Fox broadcaster Erin Andrews took the stand today in the trial over her civil suit against the Nashville hotel where she was videotaped undressing through her hotel room peephole. In one of the most frightening bits of testimony in a case full of them, Andrews explained how ESPN—her employer at the time—forced her to discuss the issue on national television, against her will, before she was allowed to return to her broadcasting duties.
On July 16, 2009, video of the naked Andrews was posted to the website NSFW POA. Nearly three months later, on October 2, 2009, Michael David Barrett was arrested for creating the video. Barrett eventually pleaded guilty to interstate stalking, and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
Fighting unsuccessfully to hold back tears as she answered questions from her lawyer today, Andrews testified that “everybody” thought she orchestrated the video as a publicity stunt: “Probably for like three months, everybody thought it was a publicity stunt. The front page of the New York Post said ‘ESPN Scandal.’ To Fox News and CBS, everybody put up that I was doing it for publicity and attention, and that ripped me apart.”
Before Barrett was arrested, that “everybody” apparently included her employer ESPN, who didn’t stand fully behind her and forced her to re-live the trauma in front of millions, according to her testimony. (An ESPN spokesperson “respectfully” declined comment.)
Q: So did ESPN require that you give an interview?
Yes. Because there wasn’t an arrest, because we didn’t know where this happened, my bosses at ESPN told me, “before you go back on air for college football we need you to give a sit-down interview.” And that was the only way I was going to be allowed back.
Q: Now, you did have the right to select who that interview would be done by, right?
I did. They were highly recommending it be GMA [Good Morning America], because ESPN and ABC are the same, and they wanted it on GMA. But like my dad had said the other day, I didn’t want it to be a two second thing where it’s like, “Was this a scandal, or, was it not?” No, this is my life, and I feel terrible about myself, and we want to figure out how this happened. So, I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to be a part of it, and I just said, you know what, “I know because she’s very public about it, Oprah is a crime victim.” I talked to her producers, I told her I didn’t want to do it. But this was the only way I was going to be put back on air, so we went to the Oprah show.
In an interview that was taped in mid-August 2009 and aired on September 11, Andrews sat down with Oprah for an extensive interview. She testified that the Oprah interview was so stressful that she broke out into a rash while taping it, but also that Oprah managed to make her feel at least a little bit at ease:
We went, I wanted nothing to do with it. I was in the office, or her green room, and I was sitting there and I was just bawling at my parents. “It’s Oprah Winfrey, how do you not want to see her?” And I was just freaking out, and I just said “I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do this. I just want to go back to college football. I don’t want to talk about what happened to me, why can’t I just be normal? Like, why can’t I go back?”
I think her producer had heard me crying, and all of a sudden in walked Oprah, in her slippers, and her butterfly eyelashes. I didn’t have time to get up out of the chair, and she walked over to me, and I was hysterical. And she said, “I’ve got you, you’re safe here. I’ll take care of you.” And I did the interview.
Having, by her account, successfully strong-armed a crime victim into doing something she didn’t want to do in the service of reassuring people that she actually was a victim, ESPN eventually allowed her to go back to work.