A Convenient Death
The Mysterious Demise
of Jeffrey Epstein
by Alana Goodman &
The Smart Set
Brockman, Dershowitz, and the “Intellectual Enablers”
What does that got to do with pussy!
Real money managers are single-minded. Their days and nights revolve around markets, currencies, and anything else that might further their—and their clients’—financial interests. That was not Jeffrey Epstein.
Instead, he spent hours every day preying on underage girls and actively sought to cultivate an aura of intellectualism. He liked to think of himself as a man of many sophisticated interests, perhaps to mask his baser activities.
Epstein’s “best pal for decades” was the artist and scientist Stuart Pivar, who is now ninety years old. They became close as fellow board members of the New York Academy of Art, which Pivar founded with Andy Warhol. “I adored him,” Pivar told Mother Jones in an interview. 1
They also had business dealings together. Pivar would act as a kind of consultant for Epstein, offering advice on what sorts of artworks he should purchase and how he might decorate his many homes. Pivar claims, however, that Epstein routinely ignored his advice and took active pleasure in buying fakes. “He was amused to put one over on the world by having fake art,” his friend now recalls.
But Pivar liked him and credits his friend with doing “amazing, incredible, amazing, remarkable things for science” by uniting intellectuals and funding, or mostly promising to fund, many of their ventures. “He brought together scientists for the sake of trying to inculcate some kind of a higher level of scientific thought, even though he himself didn’t know shit from Shinola about science,” Pivar told the magazine. “He never knew nothing about anything.”
Epstein did not let his limited knowledge, nor lack of education, get in the way of gathering some of the smartest minds—on a regular basis. “In his peculiarly inquiring mind, let’s say, like a child who is fresh to the world—because he has no compunction about approaching people—he brought together the most important scientists like Stephen Gould, like Pinker, like all of those people, and myself even, at dinners, and would propose interesting, naive ideas. Steve Pinker describes that,” Pivar recalled.
He would often interrupt these high-level gatherings with some of the strangest—simplest—questions. “Oh, what is gravity?” Epstein would ask, for example. His dinner guests would be flummoxed. “And because he was Jeffrey, why, they would—and as the founder of the feast—they would listen to him and try to give [answers]. He was attempting, somehow, in his ignorant and scientifically naive state, to do something scientifically important,” Pivar recalled.
Perhaps Epstein was amusing himself by mocking academics—just as he mocked the art world by hanging up frauds around his house.
But why were some of the academically praised minds so keen to gather with Epstein, only to be bombarded with questions asking to define gravity? Why were they so willing to sign up to be mocked, and what did the smart set see in this unconversant college dropout that kept them coming back for more? Simple: money. “He had no compunctions about inviting people, and since he had money, they would listen. He would promise money to people and, of course, never come across, by the way. That’s what’s called a dangler. Didn’t he promise $15 million to Harvard? I don’t know if they got two cents,” Pivar said.
In fact, Harvard received more than two cents from Epstein. Between 1998 and 2007, it received at least $8.9 million from the child predator, the university’s president, Lawrence Bacow, admitted in a 2019 statement. A 2003 gift of $6.5 million went to the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, while $2.4 million went elsewhere. Bacow also admitted the university had repaid Epstein’s generosity with an honorific designation as a visiting fellow. “Stephen Kosslyn, a former faculty member and a beneficiary of Epstein’s philanthropy, designated Epstein as a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Psychology in 2005,” Bacow said.
But Pivar is right: Epstein had promised much more philanthropy to the institution. Rarely did his promises match reality.
Epstein had pledged a total of $30 million to the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, which came about when Professor Martin Nowak, a biologist and mathematician, visited Epstein’s private island.
“Jeffrey was the perfect host,” Nowak noted in his book SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed, published in 2011. “I asked a casual question about what it was like to dive in the warm, clear waters around the island. The very next day a scuba diving instructor turned up. When the British cosmologist Stephen Hawking came to visit, and remarked that he had never been underwater, Jeffrey rented a submarine for him.”
The rest of the money never came through. Despite apparently coming up $23.5 million short of his stated pledge to Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Epstein would continue to state falsely that he had given the money.
And when Epstein faced legal problems after the Palm Beach police began looking into his sexual crimes in 2005, Harvard took a principled stand—to keep every last dollar Epstein had given it. “Mr. Epstein’s gift is funding important research using mathematics to study areas such as evolutionary theory, viruses, and cancers,” Harvard said through a spokesman to the school newspaper on September 12, 2006. “The University is not considering returning this gift.”
But at least for Harvard, there does appear to have been a distancing; Bacow now says that the university didn’t accept money from Epstein after his guilty plea. (There’s still evidence that he maintained a relationship with Nowak as late as 2014, however.)
Which for Epstein was no problem. He found a more welcoming environment just down the street in Cambridge at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. An MIT investigation, conducted by lawyers retained by the university to investigate its ties to Epstein and released in 2020, discovered that before his legal problems the institution of higher education accepted one donation of $100,000. But after his 2008 guilty plea, MIT accepted $750,000 distributed in nine donations.
“The post-conviction donations,” the lawyers’ report disclosed, 2 “were all made either to support the work of the Media Lab ($525,000) or Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Systems and Physics Seth Lloyd ($225,000).” An additional sum of money, $60,000, was totally off the books—given from Epstein directly to Professor Lloyd’s personal bank account.
Most damning for MIT was that “members of the Senior Team who approved MIT’s acceptance of Epstein’s donations were aware that Epstein had a criminal record involving sex offenses.” And with that money, Epstein became somewhat of a fixture around campus—visiting at least nine times between 2013 and 2017.
In the report, which was released after Epstein’s 2019 death, MIT lawyers concluded that Epstein was attempting to “launder his reputation by associating himself with reputable individuals and institutions.”
Which at least is partly true. By being seen with professors and by being tied to prestigious universities, Epstein hoped to be seen as an intellectual himself.
But perhaps the most explosive allegations in the report would be that Epstein had secured donations from his wealthy friends for MIT. “In 2014, Epstein claimed to have arranged for Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates to provide an anonymous $2 million donation to the Media Lab. He also claimed that same year to have arranged for a $5 million anonymous donation to the Media Lab from Leon Black, the cofounder of Apollo Global Management,” the report stated.
