In response to three recent FITSNews articles about the Mallory Beach case and the legal battle over how a reporter came to be in possession of confidential court materials — including macabre evidence photos — the reporter in question issued a statement this week to our founding editor Will Folks further denying the allegations made against her.
Vicky Ward, whose documentary series on the Murdaugh family is at the center of the latest flare-up in the Beach case, wants you to know the following:
“As I’ve already stated, I’ve never bought any materials for use in a proposed documentary about the Murdaughs.
Nor have I ever met, or spoken to, Greg Parker or his lawyers. Nor did I publish, promote, or create the video, that was wrongly described as a ‘trailer’ and which contained very sensitive photographic images as reported by Fitsnews.
The video at issue was created and intended for internal use by the production company I am working with. It was for internal development purposes only and supposed to have been seen by approximately ten people. I was as horrified as everyone else to learn that Fitsnews had published it. Had the journalist there bothered to contact me she would have discovered that the video was publicly accessible entirely by error. Unfortunately, an outside contractor at the production company, inadvertently uploaded the internal video to an open (as opposed to private) Vimeo site. As soon as this was discovered (unfortunately, after Fitsnews published it and not before) immediate action was taken to remove access to the video.
I am appalled by Fitsnews’ publication of the video. A simple phone call would have ensured that the video, uploaded in error, completely without my knowledge or involvement, was taken down. I am deeply upset for the Beach family. As with all of my investigative reporting activities, I am devoted to finding and telling the truth. Any suggestion that I would ever seek to exploit a tragedy is utterly false and disgusting.”
That is the entirety of her statement, which she requested we print in full.
You can read the articles she takes issue with here, here and here.
To be very clear, at no point did FITSNews publish this video, as Ward states.
When we first wrote about a motion in the Beach case related to Ward’s project, we provided a link to the video. This video had been posted at least two weeks prior on Vimeo — a public platform. We linked to the video to show readers that salacious images and private interviews that Ward had earlier been accused of obtaining illegally actually did, in fact, appear in her documentary project.
Ward is named as a party in a lawsuit filed earlier this month in Hampton County Courthouse.
She is accused of civil conspiracy for her alleged role in the acquisition of the confidential materials. Her co-defendants in the case are the CEO of Parker’s Kitchen convenience stores, Gregory M. Parker, Parker’s attorney Jason D’Cruz, general counsel for Parker’s Corporation Blake Greco, private investigators Max Fratoddi and Henry Rosado, as well as Private Investigation Services Group of Bluffton.
‘The Murdaugh Mysteries’
The video in question, which is promoting “The Murdaugh Mysteries” documentary series, was first brought to FITSNews’ attention when it was mentioned in a motion made in the 2019 Beach case, accusing Parker’s attorneys of facilitating the sale of a video owned by the Beach family that apparently features interviews with members of the family and was used during mediation proceedings in the case.
The motion also accused Parker’s attorneys of leaking horrific evidence photos taken when Beach’s body was found in a saltwater creek a week after she went missing.
As a reminder, Beach, 19, was killed in February 2019 when a boat allegedly driven by a grossly intoxicated Paul Murdaugh, also 19 at the time, crashed into a bridge piling in Beaufort County. Murdaugh was intoxicated at the time of the crash and faced three felony counts of Boating Under the Influence at the time of his murder in June 2021.
The three-minute trailer that Ward is referring to in her statement was available to the public for at least two weeks prior to FITSNews writing about its existence. A link to the video was provided from the story.
The video was taken down from Vimeo shortly after we published our story.
Again, contrary to Ward’s statement, FITSNews never published the video.
The words “trailer” or “sizzle reel” are words that most appropriately describe videos containing a substantial preview of what a show or movie is about — as this one did — in an attempt to sell it to an audience, whoever that audience may be.
These are also the correct words to use when describing three-minute videos that include dramatic voice overs, clips of interviews, snippets of 9-1-1 calls, climactic music and interstitial claims such as “exclusive access to dozens of never-before-seen videos.”
As this one did.
Though Ward attempts to separate herself from the video, saying she didn’t “publish, promote or create” it, the video advertises itself as being “from” her — as well as the producers at BlackFin and People Magazine.
She has also made it known across the Lowcountry that this is her project.
Beach attorney Mark Tinsley says Ward told him around Sept. 14, 2021, that she had “purchased portions of what she called ‘the Beach case file’ and that the same came from ‘Parker and his law firm’ of ‘Baker Hostetler‘ but that she felt ‘they were slimy,’ they ‘had an agenda’ and that she ‘has nothing to do with them’ other than she received ‘their stuff.’”
From the beginning, Ward has repeatedly denied any notion that she purchased materials in her reporting on the Murdaughs.
Tinsley subpoenaed Ward in late September.
In her refusal to be deposed, Ward submitted a sworn affidavit on Oct. 1 saying she has no connections to South Carolina and no future business to conduct here as the vast majority of her remaining work on this documentary would be conducted from her office in New York City.
Sources have told FITSNews that Ward was in town again in November, conducting additional interviews and even telling people to keep her presence in the state quiet.
‘Entirely By Error’
In early September, shortly after Alex Murdaugh was involved in a bizarre (and alleged) suicide-for-hire scheme, FITSNews founding editor Will Folks wrote about the “Hollywood feeding frenzy” that was already occurring.
“The floodgates are already opening,” Folks wrote. “Just this week, Deadline reported on what would appear to be the first of many planned documentary forays into the Murdaugh saga … a ‘multi-part doc series for HBO Max.’
‘The series will investigate the mysterious, still-unraveling events surrounding the murders of a mother and son from a prominent family of lawyers in small-town South Carolina,’ Deadline reported, touting the Murdaughs as ‘a legal dynasty in the area.’
Several other similarly-spun ventures are in the works … with producers jockeying to ‘get there firstest with the mostest,’ per the local parlance. And again, we still don’t even know the half of this story.“
Nothing about this situation has changed.
While mistakes happen — and it is highly possible the video’s accessibility was an accident, as Ward said — it’s also potentially as likely the video was being floated publicly in at attempt to stake out turf among the multiple projects about the Murdaughs that are currently in production.
The video is narratively structured in a way to create intrigue and an emotional reaction from viewers.
From what we’ve seen firsthand at FITSNews, the competition to be “firstest and mostest” is getting more and more cut-throat, with production companies working overtime to harness on-camera “characters” (ie., real people who are affected by this and who have to live here after the spotlight fades) and add them to their interview lineups exclusively, even barring them from appearing in any other project.
Even if the video was published online by error, it is not just the posting of it that is at issue.
Lawyers from across the state are closely watching the Ward case because of the allegation that Ward was able to obtain these confidential materials — which this video proves she has — in some way from attorneys.
Again, Ward and Parker’s strongly deny this ever occurred.
So how did those materials end up in the trailer?
If the materials were being used in a way to shine a light on wrongdoing or corruption and had been leaked to Ward in an attempt to unmask a few villains, her argument that she’s protected by South Carolina’s journalist “shield law” would make more sense to me.
But it appears these video clips and photos were used solely as punctuation and decoration.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Liz Farrell is the new executive editor at FITSNews. She was named 2018’s top columnist in the state by South Carolina Press Association and is back after taking a nearly two-year break from corporate journalism to reclaim her soul. Email her at email@example.com or tweet her @ElizFarrell.
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