Ariane Lange

USC Cancels $5 Million Endowment From Harvey Weinstein

In the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations lodged against Harvey Weinstein, the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts has decided not to accept a pledged $5 million endowment from the now-ousted executive of the Weinstein Company. Since last Thursday, more than 20 women — including Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie — have alleged Weinstein made inappropriate, unwanted sexual advances; several women claimed he sexually assaulted them.

The endowment was to fund scholarships for women directors at USC. Just last Thursday, Weinstein touted his gift to the school in a statement he gave to the New York Times. “One year ago, I began organizing a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors at USC. While this might seem coincidental it has been in the works for a year,” he wrote in his statement, which addressed the newspaper’s report about the decades of alleged sexual harassment.

A spokesperson for USC confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the decision to nix Weinstein’s endowment was made on Tuesday (Oct. 10) — the same day The New Yorker published a story that included three women’s stories of being raped by Weinstein and the New York Times published a follow-up story detailing new allegations of harassment and coercion.

Through a representative, Weinstein “unequivocally denied” having nonconsensual sex to the New Yorker.

Weinstein’s representative did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for a comment on the rejected donation to the university. But in the statement last week, Weinstein said he would name the endowment after his mother, adding, “I won’t disappoint her.”

Here Are The Women That Harvey Weinstein Has Allegedly Sexually Harassed

Harvey Weinstein was fired from his position as co-chair of the Weinstein Company days after the New York Times published an article that detailed decades of sexual harassment allegations against the celebrated executive.

In a statement to the Times on Oct. 5, Weinstein said, “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.” Later that day, one of his attorneys announced that Weinstein planned to sue the newspaper for the story, which the attorney called “defamatory.”

Rumors about Weinstein’s inappropriate behavior with women had been circulating for years; actor Kate Winslet — who did not identify as a victim of his alleged misconduct — suggested as much in a statement she gave to Variety on Monday (Oct. 9): “I had hoped that these kind of stories were just made up rumors, maybe we have all been naïve.”

According to former employees, many people had heard stories about the producer; Mark Gill, the former president of Miramax Los Angeles, told the New York Times, “If a female executive was asked to go to a meeting solo, she and a colleague would generally double up” to avoid being alone with Weinstein. And in the New York Times story, Ashley Judd said, “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.” In 2015, Judd had told Variety — without naming Weinstein at the time — about an incident in the ’90s when a studio mogul had put pressure on her to perform sexual activities.

How The FBI Shapes Its Image Through Movies

When director Henry-Alex Rubin requested the FBI’s help with his 2012 cyber drama Disconnect, he wanted notes on the screenplay’s accuracy. But he suspected they wanted something more.

“They understand that perception is everything,” he told BuzzFeed News of the FBI. “The more they are perceived well, the easier their job is.”

He recalled that the FBI employee who reviewed the shooting draft of his film proposed changes to a scene in which two agents aggressively questioned a journalist.

“I remember distinctly the consultant saying to me, ‘This is not at all how we operate,’” he said. As Rubin recalled, the consultant told him that the FBI approaches people in a manner that “at least on the surface” is “kind and cooperative, and that attitude usually yields much more results than being suspicious or aggressive.”

Rubin changed the scene.

“If we don’t tell our story, then fools will gladly tell it for us.”

The director was right to think that the FBI is keenly concerned with its public perception: Hundreds of pages of FBI documents BuzzFeed News has obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit reveal that the FBI actively seeks to control and burnish its image through consulting work on films. Over the past five years, the FBI’s Hollywood-focused Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit has played a role in the development of hundreds of movies, television shows, and documentaries. Examples are varied, and include the newly released Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, a biopic about the famous Watergate leaker Deep Throat; the 2012 straight-to-DVD Miley Cyrus romp So Undercover; and an episode of the docuseries Fatal Encounters. The bureau views these projects as marketing tools for an agency that desperately wants to build the FBI “brand,” the documents say.