These allegations were surprising for no other reason than that they signified a closeness between Epstein and Gates, and between Epstein and Leon Black, that both powerful and rich men had strenuously sought to avoid. (Gates, for his part, denied to MIT that Epstein had anything to do with his financial support for the university.)
“Gates and the $51 billion Gates Foundation have championed the well-being of young girls,” The New York Times would note. 3 “By the time Gates and Epstein first met, Epstein had served jail time for soliciting prostitution from a minor and was required to register as a sex offender.”
That first meeting was in 2011, well after he had been publicly shamed by his guilty plea. The relationship would continue, with Gates playing down how close the pair was or denying that there was ever a direct financial relationship.
“His lifestyle is very different and kind of intriguing although it would not work for me,” the Microsoft mogul would tell colleagues in an email in 2011. The pair apparently mulled the idea of a philanthropic partnership, though there’s no proof that they ever went forward with it.
The MIT report also suggested that central to Epstein’s efforts at MIT was John Brockman, the prominent New York literary agent. He had been the one to make some of these connections with professors.
The writer Evgeny Morozov, a client of Brockman’s, has dubbed his agent “Jeffrey Epstein’s Intellectual Enabler” 4 for allegedly opening his Rolodex to the child predator. The head of the MIT Media Lab, who accepted most of the money from Epstein received by the university, Joi Ito, was a client of Brockman’s. Same with Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Marvin Minsky, and a slew of other leading thinkers on science and technology who would over the years socialize directly with Brockman, of course, and his buddy Epstein.
Brockman tried to get Morozov to mingle with Epstein too. “Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire science philanthropist, showed up at this weekend’s event by helicopter (with his beautiful young assistant from Belarus). He’ll be in Cambridge in a couple of weeks [and] asked me who he should meet. You are one of the people I suggested and I told him I would send some links,” the agent wrote to his client.
“He’s the guy who gave Harvard #30m [sic] to set up Martin Nowak. He’s been extremely generous in funding projects of many of our friends and clients. He also got into trouble and spent a year in jail in Florida,” he explained. “If he contacts you it’s probably worth your time to meet him as he’s extremely bright and interesting.”
Morozov correctly concludes that Brockman wasn’t just networking. He was, instead, “acting as Epstein’s PR man—his liaison with the world of scientists and intellectuals that Brockman had cultivated.”
For many intellectuals, getting paid a professor’s salary, working with Brockman represented the real chance that they’d receive handsome checks from prestigious popular publishers. Sure, most had been successful before, but only in academic settings, earning academic royalties for routinely ignored work. Being a client of Brockman’s would change that. All of a sudden a two-page book proposal could generate an advance worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and a contract with a publisher with widespread distribution. For many wealthy people, association with Brockman meant entrée into a world of supreme thinkers that might otherwise be confined to the academy.
“In Brockman’s world, billionaires, scientists, artists, novelists, journalists, and musicians all blend together to produce enormous value—for each other and, of course, for Brockman,” Morozov observed. Everyone benefited. The insecure wealthy elite got to rub shoulders with leading academics, while the leading academics got to be fawned over and directly pitch their research projects to men who could single-handedly fund their most ambitious work.
Brockman’s organizing vehicle for his commingling of business was the Edge Foundation, which hosted dinners and get-togethers for many of his clients and friends. It was funded in large part by Epstein, who gave the nonprofit charity $638,000 between 2001 and 2015 and was at times the foundation’s only financial supporter.
The most successful in America do not need the trappings of a business suit and tie. Think Steve Jobs (in his black turtlenecks), Mark Zuckerberg (known to don hoodies), and Bill Gates (usually gracing charitable events in a pair of khakis). These titans of industry are so famous, so rich, so successful that they can wear whatever the hell they want.
It’s a demonstration of what the economist Tyler Cowen calls “countersignaling,” which he explains “is when you go out of your way to show you don’t need to go out of your way.” 5
At America’s fanciest restaurants, for instance, the richest and most famous are not the ones wearing jackets. They wear jeans with holes, T-shirts, and—gasp!—flip-flops.
Which explains the Jeffrey Epstein ethos. Yes, he was a college dropout from a decidedly lower middle-class upbringing. But that’s not the image he sought to project to his friends and patrons.
Instead, he hated dressing up, shunning fancy clothes for casual college sweatshirts, jeans, fancy slippers. He wanted everyone around to know just how important he was, by being the least dressed-up person in the room.
Epstein’s favorite hoodie, perhaps, showed off whom he wanted to be associated with. It was a crimson Harvard quarter zip with a kangaroo pocket and a drawstring hood. He loved it. Not just because of the obvious cozy comfort it provided, but because it showed off what an intellectual he wanted everyone to believe he was.
There are few who knew him who dispute that. He had gifts. Mathematics, piano playing, and cunning charm.
The intellectuals—that is, the academic elite—were also curious about him. Throughout his life, but especially after he accumulated wealth, Epstein cultivated deep and financial relationships with the foremost minds in America.
“Jeffrey had lots and lots and lots of dough. Scientists are always looking for lots and lots of dough, because most scientists spend most of their time writing grant proposals to raise money. Jeffrey didn’t require a grant proposal. Jeffrey would promise money and so they crowded around, and he also was an extremely personable, amusing kind of person to talk to. He was full of incredible ideas. He was charming in the extreme, and that’s why everyone paid attention to him,” Stuart Pivar explained in his interview with Mother Jones. 6
To many who spent time with him, the former Dalton teacher’s interest in ideas seemed real. Alan Dershowitz recalls many times, myriad meetings and dinners, that centered on sharing and exploring ideas.
In the late 1990s, Dershowitz was vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard when he got an unexpected phone call from Lord Rothschild’s then fiancée, Lynn Forester.
Forester—described by one friend as Epstein’s “social pimp” before she had a falling-out with the financier over a real estate deal—launched into a high-pressure sales pitch.
