In 2003, investigative reporter Vicky Ward published a lavish profile in Vanity Fair of a relatively unknown billionaire named Jeffrey Epstein. Titled “The Talented Mr. Epstein,” the profile was an unveiling for the money man, who at the time seemed to be newly present in powerful circles. The resulting piece is classic Vanity Fair fodder; it chronicles Epstein’s “complicated past,” financial squabbles, business rifts, and lingers on his famous friends and luxurious reportedly 51,000-square-foot home, “a high-walled, eclectic, imperious fantasy that seems to have no boundaries.”
Missing from the article were allegations Ward said she uncovered while reporting the story: that Epstein had attempted to extort two sisters into sex, and eventually committed statutory rape with the younger girl, then only 16.
Epstein was charged on Monday with one count of sex trafficking and one count of sex trafficking conspiracy, in a series of allegations that date back more than 15 years and encompass dozens of victims, many of whom were underage. Shortly after Epstein was charged, Ward published a Twitter thread reiterating a story she has been telling for years at this point: how Epstein’s history of alleged sexual assault got cut from the profile. She originally wrote a piece covering the details for the Daily Beast in 2015. (It’s worth reading the thread in full.)
Ward describes an unusually close relationship between Epstein and her reporting process. “He phoned regularly,” Ward wrote. She dutifully met with a set of sources, lined up by Epstein, to speak to his business practices. Unsurprisingly, they described Epstein glowingly, his “brilliantly creative mind, his intellectual prowess—a mental agility that, to put it bluntly, was simply not evident in the many phone conversations he had with me.” After feeling that something was amiss, Ward dug into Epstein’s relationships, eventually finding several cases of extortion:
What I had “on the girls” were some remarkably brave first-person accounts. 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.
Shortly after she phoned Epstein for comment, Ward alleges, he amped up his relationship with the magazine, calling then-editor Graydon Carter on his direct line and showing up at the offices of Vanity Fair unannounced. By the time the magazine went to print, she says, the assault allegations had been removed.
The final piece daintily glazes over Epstein’s relationship with underage girls, chalking it up to a bachelor’s womanizing. A choice quote: “There are many women in his life, mostly young, but there is no one of them to whom he has been able to commit.”
Ward says that when she asked Carter why he’d removed the allegations from the piece, the editor explained “He’s sensitive about the young women.” (Reached by the Daily Beast in 2015, Carter said that the allegations felt out of place in an profile about finance.)
But the resulting insider story is a case study for why so many powerful men are able to keep their prolific and conspicuous histories of sexual assault an open secret. It was Epstein’s connection to a high-rolling set that caused Vanity Fair to take an interest in the no-name billionaire; Ward claims that Carter assigned the story after Bill Clinton used his private jet to fly to Africa. Epstein’s associations with the Queen of England, Kevin Spacey, Prince Andrew, and yes, the Clintons are scattered throughout the profile, a piece that’s practically designed to build Epstein’s reputation as an intriguing symbol of power; power that, conversely, allowed Epstein a front-row seat into the myth-making as it was being crafted at Vanity Fair. It’s a similar reasoning for why the Washington Post might hold allegations against someone they’ve worked with to a higher standard of proof before publication. When power holds court with the institutions designed to unseat it, it’s not surprising that details get cut.
Reached by Politico, Carter has a new angle on why he didn’t publish Ward’s reporting as editor of Vanity Fair:
“In the end, we didn’t have confidence in Ward’s reporting,” said Carter, who left Vanity Fair in 2017. “We were not in the habit of running away from a fight. But she simply didn’t have the goods.”
Ward says she had three women who were willing to go on the record against Epstein, and the magazine seemed to trust her reporting enough to publish thousands of words chronicling Epstein’s financial malfeasance. But sure.
A previous version of this piece said that Ward published her profile in 2001. It was 2003.