“If we don’t tell our story, then fools will gladly tell it for us,” reads an August 2013 FBI PowerPoint slide advising bureau personnel how to use the media to their benefit. “Most people form their opinion of the FBI from pop culture, not a two-minute news story.”

The slide also includes this bullet point: “In any given week, Nielsen data indicates that FBI-themed dramas or documentaries reach 100,000,000+ people in the United States.” (Nielsen did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment on this data point.)

Slides from an FBI PowerPoint presentation obtained by BuzzFeed News through the Freedom of Information Act (click or tap to enlarge)

According to that slideshow, the FBI’s public affairs office — which acts as the liaison between the entertainment industry and the bureau — reviewed 728 requests for assistance on media ranging from novels to big-budget blockbusters in 2012 alone. FBI consultations are free for the filmmaker (although not for the taxpayer), and the consultations described in these documents ranged in scale from a cursory informational email exchange to “personnel and time intensive” multi-day shoots at the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, DC.

The majority of productions asked for something relatively small, like a quick fact-check or permission to use the FBI logo. In one brief consultation from March 2011, the FBI seriously considered a request from the screenwriter of the musical zombie horror-comedy Diamond Dead. The writer “was looking to put the FBI in a chase for zombies ‘just because’ in his [mind] he thought the fictitious FBI in his script would like to research the zombies,” an FBI employee wrote in the documents. “I advised him to try with someone like NIH, HHS, CDC, or another health/medical government agency as it would be of no interest to the FBI unless they committed a crime.”

The writer-producer who made that call, Andrew Gaty, told BuzzFeed News, “I always like to do fairly serious research,” recalling that he spoke with the staffer for a few minutes. “My basic question was, what would the FBI do if they found zombies?”

“My basic question was, what would the FBI do if they found zombies?”

The FBI doesn’t just field queries from filmmakers but also takes a proactive role when an opportunity arises to advance its own public relations interests. Indeed, a few years ago, an FBI agent was reading a Hollywood trade publication when the agent came upon a story about a movie that would star Sylvester Stallone as reputed mob enforcer and FBI informant Gregory Scarpa. The agent was intrigued and decided to reach out to Nicholas Pileggi, the Goodfellas scribe who was writing the Scarpa screenplay, to ask “if he wanted FBI input,” according to the FBI documents. Pileggi apparently was interested and told the FBI agent he would make contact when “he was ready to start the project.” Pileggi’s representative did not respond to a request for comment, and the film is still in development.

Christopher Allen, the Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit chief, told BuzzFeed News that the FBI could not provide updated figures about the number of productions it has assisted with since 2013. But productions featuring the FBI continue at a rapid pace. Mark Felt was released Sept. 29. In October, Netflix will premiere Mindhunter — a series about FBI agents who study and track down serial killers — and CBS will air the 280th episode of its own serial-killer-catcher procedural, Criminal Minds. The Netflix series consulted directly with the FBI, and the former agent who wrote the book Mind Hunter, John E. Douglas, is a credited consultant on the show. Criminal Minds has also consulted with the bureau, and this season, an agent turned producer will have his 11th writing credit on the show.

Although the bureau explicitly says it “does not edit or approve [filmmakers’] work,” winning cooperation from the FBI often means portraying the bureau in a positive light. According to the documents, the FBI will sometimes deny permission to use the logo for reasons that border on petty: One film was turned down in 2008 because the FBI’s role in the movie was too small. And for certain projects — like the Silence of the Lambs trilogy, the 2009 Johnny Depp film Public Enemies, and 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard — the bureau will go to extraordinary lengths to assist production teams, assigning agents to answer questions on call or approving multi-day shoots on FBI grounds. Additionally, the bureau conducts semi-regular “FBI 101” workshops at the Writers Guild, instructing screenwriters on the ins and outs of working with the bureau; an invitation to one such event in June called it “your opportunity to engage the FBI directly.”