“My good friend Jeffrey Epstein is coming to town,” she said. “Do you know who he is?” Dershowitz had no idea.
“He’d like to come over and meet you; he’s heard very good things about you, that you’re a smart guy,” said Forester.
Dershowitz wasn’t interested. He had been planning to spend time at home with his kids. But Forester was persistent. “Alan, please, just do me a big favor,” she said. “Just let him drop by for an hour, talk, meet him.” Finally, the Harvard law professor relented.
Epstein knew how to flatter his hosts. Although he never drank alcohol, he showed up at Dershowitz’s house with a bottle of Dom Pérignon champagne tucked under his arm.
“He met my kids, my wife. Then we went out on my deck and we talked for a little bit, all about academics, about how he was setting up a process of evolutionary psychology,” said Dershowitz in an interview. Before long, Epstein had invited him to fly on his private jet to a birthday party he was throwing for billionaire Leslie Wexner. Epstein claimed that Wexner had asked him to bring the “smartest man” he had met that year, and that just so happened to be Dershowitz.
“He wanted to get to know me,” Dershowitz explained. And he wanted to know Dershowitz’s friends. “He wanted me to introduce him to some of my colleagues, which I did. And he introduced me to people, like George Church, the man who decoded the genome, who was on our faculty [at Harvard] but I’d never met him. And then [Epstein] would have these seminars at Harvard. He rented an office, and about once every month or so he would have one of these seminars where fantastic people would come from MIT, people he knew, the leading lights: Noam Chomsky; Marvin Minsky, the developer of artificial intelligence; George Church; David Gergen . . . Steven Pinker. All the leading lights were there,” he said.
“It was an honor to be invited. I went and I enjoyed these events thoroughly; we did have boxed lunches sometimes, and we’d sit around for one and a half, two hours and discuss biology. And he would be kind of like the master of ceremonies, raising hard questions. Or sometimes somebody would present a paper, and we would critique the paper. But it was purely, purely academic. And there were never any young people around. I can’t imagine any of the people who were there would have stayed if they saw anything inappropriate.”
If academics had not had their heads in the sand, perhaps they too would have seen the warning signs. Because Epstein was prone to outbursts. Unusual, shocking, and vulgar displays in front of his scholarly crowd, according to one member.
“So people would come to his dinners, including myself. I even had them,” Pivar recalls. “Jeffrey brought these people together and thought that he was causing basic thought processes to happen, which he sort of was, even though they were sort of irrelevant. I mean, to bring together a bunch of scientists and say, what is gravity? Which is ridiculous in a way, even though it’s a question nobody can answer. But he would do that kind of stuff. Just for the sake of, I don’t know what. And Jaron Lanier and all that group, the greatest thinkers that they were, he brought together with a purpose of thinking, rightfully or wrongfully, that he was going to introduce some kind of logic or something—some special kind of a thought process, which others hadn’t thought of, which of course is absurd.
“While everybody was watching, we began to realize he didn’t know what he was talking about. Then after a couple of minutes—Jeffrey had no attention span whatsoever—he would interrupt the conversation and change it and say things like ‘What does that got to do with pussy!’” Pivar remembered.
Moreover, when he did express ideas—and not just shout “pussy”—he offered some of the most radical views one can imagine. He argued in favor of eugenics, masked by a stringent view of science.
For Epstein, the biological sciences were particularly intriguing. “He thought everything was biological. He was very focused on biology,” said Dershowitz.
“He was not religious,” Dershowitz said in an interview. “He was fascinated by the law and science.”
Epstein in time would become an advocate of transhumanism. The New York Times, which first reported Epstein’s view on this matter, defined the ideology as “the science of improving the human population through technologies like genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.” 7
“On multiple occasions starting in the early 2000s, Mr. Epstein told scientists and businessmen about his ambitions to use his New Mexico ranch as a base where women would be inseminated with his sperm and would give birth to his babies, according to two award-winning scientists and an adviser to large companies and wealthy individuals, all of whom Mr. Epstein told about it,” the Times reported in 2019, a week and a half before he died in a Manhattan holding cell.
“Once, at a dinner at Mr. Epstein’s mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the author Jaron Lanier said he talked to a scientist who told him that Mr. Epstein’s goal was to have 20 women at a time impregnated at his 33,000-square-foot Zorro Ranch in a tiny town outside Santa Fe.”
At another event, Epstein praised cryonics, stating he “wanted his head and penis to be frozen.”
He also donated $20,000 to the World Transhumanist Association, whose stated mission is “to deeply influence a new generation of thinkers who dare to envision humanity’s next steps,” and personally financed individual transhumanist advocates.
Dershowitz, and other academics, now claim to have pushed back against these radical views.
Nevertheless, Epstein maintained a collection of impressive friends: the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, and the molecular biologist Richard Axel, among others.
“I met Jeffrey Epstein at discussions at a research center at Harvard,” explained Noam Chomsky in an email exchange. “Neither I, nor as far as I know any others, had a sense that he was trying to ingratiate himself or anything else . . . He was participating, and sometimes brought with him some outstanding mathematicians and scientists, who we were all pleased to have join the discussions.”
There was another reason so many scientists were interested in Epstein, but few would acknowledge it publicly.
“For money, you understand, this was going on, why he had all these scientist friends,” said one academic who was close with the financier. “He had a lot of money, he was known to give it away, so a zillion people would show up asking for it.
“The feeling of pretension was important to him,” he added. “I didn’t get it. But he was always visiting another academic for no reason.”
Keeping an academically impressive crew around him nearly always left Epstein the richest man in the room. And, therefore, in certain ways the most powerful. Money, even (and perhaps especially) among academics, is an alluring elixir.
But for some, keeping Epstein around might have been out of sympathy. Pivar believes his buddy was “totally, totally, totally, totally misunderstood.”
While he claims to have cut ties with Epstein after Maria Farmer, one of the first known accusers of sexual misconduct, confided in him that she had been held against her will by Epstein and his buddy Ghislaine Maxwell, he believes Epstein acted out because of a medical condition.
