Footprints in the Snow or Wild Goose Chase? ABC 20/20’s reporting on Grazzini-Rucki case raises questions about their journalistic integrity (Public Domain Photo: http://www.photos-public-domain.com)
“The thing that’s been inhibiting long-form investigative reporting is fear – fear of being sued, of being unpopular, of being criticized by very powerful groups...” – Eric Schlosser, investigative journalist
As the end of 2016 approaches, and a new year begins, ABC 20/20 makes one last desperate attempt to redeem themselves after host Elizabeth Vargas, and producer Sean Dooley were caught suppressing evidence of abuse in the Grazzini-Rucki case, and portraying the identified abuser, David Rucki, in a sympathetic light at the expense of the true victims – ex-wife, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, and children.
Elizabeth Vargas, journalist and anchor, ABC 20/20
Sean Dooley, Producer, ABC 20/20 (Twitter)
ABC 20/20 is scheduled to re-broadcast it’s episode about the Grazzini-Rucki case, “Footprints in the Snow” (originally aired 4/8/2016) to include another interview with David Rucki, and to include updated information on the criminal trial of Sandra. Can we trust the reporting of the Grazzini-Rucki case by ABC 20/20 a second time around with so many errors in the original version of the story?
Let’s examine some additional information that may offer some clues about ABC 20/20, Vargas and Dooley in their reporting of the Grazzini-Rucki case…
#1 Making a Comeback
After Vargas hit rock bottom in her struggle with alcoholism, she needed a comeback to revive her career, and her tarnished reputation. The Grazzini-Rucki story was just that for her.
In January 2014, Vargas was forced to go public with her alcoholism after it was leaked to press. That same year, her husband asked for a divorce, without informing her prior to filing. ABC also put Vargas on notice to stay sober or lose her job. In all, Vargas had entered rehab on 3 separate occasions.
A revealing article by People magazine, published just prior to “Footprints in the Snow” describes Vargas’ struggle with alcohol and includes a statement suggesting that 20/20 had given her “another chance”. Vargas said to People, “I am really lucky, and every day I realize that more because I see so many people who don’t have family and friends who stood by them, or employers that gave them another chance..”
What was that “chance”? In the very next paragraph, Vargas tells People about her upcoming story about the Grazzini-Rucki case, “Vargas’ next 20/20 special about a secret network of people who take the law into their own hands and hide children that they believe have been wronged by the family-court system airs April 8 on ABC. ‘I’ve been working on it for months’, she says…‘” Elizabeth Vargas Opens Up About Her Alcoholism (People.com)
The Grazzini-Rucki story has not even been aired yet and Vargas is already spinning the story, and promoting false and misleading information about the the case! It was not until April 8, 2016 that Vargas interviewed Sandra and David for “Footprints”.
Secret network? There is absolutely no evidence to suggest a “secret network” was involved in the Grazzini-Rucki case or involved in the disappearance of the eldest two daughters. In fact, both S.R. and G.R. openly admit they ran away due to safety concerns, and raised numerous abuse allegations prior to running away and after being found 2 years later. During all this time, their story is consistent, and does not change.
In November 2015, after being found living on a therapeutic horse ranch, the teens told a Dakota County social worker they would not run away again, and would even go to counseling if needed, so long as they were kept protected from their father, and allowed to stay in foster care. Once again, S.R. and G.R. were desperately seeking a way to be protected from an abusive, and dysfunctional home life with their father. The sisters asked their mother for help in the same way they asked the social worker for help.
An overwhelming body of evidence shows very clearly that abuse, and the belief they would be in imminent danger, IS what caused S.R. and G.R. to run away. Both teens said very strongly that they are not brainwashed, and have asked that their voices be heard and respected.
False allegations like these raised by 20/20 send the message that if you speak up about abuse you will not be believed. Does the public really want to see another episode of ABC 20/20 promoting this dangerous message? A louder message will be sent by those who simply refuse to watch when “Footprints in the Snow” is re-aired.
No criminal charges have been brought against a “secret network” involved in the Grazzini-Rucki case. There is also zero evidence connecting the Grazzini-Rucki case, and those charged in connection with the disappearance of the two eldest daughters, to any other case of missing children. Vargas is inventing a story, which is simply not supported by fact or evidence. Vargas has had over a year to gather this evidence, and still she comes up empty.
#2 Personal Problems
Vargas publicly admits that she suffers from “crushing” anxiety and insecurity that existed since childhood.
Is it possible that Vargas would go to great lengths to please Sean Dooley, and 20/20 because of her own insecurities, and need for acceptance and approval? Did the need to regain acceptance and revive her career cause Vargas to craft this false narrative about the Grazzini-Rucki case?
Is it a coincidence that in “Footprints in the Snow” that Vargas identifies with David Rucki, a man who has also been accused of having an alcohol problem, and who has hurt his own children due to his drinking, when Vargas publicly admits to the exact same experiences?
