Yesterday, New York Magazine reported that Jeffrey Epstein, who is charged with sex trafficking, repeatedly referred women—one of whom came pre-approved by Harvey Weinstein—to work for Charlie Rose, the longtime PBS host accused of sexual harassment by dozens of women. One of those referred women went on to accuse Rose of sexual harassment. A few days earlier, the New York Times reported that within the last few years Forbes.com, the National Review, and HuffPost published articles painting Epstein as “a selfless and forward-thinking philanthropist with an interest in science,” despite his having pled guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution.
These two stories are not unrelated. They reflect the reality of the good ol’ boys club, which is not just about networking and connecting powerful men to greater power, although it does both. The clubhouse mentality can also create lines of connection between men allegedly abusing their power, facilitate alleged abuse, and conveniently make available a redemptive media narrative. That’s what this latest installment of standout Epstein reporting makes clear: the full potential scope of the boys club.
New York Magazine has published a reported guide to Epstein’s “little black book,” a collection of the financier’s contacts first unearthed by Gawker in 2015 from court proceedings. Within the A-to-Z list, there are plenty of items that demonstrate the leniency Epstein benefited from (for example, Cy Vance Jr., an entry near the end of the list, the New York prosecutor whose office attempted to reduce Epstein’s sex offender status). But an entry on Charlie Rose points to a different benefit: the connections between high-profile men accused of abuse and harassment.
Irin Carmon reports on call logs documenting that Epstein and his assistant called Rose dozens of times over the course of a couple years. Some of those calls were about scheduling lunch or tea between the two men, but not infrequently it was to refer an assistant. Carmon writes that Epstein “called with a total of five women’s names and phone numbers.” One of these women was described in a call log as the “world’s most perfect assistant she used to work for Harvey Weinstein he’s lucky if he can get her.” Here we have a networked trifecta of accused men: Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and Charlie Rose, all intimately connected.
Carmon reports that Rose ultimately hired three women referred by Epstein. One of those women was among the 35 who recently accused Rose of sexual harassment, and she had no idea that Epstein had referred multiple women to the PBS host. “I was being offered up for abuse,” she said. It demonstrates that networking isn’t just about connecting powerful men to greater power in the realms of business and wealth; it can connect them to greater power over girls and women, specifically. Girls and women can be treated as just another sharable, tradeable asset. (Note another name in the black book: Woody Allen, who was accused of statutory rape by Babi Christina Engelhard, who went on to become Epstein’s assistant.)
Sometimes those girls and women speak up, though. In which case, the good ol’ boys network is there to help with image recuperation—either directly or via the power it helps perpetuate and the credibility it confers. There are several powerful media figures named in Epstein’s black book, including Rupert Murdoch of Fox, Steve Forbes of Forbes magazine, and Graydon Carter, former editor of Vanity Fair. This alone doesn’t implicate those mentioned, but it does underscore the degree of connection, access, and power. Carter has been criticized for cutting mentions of abuse allegations from a 2003 Vanity Fair profile of Epstein, which he initially claimed was because the details felt out of place in a finance piece and more recently alleged was because he mistrusted the reporting.
At the time, Carter allegedly told the author of the piece in explaining the cuts: “[Epstein’s] sensitive about the young women.”
That piece published well before Epstein was accused by sexual abuse of dozens of girls and women and pled guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution. The Times focuses on three egregious examples of glowing Epstein coverage in the aftermath: a pair of 2013 articles published in Forbes and the National Review, and a 2017 article in HuffPost. Taken together, these pieces describe Epstein as “one of the largest backers of cutting-edge science around the world,” and “a smart businessman” with a “passion for cutting-edge science” who has “given thoughtfully to countless organizations that help educate underprivileged children.” He’s celebrated for “taking action to help a number of scientists thrive during the ‘Trump Era.’” A hero, practically.
All three articles have since been taken down, and at least two appear to be straight-up PR copy: Turns out the Forbes piece was written by a public relations firm and a contributing writer was “paid $600 to attach his byline” to it. The National Review article was written by a publicist for Epstein, who identified herself as a science writer.
As the Times points out, these stories tell us something about the dangers of outside contributor models in online media. They also tell us something about why powerful men so often have a redemption narrative readily available, regardless of their alleged infractions. That redemption narrative might come by way of connections, influence, access to PR teams, or money to place stories, but it need not. The truth is that powerful men have access to a hero story, despite decidedly unheroic acts, because there is a readiness to believe them worthy of it. Their network seems to make them worthy—because if they’re not worthy, then how can their networks be worthy? And if their networks aren’t worthy, then what does that do to our conceptions of power, prestige, and credibility? The house of cards falls.
Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that the women who worked for Charlie Rose was aware her referral came from Epstein, but not that he’d referred others.