“The peculiar thing is, let’s put it this way, now that you’ve got me thinking: Jeffrey had a severe case of what’s called satyriasis, the male counterpart of nymphomania. Except that he had the money and the wherewithal to work it out, to manage to supply himself with three underage girls every single day,” Pivar told Mother Jones. 8
“Who knows how many men have that? And the difference is that if there are other ones who have it, I don’t know, they probably go around raping or God knows what they do. Jeffrey had the money to do it politely—namely, by getting [complacent] young girls.”
So for some in the smart set, Epstein was a psychological tragedy, not a psycho sex fiend. “If Jeffrey Epstein was found guilty of fooling around with one 16-year-old trollop, nobody would pay any attention,” Pivar asserted, bizarrely framing it as a “quantitative” problem rather than a “qualitative” one.
Perhaps another reason he developed an interest in a decidedly intellectual cause was to cultivate relationships with charitable enterprises to mask some of his financial shenanigans.
Epstein’s donations, on the rare occasions he actually came through with them, were given from his various charitable foundations. He had at least half a dozen, with links to several more. And yet the money that flowed through those foundations appears not to have originated from his own accounts.
Instead, Epstein used the charitable accounts to receive funds from others in his orbit. For instance, his C.O.U.Q. Foundation received a gigantic donation of around $21 million from Leslie Wexner. While his Gratitude America foundation received a hefty donation of $10 million from the investor Leon Black. 9
The money from Black came in 2015, well after the world was aware of Epstein’s admitted sexual crimes. Black also named Epstein a member of the board of his own charitable foundation, but removed him in 2012. (Black claims he was actually removed in 2007 but a clerical error kept him affiliated with his charity for an additional half a decade.)
Black has avoided answering questions about his ties to Epstein, though in a 2019 statement he told his firm, “I was completely unaware of, and am deeply troubled by, the conduct that is now the subject of the federal criminal charges brought against Mr. Epstein.”
Whether money received by Epstein’s charitable organizations ever made its way directly back to his own personal bank accounts is a matter of wide speculation.
Even so, the tax expert Martin Sheil told The New York Times the foundations appeared to him to be acting as Epstein’s “piggy banks.” 10
“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” Sheil told the newspaper.
Another thing happened in 2015 to once again thrust Epstein in the news: the gossip site Gawker published “the Holy Grail,” the full but redacted contents of the little black book. 11 It was Epstein’s full phone book, detailing the contact information for his friends and associates.
“An annotated copy of the address book, which also contains entries for Alec Baldwin, Ralph Fiennes, Griffin Dunne, New York Post gossip columnist Richard Johnson, Ted Kennedy, David Koch, filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, and all manner of other people you might expect a billionaire to know, turned up in court proceedings after Epstein’s former house manager Alfredo Rodriguez tried to sell it in 2009,” the reporter Nick Bryant noted in his Gawker piece. “About 50 of the entries, including those of many of Epstein’s suspected victims and accomplices as well as [Donald] Trump, [Courtney] Love, [Ehud] Barak, [Alan] Dershowitz, and others, were circled by Rodriguez.”
The names were shocking. Many had claimed not to have known Epstein, while even more were never asked. The book proved an intimate connection between those in the phone book and the then admitted sexual predator. As New York magazine wrote, the book showed Epstein “deeply enmeshed in the highest social circles.” 12
Epstein’s house manager Alfredo Rodriguez had been trying to shop around the book: asking price $50,000. He had unsuccessfully been seeking a payday since 2009.
Indeed, his attempt to sell the information backfired; the FBI got wind of his effort to sell evidence behind their backs, resulting in a stiff eighteen-month sentence. In December 2014, Rodriguez died, allegedly of mesothelioma. 13 Within a month the black book, which had been Rodriguez’s “insurance policy” while he was alive, was published.
Ultimately, however, the press did not use the publication of the black book, and the subsequent publication of the private flight logs from Epstein’s private jets, as a blueprint to blow the whole sordid story into the open. “Gawker got a lot of hits. They published his flight manifest too. But ultimately I was stunned that no one in the mainstream media was willing to touch the subject matter,” the reporter Nick Bryant, who had the amazing scoop, said in 2019. 14
It’d take more time for more of the story to trickle out.
How Epstein Played the Press
Those who have the gold, rule.
For years Jeffrey Epstein was welcomed and heralded by the media. He was mythologized from the moment he came across their radar, turning this Brooklyn-born nobody into a patron of the poor who traveled on his own dime to Africa to fight one of society’s biggest scourges—HIV/AIDS. Media even spent years misreporting the very size of Epstein’s wealth, reporting that he was a billionaire, despite there never being a single shred of evidence to confirm his achievement of this feat.
The relationship created problems—for the media. Could we ever trust the people who kept up fawning coverage of this monster for years to tell us what “really happened” in the last moments of his life?
Candace Bushnell, the Sex and the City writer who would famously be played by Sarah Jessica Parker in the television series of the same name, began investigating Epstein rumors in 1994. The subject was just her forte; she was after all a sex columnist for The New York Observer.
“There was a rogues’ gallery of men who there were shady rumors [about], and he was one of those guys,” Bushnell recalled in a 2019 interview with The Hollywood Reporter shortly before Epstein died. 1
So Bushnell put on her high heels to do a little shoe leather reporting. “I went to his apartment when a mutual friend got me invited to a cocktail party at his house,” she recalls, claiming the town house was “bland” and “hotel-ish.”
It wasn’t as if she walked into the “models” and “parties on the plane” scenes she had been hearing about. The scene was boring.
So she started asking those milling around about “all kinds of rumors” she had heard. She wanted to know where the private plane was kept and how he got his money. “I was getting information, and then the door flies in and a bodyguard-type [person] walks in asking why I want to know about the plane,” she recalled.
And that’s about the time her visit to Epstein’s ended. She left. The next day she received a call. “This is his lawyer, there’s nothing to investigate. Don’t investigate him. Don’t look into his activities. Don’t go up to him at parties. Don’t ask questions about him,” the person on the phone told Bushnell.
The intimidation and threats worked, Bushnell admits. “You know, I’d like to live,” she said.