Rucki’s criminal history is extensive, and includes being arrested for disorderly conduct back in December 1994. The significance of this arrest is that it shows a long-term problem with alcohol. The police report says Rucki was “heard shouting and screaming“, that he broke a beer bottle and was “asked to leave by staff for his excessive drinking and not having control“. In the personal description of the report police note the following: Appearance – drunk/drugged, Appearance – violent, Speech – foul, Speech – slurred. David Rucki’s Greatest Hits (Criminal Records)
Other records (numerous sources) show that all 5 of the Rucki children also have witnessed their father drunk many occasions. Social service records note that after being discovered living on a horse ranch, S.R. and G.R. were interviewed by a social worker and state that, “both girls talk about dad being drunk at times in the past...” G.R. says her father “would take her to the bar after dance or hockey…” Rucki Social Service/CPS Records
In a February 2013 letter from court appointed therapist Dr. James Gilbertson to Guardian ad Litem Julie Friedrich, allegations the Rucki children raised about their father’s abusive behavior and drinking problem is also noted, “There are two prevailing emotional themes these children speak to: One is fear being in the presence of their father given what they allege to he being an angry and violent person. A second theme is the anger they have over his alleged mistreatment and a corollary of that – a belief that their father is morally flawed i.e. womanizer, drinks too much…” Letter from Dr. James Gilbertson to Julie Friedrich about Rucki children
Why did Vargas fail to confront Rucki with documentation proving abuse and safety concerns did exist? NONE of this documentation is discussed in “Footprints in the Snow”; yet it is publicly available and easily accessible.
Dr. James Gilbertson, PhD
In a parallel story, Elizabeth Vargas has publicly admitted to her own short comings as a mother when she was abusing alcohol and expressed guilt over her behavior. Did Vargas own troubled past cause her to feel sympathy for Rucki, and impair her judgment of the Grazzini-Rucki case?
In one interview, Vargas said, “her son called her nightly glass of wine ‘Mommy’s juice’.” http://people.com/tv/elizabeth-vargas-returns-to-tv-after-rehab-stint/
In another interview, Vargas admits her actions have harmed her children,”Vargas doesn’t believe she ever physically endangered her children because she never drove under the influence or behaved recklessly around them. But she said her drinking may have damaged them emotionally.”
“Because I didn’t physically endanger my children, doesn’t mean I didn’t devastate them or put them in danger emotionally or psychologically,” Vargas said.” https://www.drugrehab.com/2016/09/09/elizabeth-vargas-talks-alcoholism-on-20-20/
Vargas also admits her alcohol problem hurt her children in another interview,”But I couldn’t stop drinking for my children. I don’t know if I will ever forgive myself for hurting my children through drinking — ever.“ http://www.kare11.com/entertainment/entertainment-tonight/elizabeth-vargas-opens-up-about-intense-struggle-with-alcoholism-and-anxiety-i-was-in-a-death-spin/315652736
#4 Professional Benefits
Another factor that may be influencing 20/20’s coverage of the Grazzini-Rucki case is that the news outlet has a close relationship with the therapist who conducted reunification therapy on the runaway Rucki teens.
Rebecca Bailey, Director of “Transitioning Families”, the organization that facilitated the “reunification therapy” on S.R. and G.R., is a frequent guest and commentator on 20/20. So much so that it is mentioned in her own bio: Transitioning Families – Team
For 20/20 and Vargas to admit that evidence suggests abuse may have occurred or even to raise that possibility would directly contradict the work of Bailey in the Grazzini-Rucki case. It also could undermine the cases where 20/20 had used her expertise.
No matter what the motivations or agenda behind ABC 20/20’s outrageous coverage of the Grazzini-Rucki case are, the impact of the reckless disregard for the truth 20/20 has shown in their reporting has a far-reaching impact.
Corrupt judges and unethical family court professionals should be sent the message that when their actions hurt or endanger children and families, and when their actions overstep their professional mandates, they will be held fully accountable and face reprisal under the law. Instead, 20/20, a major news outlet, in their mishandling of the Grazzini-Rucki case, has worked to justify, and thereby embolden, the pervasive corruption and abuses of judicial power happening widely in the family court system across the U.S.
Those parents, professionals and supporters who raise concerns about what is happening in the family court system are courageous whistle blowers who often take great risks in speaking out.
That ABC 20/20 would falsely label those who raise concerns about the failures of the family court system as extremists, and exploit the tragedy of the Grazzini-Rucki case, is not only wrong but defies the purpose of investigative journalism itself.
UPDATE: ABC 20/20 delayed “Footprints in the Snow” and not announced when it will be re-aired. The public has flooded 20/20 with criticism for its biased reporting on the Grazzini-Rucki case, and its suppression of evidence that proves abuse has happened.
Other feedback included first-hand accounts from parents who have been involved in family court proceedings, and shared their own heart-breaking stories.
E-mail complaints, thoughts and feedback about “Footprints in the Snow” to ABC 20/20 at:
firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Read More from Michael Volpe’s investigation into the Grazzini-Rucki case: Did 20/20 Manipulate the Rucki Story to Hide Abuse? (CDN, Michael Volpe)