“Was there anyone who wasn’t talking to Jeffrey Epstein?”
Among the richest and most powerful men in the world, there was an open secret about Jeffrey Epstein. His chef, Adam Perry Lang, cooked a fantastic piece of slow-cooked beef in classic American BBQ style, slathered with a “board sauce” of olive oil and herbs.
Lang’s beef was one of many perks savored by the rich and powerful who, for years, flocked to Epstein’s gilded Xanadu retreats off Fifth Avenue in New York, at Little St. James, (“Little St. Jeff”) in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and to “Zorro Ranch” in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
A Wall Street Journal exposé
The Epstein saga is now back in the news, thanks to an extraordinary exposé this week in the Wall Street Journal. Epstein’s crimes are not new. What is new is just how deep the relationships were between so many of the world’s titans of power and a serial pedophile convicted of procuring children for prostitution at his various estates. That so many of his high-profile guests also championed ESG and corporate responsibility, raising profound questions of how committed — or even able to commit — they are to a socially responsible future.
Make art not love
Naturally, the targets of the Journal’s reporting don’t see it that way. They are as “shocked” as all of us are at the extent of Epstein’s pedophilia. To these masters of industry, government, finance, and academia, their association with Jeff Epstein was strictly business. Trips on his planes and to his residences were strictly to raise money, get tax and banking advice, or to attend intellectual “salons” on art, science, and culture.
So many of [Epstein’s] high-profile guests also championed ESG and corporate responsibility, raising profound questions of how committed — or even able to commit — they are to a socially responsible future.
But how is it that not a single man remembers what whistleblower Virginia Giuffre described as a depressingly routine sight at Epstein’s entertainment facilities: nude teenage girls indoors or by the pool? Nor does anyone admit to visiting the underground strip club at his Zorro ranch or Epstein’s legion of “tweens and teenager” spa attendants.
Taken individually, these carefully vetted alibis may have been believable. Taken as a collective work of excuses, it strains credibility. The only way to comprehend how strained is to review the names of Epstein visitors who have made it into the press.
Welcome to Jeffrey Epstein’s friends and family
In no particular order (instances of meeting in brackets), Epstein’s “friends and family” list includes billionaires Bill Gates (5+), Leon Black (66+), Reid Hoffman, Richard Branson, Henry Jarecki, Tom Pritzker, Mortimer Zuckerman (15+), Glenn Dubin, Leslie Wexner, and Ron Burkle; World leaders and statesmen who indulged were CIA chief William Burns, Presidents Bill Clinton (26+) Donald Trump (12+), Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Lord Peter Mandelson, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (36+), Norwegian diplomat Terje Rød-Larsen (24+), former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, and astronaut and Senator John Glenn. University presidents included Harvard’s Lawrence Summers (+12), and Bard’s Leon Botstein (24+); academics and scientists who visited included Marvin Minsky, Martin Nowak, Seth Lloyd, Noam Chomsky, Alan Dershowitz, Nobel Prize winners Gerald Edelman and Murray Gell-Mann; Hollywood actors included Kevin Spacey, Woody Allen, Chris Tucker, Bill Cosby; J.P. Morgan private bankers were led by Jes Staley (12+), Justin Nelson and John Duffy.
Other stray cats included violinist Itzhak Perlman, Prince Andrew, co-chief executive of Henry Kissinger’s corporate consulting firm Joshua Cooper Ramo (12+), MIT Media Lab’s Joi Ito, talk show host Charlie Rose, political consultants Doug Band and Steve Bannon, Gates Foundation executive Boris Nikolic, and presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy Jr. Even astrophysicist Stephen Hawking spent time on Epstein’s island.
Epstein’s sorry past did not stop him from being invited to a Silicon Valley “billionaire’s dinner” with Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Salar Kamangar, Zack Bogue, and others.
“Was there anyone who wasn’t talking to Jeffrey Epstein?” was a headline this week from the Motley Fool.