“It takes a particular kind of reporter to do that kind of story, and it’s just not me,” she would recall years later.
The sex columnist would not be the only person he would try to intimidate.
The strange thing about Jeffrey Epstein’s sex trafficking of minors, countless sexual assaults, and alleged rapes is that it’s easy to see how, of all things, the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States led to his arrest. And that’s not because Trump did anything at all to stop his former friend.
On the contrary, he along with every other famous person in Epstein’s orbit (Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, Leslie Wexner, money managers, media titans) either accepted the wealthy predator as one of their own or quietly rejected him.
Many witnessed Epstein’s crimes; some even participated in them. But until his first guilty plea in Florida in 2008, Epstein operated with impunity. Even then, he received an extremely light punishment. After he served his time, so to speak, Epstein seems to have picked up where he left off. Prosecutors in the U.S. Virgin Islands found evidence that suggests he continued trafficking women and assaulting underage girls, using his financial means and political power to continue the very activities that got him in trouble in the first place.
And yet, no further criminal proceedings followed him for more than a decade, even though he was a known predator of crimes that have extremely high rates of recidivism.
Between arrests, perhaps the only thing that did change was that Epstein finally understood that operating so openly and with such a great media profile could be harmful. So he assumed at least a slightly lower profile than he had before. Gatherings at his home with journalists and newsreaders were more hush-hush. His political donations, which under law would have to be publicly disclosed, were no longer welcome.
But those slight tweaks were reflective of a singular fact: everyone knew that Jeffrey Epstein was a sexual predator whose victims were children. His sweetheart plea deal was known. His association with politicians, academics, and elites was known.
Yet had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election, one can easily imagine Epstein never facing the renewed scrutiny he began to receive in 2018 when the Miami Herald began running its “Perversion of Justice” series. Because the whole reason for that series—or at least one of the rationales for running it— was that the man who cut the sweetheart deal for the feds, the prosecutor Alex Acosta, had been made labor secretary by Trump.
With the election of Trump, many reporters rediscovered a sense of weight and urgency, a new sense of holding the powerful accountable. That’s a trait they should always possess, of course. But it seems to be forgotten when liberals are sworn into power, only to be rediscovered four or eight years later.
It is remarkable that it is true both that so much is known about Epstein because of the media and that he was able to operate for so many years because of the media. He first played the media, using the power of the press to inflate his image (a billionaire, a generous philanthropist, a money manager). And then he hid from it, which was easy enough because no one was looking for him.
Playing the media was an old game for Epstein. In the 1980s, when he began to make waves, New York journalist Jesse Kornbluth became friendly with him and considered writing a book about him.
The moneyman apparently appreciated the attention from Kornbluth. But one episode in 1987 left the writer with nothing but contempt for him.
“My wife-to-be was then a military historian, with a book about to be published. Interview Magazine photographed her in a buttoned-up military shirt, with a taut khaki tie. A witty photo of an attractive woman. But not a sexy look. Jeffrey Epstein had chatted her up at a few parties. The military look fooled him not at all,” Kornbluth recalled in a reflection upon Epstein’s 2019 arrest in an article in Salon. 2
The eve of their wedding, Epstein called up Kornbluth’s fiancée. “It’s your last free night,” Epstein said on the phone. “Why don’t you come over and fuck me?”
“That was how . . . Epstein became dead to me,” Kornbluth wrote.
Nevertheless, Epstein was not really dead to Kornbluth—or to many other journalists.
Peggy Siegal, a well-connected, hard-charging PR guru, traded favors with Epstein over the years and consequently found herself in the middle of the media storm when her acquaintance would finally face the music in 2019. (In a terse email exchange, she insisted that she had never been on payroll. “Epstein was never my client,” she wrote.) Her tale is a cautionary one—a reminder that professionals are often judged by their clients, even if money is never exchanged for their services.
Siegal’s bustling business would quickly go kaput, leaving her to lay off eight employees and lose nearly every single one of her paying customers, clients like Netflix, Annapurna Pictures, and FX.
The Peggy Siegal Company had specialized in attracting high-social-net-worth individuals to be interested in films. It had helped pioneer the budding field of Oscar campaigning, a specialized Hollywood field to influence members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to vote her clients for the most prestigious award in the business. She had poured her life into building up from nothing, but in 2020 it was barely hanging on by a thread.
In a profile in Vanity Fair, which she appears to have agreed to as a last-ditch attempt to pour a bucket of water on her burning reputation, Siegal claimed to have no knowledge of Epstein’s crimes. “I had no idea about the underage girls,” she told the glossy, pleading ignorance to knowing why precisely he faced criminal charges in Florida in 2008. 3
But then, apparently suddenly, she remembered gently admonishing him. “I’m sure I had said something like, ‘You better change your ways,’” Siegal told the magazine. “I mean, I knew him, but I didn’t know much about him. Yeah, I spoke to him on the phone. He came to some screenings. I was never privy to his private life. I knew nothing about the girls. Nothing at all.”
Which seems particularly strange when one considers that Siegal, who to this day claims that Epstein was no client of hers, arranged the infamous 2010 dinner at Epstein’s home with the star guest Prince Andrew that featured the media stars George Stephanopoulos, Katie Couric, Woody Allen, and Chelsea Handler.
The New York Post would cover that visit from Prince Andrew on the front page—under the in-your face-headline “PRINCE & PERV,” with the perhaps less subtle subhead “1st Photos: Randy Andy with NYC Sex Creep.” 4
Siegal now claims, “It’s so much easier in hindsight, 10 years later, to digest all this information and say, ‘Well, of course they knew that’ . . . The times have changed so much, in the past five years, that [which] was normal bad behavior between genders is completely out of the realm of possibility today.” 5
But perhaps the most revealing moment in the interview is when Siegal asks the Vanity Fair writer, “You know about the golden rule?”
“Do unto others?” the writer suggests.
“No. Those who have the gold, rule,” Siegal explains.
Reporting the story of Jeffrey Epstein is difficult. He was for years a powerful, rich, and politically connected man who was not afraid to do whatever necessary to get his way. Many in his orbit share those traits.
