Oh boy. Ronan Farrow just dropped his latest New Yorker story, and MIT is about to feel the pain of being under the microscope. Farrow’s piece, headlined “How An Élite University Research Center Concealed Its Relationship with Jeffrey Epstein,” is the shocking story of a school secretly dancing with the devil to pad its research budget — and then lying about it. And Farrow’s story doesn’t appear to be conjecture or hypothesis; he’s got documents and whistleblowers ready to paint a damning picture of MIT’s misdeeds.
How an elite university research center concealed its relationship with a sex offender—documents show MIT Media Lab accepted donations directed by Jeffrey Epstein far in excess of what the university has admitted to, and worked to cover it up: https://t.co/KTdYdCbZ6u
— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) September 7, 2019
However bad the MIT-Epstein entanglement was during Epstein’s life, it’s about to get worse post-mortem and post-apology. Just a few short weeks ago, MIT president L. Rafael Reif issued his“profound and humble apology” for allowing the school’s Media Lab and two professors to accept $800,000 from Epstein. Those professors, Joi Ito and Seth Lloyd, made their own public apologies, too.
Ito said he’d met Epstein in 2013, and claimed total unawareness of any actual wrongdoing on Epstein’s part. Lloyd had a different story. He knew about Epstein’s conviction, purported to have been “disturbed” by it, but fancied himself a philanthropist and visited Epstein in prison. Oh, and he continued to accept money during that time too. The professors and president of MIT all apologized for allowing Epstein to raise his public profile, vowed to do better, and pledged to raise money for victims to make up for funding their research with Epstein’s dirty cash.
But what may have looked like a sheepish promise to make $800,000 in restitution now appears to be an attempt to avoid responsibility for far more sinister dealings. According to Farrow, Epstein was actually responsible for facilitating upwards of $7.5 million in donations – some from his own pocket, and some from Bill Gates and Leon Black. The Gates and Black donations were allegedly “directed” by Epstein. A spokesperson for Gates denied this.
The real problem for MIT, however, isn’t the amount of money (although underreporting by a factor of ten isn’t a good look for the school). As is so often the case, it’s not the crime – it’s the cover up. And it sure looks like MIT covered up Epstein’s role in bankrolling its Media Lab. In the New Yorker piece, Farrow published screenshots of several emails – all of which show a concerted effort to keep Epstein’s involvement secret. One 2014 email from Ito said, “This is a $2M gift from Bill Gates directed by Jeffrey Epstein,” to which Media Lab Development Director Peter Cohen replied, “For gift recording purposes, we will not be mentioning Jeffrey’s name as the impetus for this gift.” Follow-up emails ensued, reminding everyone to keep the source of these gifts anonymous.
“Jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous. Thanks,” Cohen said in another email.
It also appears that Epstein was pretty hands-on in curating his donors. Emails show plenty of direct contact between MIT and Epstein arranging specific recognition for Bill Gates and Leon Black for their contributions. Cohen told Ito, “If Jeffrey tells you that Leon would like a little love from MIT, we can arrange that too.…”
After Epstein was a convicted sex offender, listed as “disqualified” from donating in MIT’s database, MIT Media Lab worked closely with Epstein, secretly taking donations from him or labeled as having been secured at his direction, from his contacts, including Bill Gates. pic.twitter.com/o96hQYTku7
— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) September 7, 2019
While MIT scrambles to explain the discrepancies between its public statements and private records, it’s also going to have to deal with something even harder to explain away: a woman who saw this happen. Farrow reported his conversation with Signe Swenson, a former development associate and alumni coordinator at MIT; Swenson reportedly resigned in 2016—partly because she felt uncomfortable about lab’s work with Epstein and the demands to keep his involvement secret.
Swenson told Farrow the details of one Epstein campus visit. Epstein’s identity was kept hidden. Calendar entries and emails were labeled anonymously, and staffers were instructed to keep mention of Epstein out of all communications. Swenson said she was disturbed by the entire process.
“At that point it hit me: this pedophile is going to be in our office,” she said.
When the day of the visit came, Swenson saw Epstein arrive with two young women, who she believed to be Eastern European models. Swenson and her female colleagues were uncomfortable, and even planned to try and help the young women if they were with Epstein against their will.
As the cycle of investigations, apologies, whistleblowers, and likely — lawsuits — continues, we’ll likely hear more about Epstein’s ties to MIT as well as other institutions and individuals. For now, though, MIT and its rainmakers should start directing all research efforts to obtaining good legal counsel.
Some time ago, I was asked by Joi Ito, head of MIT’s @medialab, to be a juror for its Disobedience Award. I agreed.
Now I quit.
Thanks to Jeffrey Epstein and the way elite, mostly male networks protect people like him — and each other.
— Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) September 6, 2019
[Image via Stephanie Keith/Getty Images]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.