Matthew Cecil, a scholar of the FBI’s image, told BuzzFeed News that the FBI’s relationship with Hollywood dates back eight decades. The bureau’s PR strategies have been “remarkably” successful in advancing the FBI’s goal of making people “more comfortable with the idea of this extremely powerful agency.” Cecil, who wrote Branding Hoover’s FBI, distinguished the bureau’s branding from that of the CIA (which has an “entertainment industry liaison”): “They’ve never been good at it at all.”

The FBI is still secretive about how it interacts with Hollywood filmmakers. It took three years and a lawsuit to pry loose these documents. But nearly a dozen filmmakers who spoke to BuzzFeed News were mostly open and positive about the liaison. The majority recounted how deeply impressed they were by the thoroughness and professionalism of the FBI employees they interacted with. “They were highly intelligent, and they could see easily what the script was trying to say, and where it was going,” said Peter Woodward, who wrote the 2010 Samuel L. Jackson film Unthinkable.

Filmmakers explained that they contact the FBI because they want their work to be more realistic. “I have always found the FBI to be extremely and productively cooperative and open. … I’ve actually found them almost as eager understand the narrative I’m after as I am,” said Mark Felt writer-director and former journalist Peter Landesman.

But it’s clearly more than just an educational exercise for the bureau. Internally, the FBI says it has a “mission interest in developing the public image of the FBI and ensuring an accurate portrayal of FBI personnel, past and present, in order to encourage public cooperation with the FBI in performing its mission.” The documents show that the unit evaluates how high-profile a project is going to be before deciding to approve consultation, generally reserving their highest levels of assistance for projects expected to be blockbusters. The unit’s guidelines for requests specify that the agency needs to know “whether the project is ‘sold,’ ‘green lit,’ commissioned, or speculative.”

In one 44-page spreadsheet that logged more than 200 requests made between 2005 and 2014, Tom Hanks was name-dropped three times (for Captain Phillips, Parkland, and Mark Felt). In another document referring to the predicted blockbuster Live Free or Die Hard, the office acknowledged that the movie was not about the bureau — in the final film, FBI characters spend much of their screen time describing the havoc caused by hackers. And yet the Office of Public Affairs approved a two-day shoot at the J. Edgar Hoover Building involving around 400 extras; additionally, an agent from the Los Angeles office worked with the production “extensively, to include sitting in on production meetings.” In contrast, another project received a recommendation that “LIMITED ASSISTANCE BE PROVIDED AS THIS IS A FIRST TIME SCREENWRITER.”

Dreamworks / ©DreamWorks / Courtesy Everett Collection

Tom Hanks as FBI agent Carl Hanratty in the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can.

The FBI’s self-interest was evident to Ed Saxon, the Silence of the Lambs producer who was the bureau’s point person on the 1991 film. Saxon expressed some misgivings about the consulting arrangement. “We had political qualms about how closely we were working with the FBI and how much we were making the FBI look like heroes when the FBI’s history as an organ of the state has been complicated, to say the least,” he told BuzzFeed News.

In a nod to those reservations, director Jonathan Demme added a line to the film about the agency’s record of civil rights abuses, Saxon said. “To Jonathan in particular, it was important that he wasn’t just making a commercial for the United States police department.” The production team knew the FBI viewed the movie as a recruiting tool for female agents: “Our picture — with a heroic female agent, or agent trainee, at its center — lined up well with their goals,” the producer said.

Saxon’s take is more in line with internal records at the FBI. The bureau’s recommendations for cooperating with filmmakers generally emphasize a commitment to accuracy, but sometimes they refer directly to how the agency appears. A few documents stated that the goal was not only to support authentic depictions but favorable ones; one said, “Most of the time, Hollywood writers do not seek our input and oftentimes they get it wrong. So when given the opportunity to educate the writers/producers we have found we are in a better position to possibly have them portray the FBI in a positive light and with accuracy, or fairly close to accurate.”