But there is more
During the weeks of the United Nations General Assembly, Epstein’s townhouse also saw a steady stream of visiting UN dignitaries. Epstein’s sorry past did not stop him from being invited to a Silicon Valley “billionaire’s dinner” with Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Salar Kamangar, Zack Bogue, and others.
Epstein was also a card-carrying member of the Trilateral Commission, a member in good standing at the Council on Foreign Relations, and he briefly served on the board of New York’s Rockefeller University. And for ten years after being arrested for soliciting a minor, Epstein had access to an office and card key at Harvard University, where he continued to post links to his foundation and his connection to Harvard on their university website.
Epstein’s ghoulish 5-star VVIP-only enterprise is hardly an aberration of ESG-challenged behavior.
The earth’s atmosphere is heating up to the point of “no return,” yet the upcoming United Nations climate conference (COP28) is chaired by Sultan Al Jaber, leader of ADNOC, the oil and gas company of the United Arab Emirates. As CEO, he is overseeing the world’s third biggest expansion of oil and gas production, surpassed only by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The U.S. Supreme Court is making landmark decisions championed by conservatives, while one of its judges admits to routinely taking gifts and vacations from a wealthy patron dedicated to those causes.
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp will pay $780 million in an out-of-court settlement, and Tucker Carlson is out of a job because the network and its favorite anchors deliberately misinformed millions of viewers about the 2020 U.S. Presidential election.
The loser of that race, Donald Trump, is now on trial for allegedly raping a woman in a department store.
And living at the center of Stanford University under house arrest is crypto Ponzi schemer Samuel Bankman-Fried, son of Stanford University professors.
A new generation of skeptics
The length and breadth of Epstein’s visitor blotter does explain why there is so much skepticism about ESG and corporate responsibility initiatives, particularly among a younger generation to whom the world feels increasingly out of control.
The length and breadth of Epstein’s visitor blotter does explain why there is so much skepticism about ESG and corporate responsibility initiatives.
Alison Taylor is a clinical associate professor at New York University who focuses on corporate responsibility and business ethics. Her students, she says, are part of a new, emerging generation that is “very good on authenticity and what is really going on. They are very attuned to hypocrisy.”
They are particularly wary of corporate ESG. Like her students, Taylor worries that despite a tsunami of ESG commitments and pledges, the world’s government, business, and finance leaders are “nowhere near agreement on how a business that aspires to be more ethical and trustworthy can get there.”
The human face of hypocrisy
If there is any upside to the Epstein scandal, it’s that it puts a human face on hypocrisy. Too much of the ESG debate is disembodied theory and policy. Little to no human accountability remains.
The Epstein affair demonstrates in graphic detail that the actions, not words, of world leaders matter.
Gate’s questionable judgment
Consider Bill Gates. Even though his wife allegedly left him because of his association with Epstein, Gates shows no sign of contrition, nor has he been banished from society as Prince Andrew, Bill Cosby, or ex-J.P. Morgan banker Staley have been. Gates, like Bill Clinton or Lawrence Summers, is still welcomed — even sought after — by world leaders, corporate chieftains and the media, who cling to his fig leaf of plausible denial.
This is particularly problematic with Gates, because his ideas, foundation, and endless capital disproportionately influence the climate debate.
Made in Russia
This week, for example, Gates sent a personal email to many followers, gushing that “history is being made” at his $2 billion nuclear power plant project in Wyoming. “I’ve long believed that if we want to fight climate change, we must bet big on nuclear power. No other source of clean energy is as reliable, and no other source of reliable energy is as clean.”
What Gates did not tell his readers is that not only is the fuel for the reactor only produced in Russia, but that his partners in the U.S. Department of Energy have put a hold on their support for the project.
That billionaires like Gates, Supreme Court judges, media moguls, and corporate CEOs can display such questionable ethical judgment yet still be allowed to use their immense power and money to influence public policy and debate is one reason why Gen Z is so skeptical about the future.