The federal trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, who is charged with assisting accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, opened on Nov. 29 with extensive media coverage. But social media posts falsely claim the judge issued a “gag order” and the media is “barred from courtroom.” The judge’s order allows “substantial public and press access at the Courthouse.”
The federal trial for Ghislaine Maxwell, an associate of accused sex trafficker Jeffery Epstein, started on Nov. 29 in New York City and is expected to last six weeks.
Maxwell was arrested in July 2020 and charged with “enticing a minor to travel to engage in criminal sexual activity, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity” and conspiracy and perjury.
As we’ve reported, there have been many falsehoods spread on social media surrounding Maxwell and Epstein. In advance of Maxwell’s trial, some posts have falsely claimed a gag order was issued by the judge hearing the case and that the media is being prevented from covering the proceedings.
“BREAKING: ‘Judge In Ghislaine Maxwell Trial Issues Media-Wide Gag Order: All Press & Spectators Barred From Courtroom,’” read a tweet posted by UFC fighter Tim Kennedy. “We know who they are protecting and we can’t allow it!”
The tweet has received more than 50,000 likes and 15,000 retweets.
Kennedy shared the same message on Instagram, posting a cropped image that read, “THIS TRIAL WON’T BE LIVE STREAMED.” The post also said: “The trial and every piece of evidence should be reported on by the press.”
Another Twitter user claimed, “So Wednesday Biden appoints Judge Alison Nathan to NY 2nd Circuit Court, and today she issues a Media Wide Gag order on the Ghislaine Maxwell Trial. Because of course. We can’t have the normals finding out any inconvenient details during testimony.”
Contrary to the social media claims, a gag order has not been issued, and the press — as well as Maxwell’s family and alleged victims — are allowed to attend the trial, in accordance with federal rules and an order issued by the presiding judge, Alison J. Nathan.
The image Kennedy shared — which reads “THIS TRIAL WON’T BE LIVE STREAMED” — comes from a tweet by the U.K. media outlet The Lotus Eaters with a link to a video titled, “The Trial of Ghislaine Maxwell is About to Begin.”
Although the video commentators make no mention of a gag order, they list several points about the case they find suspicious, including the fact that cameras aren’t allowed in the courtroom.
But Nathan’s order clearly states that Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 53 prohibit “the broadcasting of federal judicial criminal proceedings from the Courtroom.” That rule does not allow photography in the courtroom, either.
So, it is true that the trial “won’t be live streamed.” But that’s not unusual and it doesn’t mean the press is “barred” from the courtroom.
Nathan’s order also says: “However, as indicated below, consistent with the District’s COVID-19 protocols, the Court will facilitate substantial public and press access at the Courthouse.”
“First, consistent with the District’s COVID-19 distancing requirements, a number of pool reporters and members of the public will be permitted in the courtroom proper as managed by the District’s Executive Office. Second, press will also be able to access the trial in dedicated overflow courtrooms for the press.”
The order also states that members of the public can watch Maxwell’s trial through video and audio feeds in the overflow courtrooms in the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse.
Fichera, Angelo. “False Claim Targets Gates Using Epstein Connection.” FactCheck.org. 6 May 2021.
Fichera, Angelo. “Misinformation Flows Following Epstein’s Death.” FactCheck.org. Updated 30 Aug 2019.
Ghildial, Pratiksha. “Ghislaine Maxwell accused of preying on young girls for Epstein to abuse.” BBC. 29 Nov 2021.
Jones, Brea. “Posts Misidentify Man Shown in Photo with Ghislaine Maxwell.” FactCheck.org. 24 Nov 2021.
Kennedy, Tim (@TimKennedyMMA). “BREAKING: ‘Judge In Ghislaine Maxwell Trial Issues Media-Wide Gag Order: All Press & Spectators Barred From Courtroom.’ We know who they are protecting and we can’t allow it!” Twitter. 28 Nov 2021.
“Live Updates: First Witness in Ghislaine Maxwell Trial Is One of Epstein’s Pilots.” New York Times. Updated 29 Nov 2021.
The Lotus Eaters. “The Trial of Ghislaine Maxwell is About to Begin.” Rumble.com. 27 Nov 2021.
United States v. Maxwell. No. 020-CR-330. U.S. District Court, S.D. New York. 24 Nov 2021.
This article was written by Brea Jones during her time as an NABJ/Facebook Fact-Checking Fellow at the University of Pennslyvania’s publication Factcheck.org.