Sony Pictures / ©Sony Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Johnny Depp in the 1997 film Donnie Brasco.

There are also hints that the bureau wants to remind the public that FBI employees are people, too. When the FBI recommended that personnel should be interviewed on camera for a special feature on the 2000 DVD release of Donnie Brasco, a document explained that “[t]he segment would satisfy the public’s desire to learn about the FBI by showing the human, personal side of an Agent’s job.”

The documents suggest that the ideal onscreen FBI character is approachable, polite, and not conducting surveillance. In April 2012, someone from the production of the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson crime caper Empire State put in a request to use the FBI seal in the film on short notice. After the unit reviewed the script, the request was denied, in part because the script featured bureau personnel being rude to local law enforcement. “P. 70 had FBI agents rolling onto scene and immediately condescending NYPD,” the log says. “Also later in script agents were ‘dragging’ patrons out of restaurants and theaters…the script does not accurately portray FBI procedures and personnel and therefore use of official SEAL was declined via email on 4/27/2012.”

This position — preferring a restrained image of the bureau — was echoed in the recommendation for Public Enemies, which followed the hunt for a group of 1930s bank robbers. Although the FBI approved significant consulting on Public Enemies, a document noted that the film “‘heightens the image of the FBI as an agency seeking to win by whatever means necessary,’ not necessarily a flattering portrayal.”

And the FBI has long wanted to avoid associations with covert surveillance in particular. Wiretapping, as Cecil writes in Hoover’s FBI and the Fourth Estate, was expressly forbidden from the TV series that the bureau essentially coproduced in the ’60s and ’70s; that aversion continues to the present day. A request was declined in 2012 not only because a “[f]ictional agent has incredibly small role” but also because the agent was “not portrayed in best light (mostly through scare tactics of wiretapping and other surveillance).” And on the podcast Crime and Science Radio in 2015, FBI Public Affairs Specialist Betsy Glick said that bureau officials shaped fictional portrayals of the FBI because they don’t want people “getting a bunch of erroneous, negative, Big Brother–type messages from the media” — explicitly referring to the pervasive state surveillance in the book 1984.

“[I]f all the people see in the movies or in pop culture are negative and wrong antagonistic portrayals, they’re not gonna cooperate.”

Notably, one of the most prominent recent films that was critical of the FBI — 2014’s Selma, which portrays the bureau’s intense surveillance of civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. — relied on books, documentaries, and internal FBI documents, and not on consultation with the bureau itself. Director Ava DuVernay, who also rewrote the script, was not available for an interview, but her representative confirmed to BuzzFeed News that she never reached out to the FBI for assistance; neither did screenwriter Paul Webb, his representative said.

One screenwriter’s takeaway from an FBI seminar held at the Writers Guild — that the FBI largely worked with filmmakers because the agency wants to seem friendly and approachable — was repeated by Glick on the podcast. “How does the FBI solve crimes?” she asked. Glick answered her own question: “We solve crimes when people are willing to talk to an agent when he knocks on their door, and if all the people see in the movies or in pop culture are negative and wrong antagonistic portrayals, they’re not gonna cooperate. Our mission is to build the trust of the American people so that they can help us solve our operational mission.” ●

Ariane Lange is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Ariane Lange at

Jason Leopold is a senior investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in LA. Recipient: IRE 2016 FOI award; Newseum Institute National Freedom of Information Hall of Fame. PGP fingerprint 46DB 0712 284B 8C6E 40FF 7A1B D3CD 5720 694B 16F0. Contact this reporter at

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People Criticized Sean Spicer's Appearance At The Emmys

In his capacity as White House press secretary, Spicer said in January, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, PERIOD, both in person and around the globe.”

At the Emmys, during Colbert’s monologue, Spicer came out onstage with a mobile podium reminiscent of the one Melissa McCarthy used in her impersonation of him on Saturday Night Live and said, “This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, PERIOD, both in person and around the world.”

