Tonight, the ABC News program "20/20" will feature the results of the symbiotic relationship between the flamboyant source and the famous reporter. The government accuses Deborah Jane Palfrey of running a major prostitution ring in Washington. She says her escort service was legal and she says she can prove if only she could find her high-ranking clients.
As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, that's where ABC News' Brian Ross comes in.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Palfrey faces federal charges of money laundering and racketeering, and her assets have been frozen. On the steps of a federal courthouse here in Washington earlier this week, she told reporters she had a job for them.
Ms. DEBORAH JEANE PALFREY (Owner, Pamela Martin & Associates): I believe there is something very, very rotten at the core of my circumstance. And without money to hire my own investigators, I must rely upon your acumen and talent here at the press and the media to uncover the truth.
FOLKENFLIK: You heard that right. All Palfrey had left for records are her phone bills. She's asking the press to use them to figure out who her clients were, so she can call them to the witness stand and have them testify that no one paid her firm for sex.
Reporters from more than two-dozen news outlets started calling months ago to try to get her story and those records. But it was ABC News' chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross who got first crack at them.
Mr. BRIAN ROSS (Chief Investigative Correspondent, ABC News): They said, well, we're going to sell the phone records. And we said, well, okay, thank you very much. We're gone. We can't pay for them. We can't do anything like that. And then they came back to us and said no, we're decided not we're going to sell, and we'd like to maybe give them to you. Would you be interested?
FOLKENFLIK: He sure was. Ross and his producers got copies of four years worth of phone records from the escort service, but Ross says they made clear they weren't acting as Palfrey's investigators. Her civil lawyer is Montgomery Blair Sibley. He says he turned to ABC's Ross because he handled them responsibly and because he tracked down those clients.
Mr. MONTGOMERY BLAIR SIBLEY (Palfrey's civil lawyer): And I think the - I don't want to say - genius of the strategy, but the proof is in the pudding that we've identified at least one witness who will get on the stand, apparently, and now say I was having a massage. I was not having illegal sexual relations nor was I promised any.
FOLKENFLIK: Sibley is talking about former senior State Department official Randall Tobias. Tobias resigned late last month when Ross called to ask why his number had appeared on the phone list.
Mr. ROSS: When the former Deputy Secretary of State Tobias told me there was no sex, that's sort of what she has in mind as a witness who could help her. But I have talked to other men who have said she calls me to making the biggest mistake of her life because there was sex.
FOLKENFLIK: Ross says some other prominent government leaders and Washington figures will be named in tonight's broadcast. Former NBC News President Lawrence Grossman used to be Ross' boss at that network. Grossman says he has great faith in the reporter but suggests ABC should hold back on naming anyone unless it can show how public policy was affected.
Mr. LAWRENCE GROSSMAN (Former President, NBC News): You don't want to wantonly and loosely and casually release names just because people are on a list, unless you know that the list has some public interest significant.
FOLKENFLIK: Ross says private citizens and minor government figures aren't fair game, but he says those clients of the escort service with powerful jobs or have taken strong public stands on morality are news worthy.
Mr. ROSS: There'll be those who are cynical at Washington who'll say of course, of course. And others will be surprised that leaders of government and people with important decisions are customers of operation that the federal government says is a big prostitution operation.
FOLKENFLIK: Ross says his reporting may well aid Palfrey's defense, but she won't learn anything more from him than his viewers do.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.
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