Even now, a call to his former friends and associates rarely receives even an acknowledgment of receipt. Those who know don’t want to say. Those who socialized with him, partied with him, and were perhaps even aware of his most evil vices have no incentive to discuss it.
As one reporter who has extensively covered Epstein sarcastically put it, joking how elites who have refused to speak until now might receive a call, “Yeah, thanks for calling. I’m really glad. I’ve been waiting to tell everybody about this. And now’s my chance. I was afraid that it was going to go away with Epstein’s death. But now that you came along, now I can tell you.”
Asked what threats he’s faced while reporting about Epstein, the reporter in an interview retells his struggle to report on basic information, with firsthand sourcing, because of publishers’ fear of aggressive lawyers.
I had spoken to a billionaire’s pilot who was on the record,” the reporter said in an interview, “and who was an occasional substitute pilot for Epstein’s plane. So he saw a lot of things . . . And even having something on the record was not good enough.
“The letters would come—threatening letters,” the reporter said. At which point the publication he worked for would cave. “Hey, you can write things that are less controversial, but you can’t write what’s really going on,” he said, apparently mimicking his editor. “Magazines or newspapers, they just fold the tent as soon as the nasty letter comes from the lawyers. That’s the MO nowadays.”
The reporter also outlined how the PR professionals who are supposed to help facilitate contact with their wealthy clients and the press are, in fact, really just operating as the first line of offense for lawyers. After a conversation with the PR team, the letters begin to flow from legal, using the language from the media request. “They’re just a conduit to the lawyer,” he explained.
To say this is unusual is an understatement. It is not normal for reporters to receive legal threats at all. And it’s downright rare to receive ones before publication—based on interview requests alone.
“He’s dead. But the people you’re writing about who interacted with him are very much alive and very rich and very lawyered up. They’re like on high alert for this,” the reporter added.
Calling one billionaire “evil incarnate” and “ready to strike back,” the reporter recalled his run-in and his publication’s decision to back down in the face of threats. “One great story I had that they wouldn’t let me run was Epstein and Ghislaine having sex in the back of a [billionaire’s] plane with [him] sitting there in the passengers’ section.” But the billionaire’s lawyers intervened aggressively with his publisher and killed the story. “They don’t want to have anything, you know, even remotely associated with [Epstein].”
Speaking more broadly about the entire media industry caving to the demands of lawyers, the journalist observed, “I think the whole industry’s become, post-Gawker, much more risk averse and they don’t have the financials to back it up anymore. You know, the financial performance. So they’re all like hanging by a thread, the last thing they need is to spend $2 million defending a lawsuit against a billionaire.”
Which is why reporting on this subject is so difficult and why the Epstein story is as much a media story as it is one about politics, power, and money. For years, Epstein used the press to his advantage, playing willful scribes and tepid publishers.
With so much known about Epstein, it is almost unbelievable to imagine that for years he was able to get a pass from the media. So how did he do it? He paid for it. Literally.
On October 2, 2013, well after he had been publicly humiliated as a child sex predator, the financial magazine and website Forbes wrote a hagiographical item about him—mentioning none of his follies.
The piece was titled “Science Funder Jeffrey Epstein Launches Radical Emotional Software for the Gaming Industry” and detailed an artificial intelligence group behind changing game programming through new emotive software. 6 The first two-thirds of the article was semi-technical fluff, in praise of the company doing the work with Hong Kong researchers and government support. Then came the praise.
“Over the last ten years, Jeffrey Epstein has become one of the largest backers of cutting edge science around the world,” claimed the article. The financier, the article continued, “has donated up to $200 million a year to eminent scientists.” The statistic was falsely attributed to New York magazine. (It’s unlikely he ever donated that much money in his lifetime, let alone on an annual basis.) Epstein’s ties to Harvard were mentioned, then more highly inflated claims about his generosity.
The interesting thing about the supposed journalistic look at cutting-edge video game technology was that it was written by Epstein or his PR team. The author, Drew Hendricks, would admit in 2019 in an interview with The New York Times that he had received $600 to publish the article, which had been written for him.
And Forbes was not the only publication to fall for the ruse. Similar articles had appeared in National Review and HuffPost. The offending articles would be removed only after reporter inquiries in 2019. It was all part of Epstein’s plan: by throwing his money around, he could get his way. Just as he had in so many other avenues of his life.
In 2002, Vanity Fair reporter Vicky Ward would set out to examine Epstein’s rise as a supposed money manager and political player following his trip to Africa with Bill Clinton. Ward’s piece, published in 2003, would be important; it would frame Epstein as a major player, a man of mystery, and a confidence man.
But, according to Ward, she was not able to tell the whole story. She had information on “the girls.” Not nearly the full extent that is known today, but enough that publication would have severely damaged the predator just as he was getting his wings.
Ward detailed the accusations she had in a 2015 Daily Beast article recalling how it all went down. 7 “Three on-the-record stories from a family: a mother and her daughters who came from Phoenix. The oldest daughter, an artist whose character was vouchsafed to me by several sources, including the artist Eric Fischl, had told me, weeping as she sat in my living room, of how Epstein had attempted to seduce both her and, separately, her younger sister, then only 16,” she wrote.
The subject of her profile inquired about what she knew, and when he discovered the truth, he went ballistic. “Just the mention of a 16-year-old girl . . . carries the wrong impression. I don’t see what it adds to the piece. And that makes me unhappy,” Epstein told Ward.
He also called the powerful editor of Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter, who held final say over what was published in his magazine. Then he started sending “fabricated fakes” supposedly debunking the on-the record accusations. And finally he visited the offices of Vanity Fair, while Ward was away on maternity leave. “By now everyone at the magazine was completely spooked,” Ward recalls more than a decade and a half later.
Just before it was time for publication, Ward’s direct editor delivered the message: “Graydon’s taking out the women from the piece.” Ward was in tears and furious.
“I began to cry. It was so wrong,” Ward wrote later. “The family had been so brave.”
She went to Carter to plead her case. “Why?”
“He’s sensitive about the young women,” Graydon Carter allegedly replied. “And we still get to run most of the piece.”