Roger Ailes Was Memorialized At The Emmys And People Were Angry

One woman told The Cut that Ailes engaged in “psychological torture” of her for more than 20 years, pressuring her into performing oral sex on him, among disturbing allegations.

New York Magazine reported that Ailes told one of his anchors, Gretchen Carlson, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago, and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.”

And in an interview with the magazine, another former television producer recalled Ailes telling her, “If you want to make it in New York City in the TV business, you’re going to have to fuck me, and you’re going to do that with anyone I tell you to.”

How Many Women Directed These Emmy-Nominated Series?

Out of 221 episodes, 60 were directed by women. That is 27%. Again, women are half of the people in the world.

These 19 shows had 221 episodes between them. There were 19 series nominated and only two — Handmaid’s Tale and Feud — hired women to direct 50% or more of their episodes, but they were all white women. Of the individual female directors counted, less than a third were women of color.

Stranger Things, The Crown, and Big Little Lies hired only male directors.

How Realistic Is “Okja”?

So when the movie really pulls back the curtain and reveals THE TRUTH about super pigs, I had to ask: Is this pig even realistic?

And then, for my sake and yours, I called a scientist.

Discovery #4: The pig mating scene is also unrealistic, because most commercial pig reproduction happens through artificial insemination.

But apparently female pigs are often placed near male pigs because this prompts fertility. Nature!

Teen Girls Tried To Stop Austin Jones In 2015

Singer and YouTube star Austin Jones was arrested and charged this June for procuring pornographic videos from two 14-year-olds. The criminal complaint lists interactions he had with one girl in the summer of 2016 and another girl just last month; the court documents say, for instance, that in August 2016, Jones told one girl she was “so lucky” to be talking to him and that she should send him nude images to “prove” she was his biggest fan. At a hearing on June 14, a judge ordered the 24-year-old entertainer to stay offline.

Allegations of this nature should be shocking. But for a group of teen girls on the internet, the conversations described in court documents sound all too familiar.

Two years ago, in May 2015, several young women began publishing personal accounts on social media alleging that Jones, known for his a cappella covers of pop songs, had used his fame to solicit sexually suggestive videos from his fans. Unlike the current case, these were not pornographic videos, but the girls did say that he asked them to twerk for him in private messages, and that the older, more powerful man had made them uneasy, sometimes pressuring them into these performances.

The girls came forward because they wanted Jones “exposed,” as several put it to BuzzFeed News. And, at that time, they wanted him off the Vans Warped Tour, the traveling all-ages rock festival, which featured Jones in the summer lineup. These girls’ stories exploded within the YouTube community — and yet the allegations didn’t stick. Although he was quickly removed from the 2015 Grow Wild Tour lineup midway through the tour and, weeks later, booted from Warped Tour before his dates began, his career rebounded: When Jones was arrested this month, he was at an airport returning from a European tour; he had half a million subscribers on YouTube.

The girls said in 2015 that the singer had been inappropriate with them. Before posting about her experience, then–14-year-old Ashley decided that “he shouldn’t be able to have a huge following because it’s just easier for him to take advantage.” A mystified Chicago girl, who also said Jones requested that she twerk for him, told BuzzFeed News, “All that happened was he got kicked off Warped Tour and he went to therapy.” (Jones’ attorney did not respond to a request for comment on a detailed summary of this story.)

Two years ago, the girl from Chicago posted a video she’d gotten when she was 14 or 15 of Jones saying it was a good idea for them to stop talking because he was “horny”: “I’m horny, like, all the time, so if we just keep talking, I’m probably gonna ask for videos on, like, a daily basis,” he said in the clip. “So, it’s just, like, easier this way. Yeah. Sorry I’m a guy.” A third girl, Ashlee, who said the YouTuber asked her for twerking videos when she was 15, believed that if Jones had faced greater consequences in 2015, “It would have saved a lot of girls from being in that situation of ‘proving’ that they’re his biggest fan.”

