Image: Associated Press

After Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide this past weekend, James B. Stewart, a columnist at the New York Times, decided it would be a great idea to write about how he met the noted pedophile in August of 2018, ostensibly to talk with Epstein about the rumor that he was advising Elon Musk. It is an extremely strange piece, because in it, Stewart acknowledges all of the frantically blinking red lights related to Epstein’s well-known history of abusing young girls that he himself witnessed—a young teenager who opened the door to Epstein’s mansion; Epstein’s own willingness to discuss, to use Stewart’s words, “his interest in young women”—yet ends it by musing, “What might he have told me?” What a journalist.

Stewart writes that he got in touch with Epstein “because my colleagues and I had heard a rumor that he was advising Tesla’s embattled chief executive, Elon Musk.” Epstein agreed to be interviewed but on background—a condition that Stewart now considers “to have lapsed with his death.”

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Here’s how Stewart describes meeting the teenager who welcomed him into Epstein’s mansion:

After I rang, the door was opened by a young woman, her blond hair pulled back in a chignon, who greeted me with what sounded like an Eastern European accent.

I can’t say how old she was, but my guess would be late teens or perhaps 20. Given Mr. Epstein’s past, this struck me as far too close to the line. Why would Mr. Epstein want a reporter’s first impression to be that of a young woman opening his door?

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Why, indeed? Perhaps because Epstein had no shame in discussing his penchant for abusing young girls:

If he was reticent about Tesla, he was more at ease discussing his interest in young women. He said that criminalizing sex with teenage girls was a cultural aberration and that at times in history it was perfectly acceptable. He pointed out that homosexuality had long been considered a crime and was still punishable by death in some parts of the world.

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Let us pause here for just a moment. Stewart here is freely admitting that Epstein spoke frankly with him about his “interest in young women,” what I personally would have described as his “interest in sexually exploiting and abusing young girls.” But, Stewart writes, “I kept trying to steer the conversation back to Tesla.” Nowhere does Stewart grapple with any of the thorny implications of interviewing a known sexual predator; he is far more interested in probing Epstein’s claims of mingling with the rich and the famous.

The piece ends, in a truly astonishing fashion, with Stewart fretting about what was left unsaid in his interview. Earlier this year, Epstein had asked Stewart to pen his biography, a request he turned down. “That was the last I heard from him,” he writes. “After his arrest and suicide, I’m left to wonder: What might he have told me?”

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By that time, the blockbuster investigation by the Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown on Epstein had been published, but many of the details of Epstein’s abuse and exploitation of young girls had already been widely known even before Brown’s investigation. It sure seems like Epstein told Stewart everything he needed to know, and Stewart, it seems, didn’t much care at the time to ask.