Getty Images via The New York Post

Disclaimer: This article contains explicit subject matter and language.

Newly unsealed documents in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal have drawn large amounts of media and dialogue across the spectrum.

A batch of documents unsealed on January 8 showed an email conversation from 2016 between Epstein victim Sarah Ransome and a journalist at The New York Post (Lean Right bias), in which Ransome claimed she possessed sex tapes of prominent figures like former President Bill Clinton, billionaire Richard Branson, and Prince Andrew.

Many outlets covered the story, but due to different contextual framings, ambiguous paraphrases, and lack of linking to primary sources, among other things, coverage was often confusing and sometimes included misinformation.

There are several key quotes and pieces of context that media outlets across the spectrum selectively pulled from, sometimes clouding the picture of what happened.

2016: Ransome Corresponds with The New York Post

In 2016, Ransome corresponded with Maureen Callahan of The New York Post via email, telling her that Jeffrey Epstein had filmed sex tapes of a friend of hers with the aforementioned elites. No article was published in The New York Post as a direct result of this exchange.

In the exchange, Ransome wrote:

When my friend had sexual intercourse with Clinton, Prince Andrew and Richard Branson, sex tapes were in fact filmed on each separate occasion by Jeffery. Thank God she managed to get a hold of some footage of the filmed sex tapes, which clearly identify the faces of Clinton, Prince Andrew and Branson having sexual intercourse with her. Frustratingly enough Epstein was not seen in any of the footage but he was clever like that!

After two hours of trying to convince my friend to come forward with me, I eventually managed to persuade her to send me some of the video footage which she kept, implicating all three all men mentioned above. I personally can confirm that I have, with my own two eyes, seen the evidence of these sexual acts, which clearly identifies Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, Richard Branson having sexual intercourse with my friend. I will be more then willing to swear under oath and testify in court over these sex tapes. It will break your heart into a million tiny pieces Maureen when you watch this footage, and I know that what I watched yesterday, will haunt me for the rest of my life!

Unfortunately, I cannot send you the footage without her consent due to massive consequences to her safety but I can confirm that I do have footage in my possession. I have backed up the footage on several USB sticks and have securely sent them to various different locations throughout Europe with only one other person close to me, knowing where their locations are, just in case anything happens to me before the footage is released.

On Thursday, October 13, Callahan told Ransome she would call her the following week, presumably to hear her story and consider publishing a piece about it. But sometime between then and October 21, Ransome became upset with Callahan. “You've just lost your exclusive and I AM SUPER F***ED OFF NOW!!!!,” she wrote, claiming she would bring down “Epstein and his bunch of f*** wit cronies” herself. Ransome said she had contacted a Russian newspaper and would have the photos and video footage in her possession released by Wikileaks in the coming days.

Two days later, on October 23, Ransome emailed Callahan for what appears to be the final time, changing her tone a bit, and saying she didn’t feel safe going public with her story. Ransome wrote to Callahan:

I have spoken to my family at some length this morning and I would like to retract everything I have said to you and walk away from this.

I shouldn't have contacted you and I'm sorry I wasted your time. It's not worth coming forward and I will never be heard anyhow and only bad things will happen as a consequence of me going public and I know this to be true. This will just create pain for my family and I and they have already helped me pick up the pieces once before and I can't ask them to do that again. 

I'm disappointed that you have made little contact or didn't do anything to help me this week as it been a little terrifying for Peter and myself but I understand your stance and we managed to get through it. Prehaps if I was in your position I would have done the same?

In these emails, Ransome also offered a scathing account of former President Donald Trump, based on the account of a woman or girl she knew, named Jen.

She confided in me about her casual “friendship" with Donald. Mr Trump definitely seemed to have a thing for her and she told me how he kept going on about how he liked her "pert nipples”.

Donald Trump liked flicking and sucking her nipples until they were raw. One evening when we were showering together she showed me her nipples. They looked incredibly painful as they were red and swollen and I remember wincing when I looked at them. I also know she had sexual relations with Trump at Jeffery’s NY mansion on regular occasions as I once met Jen for coffee, just before she was going to meet Trump and Epstein together at his mansion.

It’s important to note that in this email exchange, Ransome referred to Trump as a “paedophile” (the British spelling of “pedophile”), but never claimed to have video footage of him. The omission of this distinction in media coverage has been a point of confusion in media coverage and social media dialogue on the release of this batch of documents.

Ransome on Epstein's island in 2006 (U.S. District Court Southern District of New York)

2019: Ransome Speaks to The New Yorker

In 2019, The New Yorker (Left bias) published a nearly 14,000-word piece titled “Alan Dershowitz, Devil’s Advocate.” Near the very end of the article, the reporter, Connie Bruck, said she “recently spoke with Ransome,” who she described as “voluble.”

One key passage of Bruck’s 2019 report was relied upon heavily in the recent media cycle surrounding the January 8 document release:

Ransome was another imperfect witness. In the fall of 2016, she had suggested to the New York Post that she had sex tapes of half a dozen prominent people, including Bill Clinton and Donald Trump—but couldn’t provide the tapes when asked. (Ransome told me that she had invented the tapes to draw attention to Epstein’s behavior, and to make him believe that she had “evidence that would come out if he harmed me.”) 

