For me, the most stunning ethics moment in the Netflix documentary “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich” was when Prince Andrew, a long-time pal of the late sex-trafficker/billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, appears on camera and engages in a spectacular Jumbo. In a televised interview, the brother of Prince Charles claimed he never met Epstein—though there are photos of the Prince standing with him. He also said he had no recollection of knowing the woman pictured in the photo above, who was one of the under-age girls Epstein sexually exploited and passed around among his friends. The woman in the background is British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who served as one of Epstein’s procurers (and who was recently arrested as an accessory to his crimes). Yet when Andrew was asked how he explains the photo if he never had anything to do with the American teenager it shows him with his arm around, he said, incredibly, “I can’t explain it.”
Wow. “Photo? What photo?” “Teenage sex toy? What teenage sex toy?” “Pedophile billionaire? What pedophile billionaire?”
All Jimmy Durante had to deny was the existence of the stolen elephant he was holding at the end of a rope.
Reasonable minds may disagree about the worst ethical breaches on display in the documentary; there are so many. Epstein, of course, was scum—a predator, a sociopath, and a crook. I found no surprises regarding him personally. I also knew that wildly wealthy villains have the ability to corrupt everyone around them, but the supporting cast of the Epstein story provides bracing reminders, such as…
- Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who excised all references to Epstein’s pedophilia in what became a puff piece about him, because the magazine’s lawyers were nervous. At least, that’s his explanation now,
I knew there were good reasons not to trust Vanity Fair….
- The Bear Stearns executive who confessed on camera that he didn’t fire a young Epstein when the company learned that his resume contained phony credentials. The executive’s explanation is that Epstein’s rationalizations impressed him. I don’t believe it. I suspect he reasoned, “Hey, this guy is smart and has no scruples whatsoever. He can make us a bundle!” It is axiomatic that you can never trust an employee who lies to get hired, and Epstein is a perfect example. This now remorseful fool says he didn’t want to ruin a promising young man’s career prospects over a single mistake.
Claiming to have degrees from schools you never attended isn’t a “mistake,” it’s signature significance. The rest of society must be protected from an individual who does that.
- Lawyer Alan Dershowitz provides the usual criminal defense attorney mantra to justify accepting a presumably obscene fee to join Epstein’s Dream Team of lawyers recruited to get him a sweetheart plea deal the first time he was indicted. I generally support the position that a defense attorney is defending the system rather than thdefendant by forcing the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the function is noble and essential. A client like Epstein, however, strains the argument. Epstein’s lawyers’ assignment wasn’t to make sure he wasn’t unjustly convicted or excessively punished. It was to overwhelm the prosecution and make sure a sexual predator would be free to victimize young girls again as soon as possible. Dershowitz knowingly accepted a fortune to do that, and it was unethical.
Dershowitz also claims that Epstein lied to him, and repeats the lie on camera. He taught legal ethics at Harvard Law School; he knows that’s a violation of attorney-client privilege.
- Then there is former Trump Administration Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, whose sordid story Ethics Alarms discussed here and elsewhere. As U.S. Attorney for Southern Florida, he negotiated a plea deal with Dershowitz and Epstein’s other lawyers that blindsided Epstein’s victims (contrary to law) and gave immunity to his minions, while sending the billionaire to prison for just 18 months.
For those looking for a conspiracy, Acosta was appointed to the Labor post by President Trump, who in his younger days hung out with Epstein.
- Art patron Eileen Guggenheim, who is accused by two of Epstein’s victims of being one of his “enablers,” is described as helping Epstein because he had been a prominent benefactor of her family’s art museum.
There are others.
I have to say that I found Epstein’s victims interviewed on camera sympathetic but far from admirable. All of them had opportunities to stop, or to try to stop, the billionaire’s sex crimes and possibly save other young women from their fate. Instead, most of them accepted money to induce more girls into becoming his sex slaves. Yes, yes—broken families, poverty, useless parents, desperate to have better prospects—I understand. Nonetheless, the now adult women seem to accept little responsibility for what they inflicted on others. They were victims, but they are not heroes, and their self-righteousness is hard to stomach.
I must also register these addition objections:
1. Calling victims “survivors” is manipulative. Their lives weren’t in danger. “Survivor” is cynically used now to ratchet up sympathy, but the word doesn’t, or shouldn’t, mean anyone who is mistreated or abused.
2. The documentary ends with the victims extolling the decision of Judge Richard Berman to hold a hearing allowing them to testify after Epstein had died. The move was popular, but inappropriate. The legal system isn’t an Oprah episode. The victims felt the opportunity to tell their stories was therapeutic, and I’m sure it was. However, it is not the responsibility of courts to provide therapy. Berman abused his authority.
3. The documentary appears to deliberately avoid focusing on Bill Clinton, who, like Prince Andrew, has a well-documented record of cavorting with Epstein, and a better documented record of being a sexual predator himself.
In related news, the Democrats have announced that Bill will be one of the speakers at their convention.