Ward recalls, “It came down to my sources’ word against Epstein’s . . . and at the time Graydon believed Epstein. In my notebook I have him saying, ‘I believe him.’”
In a statement responding to Ward’s allegations, Carter said, “Epstein denied the charges at the time and since the claims were unsubstantiated and no criminal investigation had been initiated, we decided not to include them in what was a financial story.”
Epstein fancied himself somewhat of a media mogul. At least that’s what he aspired to be.
In 2003, he tried to buy New York magazine. Joining forces with heavy hitters from across media, Hollywood, and advertising, Epstein sought to have greater control over those who buy ink by the barrel. The group comprised the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, the advertising executive Donny Deutsch, the moneyman Nelson Peltz, the journalist Michael Wolff, and the owner of U.S. News & World Report, Mort Zuckerman.
New York had written the first major profile of Epstein—a long, mostly laudatory piece that came out on the heels of his Africa trip. It had in some ways changed his trajectory. He had before that been only a slight fascination of gossip pages. But no longer.
It showed him firsthand the power of the press. And made him want a piece of it.
He, Deutsch, Peltz, Wolff, and Zuckerman put in an offer for the magazine for $44 million. It was somewhat of a lowball offer for the publication with a circulation of 440,000. Two others would bid more, and the winner would be the Wall Streeter Bruce Wasserstein, who ponied up $55 million.
In truth, all the bids would be too high from strictly a business view; New York made an annual profit of only $1 million. But it illustrates that the interest was never financial. The goal was power.
“These kind of players like to continually prove they are vital,” the Yale School of Management associate dean Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld told David Carr of The New York Times. 8 “What was motivating this deal was not a good financial outcome, but a demonstration of power. If it was no big deal, they would not have gotten involved in the first place.”
Wolff, a good friend of Epstein’s who was the original organizer of the group, admitted the error was teaming up with others. “We got outplayed . . . The idea of bringing together many interested parties seemed like a good idea, until it turned out to be a bad idea. It was less efficient than doing it with just one guy.”
The failure, however, would leave Epstein undeterred. So the next year he joined forces with Zuckerman to invest $25 million in Radar Magazine. Epstein entered the enterprise an equal partner with Zuckerman but was a complete neophyte in terms of being in the publishing world.
But, at least outwardly, he took a business approach to the acquisition. “When I invest in companies, I invest in the people, and I don’t think that anybody has the track record with start-ups that Mort does,” Epstein told The New York Times in 2004. 9
“I always focus on the potential downside of an investment, and I don’t think this is something that is going to lose money,” he added.
That last comment would perhaps show more hubris than knowledge. The magazine was an embarrassing flop.
Radar Magazine lasted only three issues.
“It’s too difficult a climate to start magazines in, given the advertising conditions for this period of time,” Zuckerman would tell The New York Times, publicly taking the fall for the financial failure. 10 Epstein did not publicly comment.
The blame would be placed squarely on advertising. It was a bust, they claimed, seemingly giving up before even giving it a serious chance for success.
But few close to the project believed that was the real reason. “No one could quite figure out why, after just three issues, after putting all that money in, they would suddenly abandon the project,” Radar’s founding editor, Maer Roshan, told Vanity Fair in 2019. 11 “Our advertising revenue and circulation was far ahead of projections.”
Roshan proposed a theory, however. “When you look at the sequence of events, it’s clear that the police first approached Epstein at some point during the Radar rollout . . . It’s not surprising that Mort [Zuckerman] would want to distance himself from that partnership as quickly as possible.”
One of the ways Jeffrey Epstein played the press was by holding information over them—signaling that he knew damaging information about the rich and famous. And also by keeping them close. The story told by the New York Times journalist James B. Stewart illustrates this.
The journalist had contacted Epstein to determine whether he was advising Elon Musk, the founder of the electric car giant Tesla. The reporter had heard this was the case.
Musk’s and his company’s position would be clear—that it didn’t happen. “It is incorrect to say that Epstein ever advised Elon on anything,” a spokeswoman said.
But if one reads between the lines, the spokeswoman’s denial is weak. It does not state, for instance, that Epstein and Musk never had conversations or that there was never a relationship. It rather slyly claims only that Musk never received advice from the predator.
Regardless of the Musk-Epstein relationship, it’s a window into Epstein’s operation. The reporter reached out to Epstein for comment, and instead received an invitation to his palatial New York mansion.
Stewart says he was greeted at the door by a young woman with an eastern European accent who led him upstairs, where he was soon joined by a casually dressed Epstein. Epstein showed off his photos with world leaders, pointing to one of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, Woody Allen, and Bill Clinton.
They then began to chat. For an hour and a half.
The conversation was not limited to the work Epstein might have been doing for Tesla. Epstein, it appears, was keen to keep up the perception that he indeed was doing something for the car company and tech entrepreneur, but he also acknowledged that because of his reputation no one wanted to be associated with him. He predicted any such claim would be denied.
But of course a tie to a legitimate company—especially one like Tesla, which is seen as cutting-edge and in a major growth industry—served Epstein well. He would welcome any such association because it would make him seem perhaps more legitimate than he actually was.
A week after the interview, Stewart received a call from Epstein to see if he would join him for dinner together with his good buddy Woody Allen. Later he’d be invited to another Epstein dinner with the journalist Michael Wolff and the former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
And then came the final offer: an invitation to Stewart to write a biography of Epstein. The journalist declined.
Nevertheless, the stunt Epstein tried to pull is reminiscent of a Jack Abramoff trick.
Abramoff, the prominent Washington, D.C., lobbyist who pleaded guilty in 2006 to tax evasion, conspiracy, and fraud, would try to win over staffers on Capitol Hill by offering them future jobs. The minute the jobs were accepted, the staffers no longer were working for the constituents but were, in effect, extensions of Abramoff’s own lobbying shop.
“When we would become friendly with an office and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say or my staff would say to him or her at some point, ‘You know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us,’” Abramoff revealed in an interview he gave to CBS’s 60 Minutes after he served three years in prison. 12
He continued, “Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to ’em, that was it. We owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they’re gonna do. And not only that, they’re gonna think of things we can’t think of to do.”
