Epstein’s Still Big! "Who cares?" is what somebody asked -- loudly -- at a dinner recently when I brought up the Jeffrey Epstein case. It's the same question, in the same tone, that I used to get when I argued that the staid L.A. Times should pay more attention to Lindsay Lohan’s bad driving. The objection to Epstein seemed to be this: ‘So there's this rich perv, and he exploited underage girls. Now he's dead and they’re suing his estate. BFD. Only someone who enjoyed tawdry gossip and cheap mystery novels would think this is still newsworthy.’
Point 1: You got a problem with cheap mystery novels? This is a great mystery, starting with whether Epstein really killed himself. The circumstantial evidence on that question is mounting: Epstein's roommate pulled from his cell the day before he died, guards falling asleep, jailhouse video cameras that, gee, unexpectedly malfunction. At some point, Occam's razor begins to cut in another direction.
Point 2. Epstein was way more than just a rich perv. Does anyone really think his troubling, immoral, and illegal conduct was confined to sex? For one thing, how did he get his money? Look at the possibilities on the list -- money laundering, espionage, blackmail, insider trading… . Nobody thinks he made his half billion legally the way he said he made his money: by brilliantly managing a hedge fund. The only legit possibility I can think of is if his patron, billionaire Leslie Wexner, somehow gave him the loot. (But why?)
Take the leading, money laundering, theory A laundering operation big enough to buy a Gatsby-sized place in New York society -- isn't that something we want to know about? That goes double for a possible blackmail operation that ensnared captains of industry and politics. Still more significantly, the espionage angle raises the prospect that some important American and foreign political figures were compromised. Even the League of Women Voters (or the old LA Times) might think that newsworthy.
We're in the middle of a global populist surge. There's a sense that elites are not playing by the same rules as everyone else. They might not even be playing the same game. It's pretty clear that Epstein was running some kind of a sex ring for the rich and well connected. How big a ring? We don't know until we try to find out. But there are reports out there [click if you dare] that it's bigger than we might think — bigger than old, familiar Prince Andrew, involving a non-trivial cross-section of business and entertainment leaders, plus some prominent Anglo-American families and maybe a handful of nation states.
Do we live in a society where people try to get rich so they can build bigger houses, drive faster cars, wear nice clothes and send their children to the best schools. Or is that really a facade behind which they escape into a secret lawless world where they order up underage girls and boys to rape and abuse? Are we living in Disney movie or a Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movie?
Don't we want to know? If we follow the Epstein case to its conclusion, we might learn which is the reality. Epstein's the biggest red pill we've been handed in decades.
Certainly sociologists and historians of the future will want to know. It might be too late by then. But they'll get tenure if they find out. Why not beat them to it?
P.S.: Landon Thomas, Fall Guy: The New York Times should be deeply embarrassed by its failure to adequately cover the Epstein scandal, which was largely happening in its back yard.
Vanity Fair’s Vicky Ward covered Epstein (to the extent Graydon Carter let her). Phil Weiss covered Epstein. Conchita Sarnoff covered Epstein. And finally the story was propelled out of the undernews by Julie Brown of the Miami Herald, who found a Trump Angle the MSM couldn’t resist. Meanwhile, what did the Times produce? There was a thorough, skeptical 2006 report by Abby Goodnough when Epstein was first investigated -- a report the paper buried on page A-19 under the most boring headline imaginable (“Questions of Preferential Treatment Are Raised in Florida Sex Case”). Then when Epstein was finally about to be (briefly) jailed in 2008, Timesman Landon Thomas produced a comically credulous, charitable profile (“He has paid for college educations for personal employees and students from Rwanda … Mr. Epstein gazed at the azure sea and the lush hills of St. Thomas … and tried explain how his life had taken such a turn.”)
Now we learn (from an excellent David Folkenflik report) that Thomas had been close enough to Epstein that years later, in 2017, he asked the pedophile to donate money to a Montessori School in Harlem. Epstein apparently gave $30,000 —a wise investment. But once Thomas disclosed this to his editors he was taken off the Epstein beat and soon was gone from the paper.
That's fine, but there will be the temptation for the Times to blame its pathetic Epstein record on Thomas, which would be absurd. The editors read Thomas’ 2008 piece and didn’t realize it was awful until 9 years later when they learned he’d violated an ethics rule? Why didn’t they commission other, better pieces (like Weiss’)?
Either Times editors didn't know a good story when they saw it -- a likely possibilitity at the old L.A. Times, but not at the NYT -- or there was something holding them back. What was it? It would be crude to suggest it was politics — that at some level they realized investigating Epstein would inevitably lead to embarrassment or worse for Bill Clinton and by extension Hillary Clinton, who was running for president or planning to run throughout this period. But sometimes the crude explanation is the right one. True, the Times did run a less explosive Bill Clinton sex piece in 2006 (“Nights out find him zipping around Los Angeles with his bachelor buddy, Ronald W. Burkle”). But that piece got so much blowback the paper may have decided not to go any further on its own — an editorial stance known around newsweeklies as ‘Get it first, but first get it second.’
Chasing girls is one thing, after all. Underage girls are another.
Maybe the Times’ editors — and not just the top ones (Raines, Keller, Abramson & Baquet) — can provide a more sophisticated account. They’ve got some ‘splainin to do.