The scandal first began in a haze of internet rumors. Damon Fizzy, a YouTuber who was on the Warped Tour lineup with Jones that year, told BuzzFeed News, “The stories were out there, but they were being ignored.” He remembered seeing comments online about strange interactions girls said they’d had with Jones, although he couldn’t remember exactly where he first read them. “I saw that he was manipulating underage girls for his own sexual gain,” he said, and he felt he had to do something. “I know the demographic of Warped Tour: It’s all underage girls.”

Fizzy told Jones’ manager at the time — another YouTuber named BryanStars — that Jones was asking his young fans for twerking videos; Jones recalled that BryanStars changed the subject. (BryanStars did not respond to a request for an interview.) Fizzy said he sent an email to Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman on May 8 that was full of stories he’d collected from young women online. He recalled Lyman saying he would look into it.

Things escalated quickly because on May 7, 2015, the day before Fizzy emailed Lyman, a bizarre video appeared on Twitter. It was posted by a girl named Star, who got the video from Ashley, who said she got the video from Jones about a year prior, when she was just 13. The footage shows Jones leaning into the camera smiling and saying, “Hey, cutie. So this is like, the first basic twerk move.” He laughs, and says gently, “This is what you do.” He turns around, demonstrating as he continues: “You stand with your legs apart, and bend your legs, and then you arch your back, and you unarch it. You do it faster. So it’s like this.” He twerks directly into the camera, and then in profile. He turns to face to the camera again, and says with a shy laugh, “Now it’s your turn.”

Star and Ashley

The May 7 tweet.

The tweet went viral, and Tiff — another girl who knew Jones in passing — saw it. “I contacted [Star] asking about how she obtained the video, etc. I was then directed to Ashley, who I spoke to, and we both decided we were going to try to get Austin kicked off his tours,” she said. Ashley said, “When I exposed him with the help of [Tiff], so many girls” — at least 20 — “came forward and had similar stories.”

“I thought Ashley was the only victim,” the original poster, Star, told BuzzFeed News. She was surprised when the tweet was met by a chorus of “me too.”

Fizzy also saw Ashley’s video the same day Star posted it. In response, he tweeted, “I do not feel comfortable touring with this dude.” Later that night, he tweeted about feeling “anxious,” and then he said, “Do what’s right.” The next day, “Why can’t people just be good people? Is it really that hard?”

And then on May 9, the day after contacting Lyman, Fizzy posted a tweet that went viral: “Austin Jones excuse for asking 13 year old girls for videos of them shaking their asses is because he found it funny…great excuse man!” A followup: “I feel like it is my responsibility to help protect people. That kind of behavior SHOULD NOT be tolerated.”

“If he was asking for these videos from the two of us, we knew he would have been asking others.”

Many other girls saw Fizzy’s tweets about Jones over the next few days, including Ashlee. She said she had tweeted about Jones’ twerking requests a year prior, in 2014, but he pressured her and her friend to delete their warnings; she said that, in private messages, Jones told them they were making his “anxiety and depression worse.” She and her friend had previously tried to publish their accounts after they realized he had asked both of them for videos, “because we knew we were not the only ones anymore. If he was asking for these videos from the two of us, we knew he would have been asking others.” After Fizzy had a hand in making these new allegations against Jones go viral, “My friend and I both posted our stories about Austin to show more proof of how disgusting he is,” Ashlee told BuzzFeed News. This time, with greater numbers and louder allies on her side, Ashlee tweeted her screenshots on May 10.

The day before, Tiff had sent Lyman a detailed email that contained links to tweets full of allegations and screenshots that seemed to show Jones asking for twerking videos from young fans. Tiff told Lyman that Jones “was attempting to solicit questionable videos and photos from minors while he was of legal age … many brave girls have began tweeting their experiences with Austin and expressed concern.” He had no place on the tour, she continued.

