end of Tuesday’s proceedings.
Lee is the force behind Inner City Press, a news site that’s been around for decades. Its job, along with that of Lee’s less-active sibling publication, Fair Finance Watch, is muckraking, and its website features incredible Drudge-era design. These days, Lee mostly reports from the courts downtown with a focus on the Maxwell trial. “I am trying to cover this trial, and others, from all angles, in all media — meaning live tweeted threads, short podcasts, livestreams from Foley Square, at least one song a week (!), and a project called #MaximumMaxwell ready to launch,” is how he recently explained his mission.
People emerged from the courtroom’s side door. Lee was watching from across the street. “It’s just the sister and Leah Saffian,” he said. This sister is identifiable by the beret — certainly that’s Isabel Maxwell. And Saffian is the attorney who represented two of the Maxwell siblings when they fought fraud charges after the death of their father. She has also been counsel to Ghislaine and visited her in jail, though she isn’t part of the Maxwell defense team.
Pursuing the duo west down Pearl Street, Lee asked them about one of the jury’s questions that day. “We have no comment,” someone, presumably Saffian, said.
“Asked and not answered,” Lee said.
“Now we have the daily ritual of the search for the Uber,” he said. Maxwell and Saffian were surrounded curbside in the dark in front of the courthouse, waiting for their car. “Seems like this could be run better.”
Eventually, Isabel Maxwell began taking photos of the couple dozen photo-takers ringing them. “This is the scene,” Lee said to his livestream watchers.
If the central and likely fair complaint about the media is that we aren’t good judges about what rises to “news,” then Lee might be the corrective. To him, everything is news, and for a very particular kind of consumer like me, he’s right, even if I can’t take in the thousands of unfiltered tweets and narrated livestreams. His other readership is grateful too for the multiplatform graphomania. He answers questions from the confused and the conspiracy-minded alike. He writes and talks, to a disturbing extent, about his ban from the United Nations, an organization he accuses of sex trafficking and more.
Lee also sometimes posts in a more literary format, as “Kurt,” presumably Kurt Wheelock, the protagonist of Lee’s novella about a journalist “who was thrown out of the United Nations” and who meets a lawyer named Matthew Randall Long, who works “from an office above the Ali Baba fruit stand in Chatham Square.” And Lee naturally has a Soundcloud, which features court coverage songs like “Lev Parnas Trial Severance Blues.”
Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between comedy, innovation, and strangeness.
Lee kept talking to his audience on the livestream. “Who was on the plane? How high did it go? What was the role of the United Nations?” He laughed, just a little. “How far does it go, and where?” Ghislaine’s sister and friend finally got in their car and left the crowd behind. Everyone still had a lot of questions.
Then, near the end of the day on Wednesday, the jury sent word that they were quitting for the day and would not be back tomorrow. Lee prepared to broadcast. “Absolute maximum Maxwell madness,” Lee said outside, as photographers waited for Saffian’s car. “I’m not sure where these photographs are going, but they’re going.” With Friday a court holiday for Christmas Eve, Maxwell will have to wait for her verdict over a long weekend. That includes her 60th birthday on Christmas Day.
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