In her reporting, Bruck claimed Ransome told Callahan that she had a sex tape of Donald Trump, however, the January 8 release of the emails fails to show this. 

This was a key point of confusion for many media outlets, including The New York Post itself, which ran a headline that claimed Ransome told The Post Epstein had a sex tap of Trump; the headline reads: “Epstein accuser claims pedophile had sex tapes of Trump, Clinton, Prince Andrew and Richard Branson: new docs.” Though Ransome accused Trump of being a sexual predator, the newly released documents do not say anything about footage of him.

USA Today (Lean Left bias) offered a bit of context that was similarly confusing, writing, “Ransome has separately claimed to also possess a Trump sex tape, according to the New Yorker,” which is true. However, while Bruck and The New Yorker may have been correct in relaying what Ransome told them in 2019, the new documents do not show that Ransome told The New York Post she possessed a Trump sex tape.

The New Yorker’s Wording: Ransome “Invented the tapes”

Another detail a lot of recent media coverage hinged on was Bruck’s report that Ransome said she “invented the tapes to draw attention to Epstein’s behavior.” Some outlets, like ABC News (Lean Left bias), USA Today, and Fox News (Right bias) took liberty with their description of this detail, saying that Ransome fabricated the “claims” that she possessed these sex tapes.

On the other hand, The New York Post and NewsNation (Center bias) reported The New Yorker’s words directly, not taking into their discretion what “invented the tapes” may mean. 

The Messenger (Center bias) on multiple occasions walked a middle line, not saying the claims were fabricated, but that Ransome told The New Yorker that “the tapes were made up.” The Messenger also said it corresponded with Virgin Group (founded by Richard Branson, whom Ransome claimed to possess a sex tape of) and reported its statement. 

Virgin stated to The Messenger, "We can confirm that Sarah Ransome's claims are baseless and unfounded. Ransome admitted that she had 'invented' the tapes." Virgin’s statement implied that Ransome said she fabricated the claims about the tapes but used The New Yorker’s wording, which said Ransome “‘invented’ the tapes.” The Guardian (Lean Left bias), and others used this statement in their coverage as well.

However, while one could assume this is what Bruck meant, from her wording it’s unclear what “invented the tapes” means. In a nearly 14,000-word essay that is this detailed, it is unclear why Bruck neglected to use a direct quote from Ransome. Furthermore, with word count not appearing to be an issue, it remains unclear why Bruck didn’t clarify her report as “invented the claims about the tapes,” if this is what she meant. This is a major key detail and The New Yorker’s obfuscation of it has driven conflicting media interpretations and reports.

Ransome arriving to a federal court in 2022 (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images via Fox News)

Other Notable Details

The Messenger framed nearly all of its coverage by saying Ransome “recanted” everything she said regarding her allegations against the elites in question. 

The Messenger also avoided saying Ransome possessed sex tapes of the aforementioned elites, and instead wrote around it, saying she “saw” the tapes, or “backed them up” to locations around Europe, but did not acknowledge that she once claimed to physically possess the tapes. Other outlets like Fox News and USA Today also steered clear of saying Ransome possessed the tapes and instead said she saw them or knew of their existence.

ABC News included a piece of context that most outlets didn’t, saying these documents were unsealed in 2022, but with the names of the accused men redacted.

The documents include several emails between Ransome and Callahan, however, it does appear there may be some parts of the communications missing. For instance, the part where Ransome makes claims about Clinton, Prince Andrew, and Richard Branson begins with an orphaned phrase, “whilst he spanked his penis on her bottom.” 

Other emails pasted into the document don’t always include greetings or signatures, meaning there could be more communications that were not included in the documents. This is key context because it means Ransome’s alleged claim to The New Yorker in 2019 that she told The New York Post she possessed a Donald Trump sex tape may not necessarily be false, even though the emails don’t show this as part of the correspondence.

The documents also do not indicate if Callahan did in fact speak with Ransome on the phone, or whether other parts of the email conversation were not included.


While the case of Sarah Ransome and the sex tapes she purportedly possessed, or may still possess, often rely on hearsay and conversations with various journalists, the story has yielded confusing phrasings and misinformation as a result of its difficult-to-follow nature.

AllSides did not find coverage from any mainstream outlet that linked to the documents themselves, making it difficult for readers to see for themselves what the January 8 documents actually show. 

For stories of this nature, it is crucial to supplement the reading of news coverage with the primary source it is based upon, in order to determine which facts could be sources of media bias or misleading media narratives.

Andy Gorel is a News Editor and Bias Analyst at AllSides. He has a Center bias.

This blog was reviewed by Joseph Ratliff, AllSides Content Designer (Lean Left bias), Julie Mastrine, Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings (Lean Right bias), and Malayna Bizier, Content Intern (Right Bias).