According to screenshots Tiff sent to BuzzFeed News, Lyman asked her, “[Tiff] do you have copies of the police reports? I have not been able to find them.” Then he sent her a second email: “You seen [sic] like a very caring person and are speaking with them. Please encourage them to go to their parents and police. It is the right thing to do, and being a ‘vine star,’ should not deter them.” Lyman also asked multiple people on Twitter for the “police reports.” The girls BuzzFeed News spoke with did not go to the police. (Notably, it’s unclear what the girls would have reported, since no one said Jones was soliciting — or sending — nude images, unlike the allegations in court documents from this month.)

BuzzFeed News could not find a contemporaneous announcement stating when Jones was kicked off Warped Tour, but a spokesperson for the tour said Jones was informed he was removed from the lineup on May 29, 2015 — at least 21 days after Lyman was informed of the controversy. Before making his final decision, Lyman had decried a “Salem witch hunt mentality” in the Alternative Press on May 11.

In an email to BuzzFeed News, Lyman wrote that the Warped Tour investigation entailed “phone calls, yes people still make them. Talked to a lot [of] people which might have taken those 2 [sic] weeks. … Kinda like the comey, Russia investigation but we did it a whole lot quicker.” He later added that he “it all comes down to due process. … Sometimes it takes time but usually comes to the right end.”

For Ashley, it was disappointing that it took so long to get Jones off Warped Tour. “People didn’t take it seriously enough back then,” she said. She read through the court documents published this month; she said she was horrified by the parallels between what Jones allegedly told the victims and what he told her when she was 13. After Ashley declined to send him a twerking video when he asked for one, “he told me that I was lucky to be even talking to him, similar to what he said in the police report … it’s crazy and disgusting.” (According to the documents, Jones exclaimed last summer to a 14-year-old girl online, “I bet you had NO IDEA when you met me that just 1 day later you’d get to show me your butthole how special do you feel?!”)

The first time around, Ashley said, “So many people defended him saying, ‘It’s just a dance! This isn’t a big deal.’” The sexual nature of these exchanges was minimized; there was no particular emphasis, for example, on the the evidence that he’d allegedly told a young girl, “Your body is nice. I like it.” Indeed, after the stories were made public, Jones himself emphasized multiple times that “nothing ever went further than twerking videos” and that he wrongly thought these conversations were “just fun and goofy.” For the most part, he didn’t deny the girls’ stories: He reframed them as youthful “mistakes.”

On June 29, 2015, Jones posted a video called “Setting The Record Straight.” In it, he talks for nearly 17 minutes — about how sorry he is; about how all the inappropriate messages happened in the past; about his sister’s death when he was a small child; about his absentee father’s death when he was 16; about his house burning down; about how, after the allegations emerged, he became suicidal. He repeatedly says he wasn’t trying to excuse his actions, but to explain that he asked underage girls to twerk for him because of “depression piling up into me searching for attention.”

In the video, Jones never refers directly to the sexual aspect of his requests. In this video — designed for a wider audience — he presented himself as a man reborn. “I don’t know how to show you guys that, but I think with time, you’ll see,” he said. “You’ll see that I’m better now.”

Some of the girls found “Setting The Record Straight” compelling, to a degree: the Chicago girl said the controversy “kind of died down after Austin pulled the I-almost-committed-suicide-about-it. … I stopped tweeting because I was like, Okay, I don’t want to be the cause of that.”

It seems the singer who now could face 15 to 30 years in prison for each count of child pornography was believed at the time, which is haunting to one girl who came forward in 2015. “It’s just so frustrating, how all of us presented pretty clear evidence that what he was doing was at least predatory,” said Taylor, who posted a video that described her experience with Jones. Taylor said that, once Jones emerged from the controversy effectively unscathed, she had to stop thinking about him: It was too upsetting to see his rise. “He continued to book national tours. … He was making money off the girls he was targeting. Just thinking about it — I cannot.”

Ariane Lange is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Ariane Lange at

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