MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The MIT Media Lab has been under fire for the past several weeks for its financial links to deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The lab's director, Joi Ito, initially said he had accepted $525,000 and more for his own private tech investment funds from Epstein, and he apologized. Now The New Yorker has detailed the lengths to which the MIT lab went to conceal its acceptance of millions of dollars more in gifts arranged by Epstein. Today, Ito formally resigned, writing, quote, "after giving the matter a great deal of thought over the past several days and weeks, I think that it is best that I resign as director of the media lab and as a professor and employee of the institute, effective immediately" - unquote. Joining us to talk about this is NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik from New York.
David, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: My pleasure.
MARTIN: Could you just walk us through the scale of this? How far did MIT go to conceal their ties with Jeffrey Epstein?
FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. So the scale that originally Ito had said - we accepted a little over $500,000 for the lab. He said he's accepted somewhat over a million dollars for his private investments. But The New Yorker revealed yesterday that Jeffrey Epstein had been involved in landing gifts from others of about $7.5 million.
The question of concealing the ties - these were very conscious acts. You had a development officer, which is to say a fundraising officer, Peter Cohen, at that time saying that Epstein's name couldn't be involved in logging the $2 million gift by Bill Gates. They wanted to hide that it had been done at Epstein's impetus. That's his words, not mine. In - people around the office, according to the article in The New Yorker by Ronan Farrow, called him Voldemort - he who must not be named - a high conscious effort.
In 2013, a professor there, Ethan Zuckerman, had said, look - this is a guy who's a sex offender. He's done these crimes against children, solicited procurement of prostitution of minors. He shouldn't be involved in the institute. So two years later, when Ito was making sure that he could come to the offices to look around, they essentially said, we've got to box Zuckerman out so that he won't be able to see that Epstein is on campus.
MARTIN: So have there been any ramifications to this other than Ito's resignation?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, sure. Zuckerman resigned. A couple other people have resigned affiliations with the lab. I think there's real questions focusing on the university - why this resignation didn't come sooner, why it wasn't forced. You don't need an MIT Ph.D. to be able to read the writing on the wall that's in letters that big. And they should have had some accountability and responsibility. The initial statements didn't, you know, seem to allow the precise nature of the interactions, the precise figures involved to be obscured to the public. That's not the kind of accountability you want from a place like MIT.
MARTIN: Can you just talk a little bit more about what you think the bigger-picture consequences are of this? I mean, what does this lab do, and why do you think that it's important that people focus on something like this?
FOLKENFLIK: I think it raises some real questions about the way in which elites operate. I think Bill Gates and Leon Black of Apollo Global Capital have some real questions to answer about why, if it's true, Jeffrey Epstein would be involved in facilitating donations from them to MIT.
I think, you know, you look at institutions like MIT and you wonder about their governance and their top administrators. But also at The New York Times, where Ito was himself on the corporate board. He resigned earlier this evening. And, you know, there was a lack of transparency with the paper. And the paper's also not been particularly transparent with its readers in its own pages about its ouster of a reporter, as NPR first reported, that took place earlier this year because that reporter had solicited himself a $30,000 gift from Jeffrey Epstein for a preschoool that he favored up in Harlem.
MARTIN: That is NPR's David Folkenflik.
David, thank you so much for talking with us.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.