Surely Abramoff and Epstein did not operate in the same profession—one a lobbyist, the other a supposed money manager. But they worked in the same field. Both courted influence and wielded power, and used people as pawns in their quests to achieve their own goals. The notion that Epstein would try to strike an agreement favorable to the reporter seems reflective of his own true intentions in holding that meeting and the subsequent conversations.
The Arrest The End Is Near
CHAPTER 14: THE SMART SET
1. Leland Nally, “Jeffrey Epstein, My Very, Very Sick Pal,” Mother Jones, Aug. 23, 2019, www.motherjones.com/crimejustice/2019/08/jeffrey-epstein-my-very-very-sick-pal/.
2. Robert M. Braceras, Jennifer L. Chunias, and Kevin P. Martin, “Report Concerning Jeffrey Epstein’s Interactions with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” Goodwin Procter LLP, Jan. 10, 2020, factfindingjan2020.mit.edu/files/MIT-report.pdf.
3. Emily Flitter and James B. Stewart, “Bill Gates Met with Jeffrey Epstein Many Times, Despite His Past,” New York Times, Oct. 12, 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/10/12/business/jeffrey-epstein-bill-gates.html.
4. Evgeny Morozov, “Jeffrey Epstein’s Intellectual Enabler,” New Republic, Aug. 22, 2019, newrepublic.com/article/154826/jeffrey-epsteinsintellectual-enabler.
5. Tyler Cowen, “The American Wealthy Have Been Redefining Social Status Through a Practice Known as ‘Countersignaling,’” Business Insider, March 4, 2017, www.businessinsider.com/wearing-casual-clothes-at-work-to-show-wealth-2017-2.
6. Nally, “Jeffrey Epstein, My Very, Very Sick Pal.”
7. James B. Stewart, Matthew Goldstein, and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, “Jeffrey Epstein Hoped to Seed Human Race with His DNA,” New York Times, July 31, 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/07/31/business/jeffrey-epstein-eugenics.html.
8. Nally, “Jeffrey Epstein, My Very, Very Sick Pal.”
9. Steve Eder and Matthew Goldstein, “Jeffrey Epstein’s Charity: An Image Boost Built on Deception,” New York Times, Nov. 26, 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/11/26/business/jeffrey-epstein-charity.html.
10. Eder and Goldstein, “Jeffrey Epstein’s Charity.”
11. Nick Bryant, “Here Is Pedophile Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s Little Black Book,” Gawker, Jan. 23, 2015, gawker.com/here-is-pedophilebillionaire-jeffrey-epsteins-little-b-1681383992.
12. “Who Was Jeffrey Epstein Calling? A Close Study of His Circle—Social, Professional, Transactional—Reveals a Damning Portrait of Elite New York,” New York, July 22, 2019, nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/07/jeffrey-epstein-high-society-contacts.html.
13. Martin Gould, “Houseman Who Cleaned Jeffrey Epstein’s Sex Toys Takes Secrets to Grave,” Daily Mail, Jan. 6, 2015, www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2897939/Houseman-cleaned-pedophile-Jeffrey-Epstein-s-sex-toys-feared-billionaire-make-disappeartakes-secrets-grave.html.
14. Joe Pompeo, “Decoding Jeffrey Epstein’s Mysterious, Star-Studded Black Book,” Vanity Fair, July 18, 2019, www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/07/jeffrey-epstein-black-book-nick-bryant.
CHAPTER 15: THE MEDIA
1. Trilby Beresford, “‘Sex and the City’ Author on Middle-Aged Romance and Getting Kicked Out of Jeffrey Epstein’s Home,” Hollywood Reporter, July 29, 2019, www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/sex-city-author-middle-aged-romance-jeffrey-epstein-1226532.
2. Jesse Kornbluth, “I Was a Friend of Jeffrey Epstein; Here’s What I Know,” Salon, July 9, 2019, www.salon.com/2019/07/09/i-was-afriend-of-jeffrey-epstein-heres-what-i-know/.
3. Maureen O. Connor, “Peggy Siegal Sends Her Regrets,” Vanity Fair, Jan. 21, 2020, www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2020/01/peggy-siegalsends-her-regrets.
4. Cathy Burke, “Prince Andrew Tours Manhattan with Billionaire Sex Offender Jeffrey Epstein,” New York Post, Feb. 21, 2011, nypost.com/2011/02/21/prince-andrew-tours-manhattan-with-billionaire-sex-offender-jeffrey-epstein/.
5. Connor, “Peggy Siegal Sends Her Regrets.”
6. Tiffany Hsu, “Jeffrey Epstein Pitched a New Narrative. These Sites Published It,” New York Times, July 21, 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/07/21/business/media/jeffrey-epstein-media.html.
7. Vicky Ward, “I Tried to Warn You About Sleazy Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in 2003,” Daily Beast, Jan. 6, 2015, www.thedailybeast.com/itried-to-warn-you-about-sleazy-billionaire-jeffrey-epstein-in-2003.
8. David Carr, “Post-mortems for a Media Deal Undone,” New York Times, Dec. 22, 2003, www.nytimes.com/2003/12/22/business/mediapost-mortems-for-a-media-deal-undone.html.
9. David Carr, “Radar Magazine Lines Up Financing,” New York Times, Oct. 19, 2004, www.nytimes.com/2004/10/19/arts/radar-magazinelines-up-financing.html.
10. Katharine Q. Seelye, “Three Issues into New Life, Radar Magazine Is Being Shut Again,” New York Times, Dec. 15, 2005, www.nytimes.com/2005/12/15/business/media/three-issues-into-new-life-radar-magazine-is-being-shut.html.
11. Joe Pompeo, “What the Media Knew About Epstein, the Monster Hiding in Plain Sight,” Vanity Fair, July 10, 2019, www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/07/manhattan-media-remembers-jeffrey-epstein.
12. “Jack Abramoff: The Lobbyist’s Playbook,” 60 Minutes, CBS, May 30, 2012, www.cbsnews.com/news/jack-abramoff-the-lobbyistsplaybook-30-05-2012/.