The arrest of the apparent billionaire investor Jeffrey Epstein at a New Jersey airport on Saturday on federal charges for crimes he was accused of during the Bush administration should not be surprising to anyone who has followed the news carefully. He may have escaped in 2008 with a ludicrous one-year stint in a county jail that he was allowed to leave six days a week, but his name has never quite been out of the headlines. Between 2008 and 2015 Epstein reportedly settled more than a dozen lawsuits from Jane Does alleging sexual assault; the youngest of his alleged victims was 14 years old.
The only question is why did it take this long? Why was the ludicrous deal that gave Epstein and his fellow conspirators immunity in exchange for a slap-on-the-wrist jail sentence ever allowed to go through in the first place?
The most obvious answer is, of course, that Epstein knows people. Lots of people. A list of his reported friends, business associates, and legal counselors reads like a #MeToo and Manhattan sleazebag All-Star team, with a few stringers pulled in from the media and both political parties: Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Mort Zuckerman, Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton, Alan Dershowitz, Ken Starr, Katie Couric, George Stephanopoulos, the current president of the United States. The obscene deal that kept Epstein out of what could easily have been a life sentence in prison was negotiated by Alexander Acosta, the current Secretary of Labor, who was then a federal prosecutor in Florida. In 2002, Graydon Carter, the longtime editor of Vanity Fair, removed references to Epstein’s sexual activity from a profile, including testimony from alleged victims, according to the article’s author. “He’s sensitive about the young women,” Carter is said to have explained. Won’t somebody please not think of the children?
It will be at least another week before 2,000 or so pages of documents related to Epstein’s exploits will be released following the order of an appeals court last week. When we finally see them we will likely be able to answer questions about the identities of the “numerous prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, foreign presidents, a well‐known Prime Minister, and other world leaders” who have also been accused of sexual abuse by Epstein’s alleged victims. Is one of them a Razorbacks football fan? Who was the “famous prime minister”? Was Trump speaking from personal experience when he said in 2002 that Epstein “likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side”?
We should keep all of this in mind the next time we feel inclined to sneer at so-called “low-information voters,” especially the kookier sort. You know the people I mean. Wackos. Gun nuts. 8channers. Conspiracy theorists in Middle America who watch InfoWars (one of the few journalistic outlets to discuss the issue of pedophilia regularly) and post about QAnon and “spirit cooking” and the lizard people. The news that a globalized cabal of billionaires and politicians and journalists and Hollywood bigwigs might be flying around the world raping teenaged girls will not surprise them in the least because it is what they have long suspected. For the rest of us it is like finding out that the Jersey Devil is real or turning on cable news and finding Anderson Cooper and his panel engaged in a matter-of-fact discussion of Elvis’s residence among the Zixls on the 19th moon of Dazotera.
Among other things, the Epstein case forces us to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions about the real meaning of “fake” news. There is, or should be, more to being informed than fact-checking formalism. If you have spent the last few years earnestly consuming mainstream left-of-center media in this country you will be under the impression that the United States has fallen under the control of a spray-tanned Mussolini clone who is never more than five minutes away from making birth control illegal. If you watch Fox News and read conservative publications, you no doubt bemoan the fact that Ronald Reagan’s heir is being hamstrung by a bunch of avocado toast-eating feminist witches. Meanwhile, Alex Jones’s audience will tell you that America, like the rest of the world, is ruled by a depraved internationalist elite whose ultimate allegiance is not to countries or political parties or ideologies but to one another. These people believe in nothing. They will safeguard their wealth and privilege at any cost. They will never break rank. And they will commit unspeakable crimes with impunity, while anyone who dares to speculate openly is sued or hounded out of public life as a kook.
Which of these worldviews is closest to the truth?
Illustrated | AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office via AP, File, artishokcs/iStock