SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
There's new reporting today about the relationship of Jeffrey Epstein to one of the venerable institutions to which he gave money. New documents show the MIT Media Lab accepted funds from the convicted sex offender far exceeding amounts the university had previously admitted.
Ronan Farrow writes about Epstein's relationship with the MIT Media Lab for The New Yorker and joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Farrow.
RONAN FARROW: Always a pleasure. Thanks, Scott.
SIMON: You received emails showing that the lab wasn't just accepting money from Jeffrey Epstein, it was doing it after his 2008 conviction. And they were using their very clever minds to conceal it.
FARROW: That's right. I mean, what's striking here is there was an entire system of concealment set up. Jeffrey Epstein was regularly meeting with figures around MIT and the Media Lab. The calendar entries associated with those meetings anonymized his name.
Staff were told to keep his name off of his donations, which were were given in two ways that essentially laundered the money or took his name off of them. One was small donations that they felt could be kept anonymous, even though MIT's policy was not to accept money from him after his conviction. And the other was that donations were routed through other donors but described as being directed by Epstein. And that included figures like Bill Gates. And it totalled up to $7.5 million in donations between those two types of funds. That is vastly more than the $800,000 MIT has admitted to.
SIMON: Yeah. We will note that Mr. Gates has denied that Epstein's had anything to do with the - with his contributions.
FARROW: Correct. And we include that in the article. But these emails and other documents that we have uncovered suggest another story.
SIMON: Let me ask you about the steps they took to conceal it. I said they used their clever MIT minds. But they also had some fairly juvenile nicknames, didn't they?
FARROW: They did. I mean, essentially, the suspicion that this was being covered up was so widespread in the MIT Media Lab that staff began calling Epstein Voldemort, or he who should not be named, because they were constantly being instructed to conceal this contact.
SIMON: Any response you've received from the MIT Media Lab, either from the lab's director or the director of development, Peter Cohen?
FARROW: You know, we always do a rigorous process of informing everyone mentioned in our pieces about what's being said and seeking comments and their input. MIT did get back to us. And we note in the article that they say they're looking closely at these donations. In terms of the Media Lab and Joi Ito, the director there, they were completely silent, and we repeatedly tried to get to them on this.
SIMON: You describe a visit with Jeffrey Epstein that's really quite extraordinary.
FARROW: Correct. You know, we have this story in the public now thanks to whistleblowers who did a brave and, I think, important thing in exposing the way in which prestigious institutions like this helped sexual predators conceal their activities and shield themselves.
And one of the things that alarmed them in this case, Scott, was this contact extended up to it including direct visits that were kept secret. And on one occasion, Jeffrey Epstein did visit the Media Lab and the leadership there and faculty there and brought two young women, that female staff, especially, in the office, as they were being instructed to conceal this, to keep faculty members who were critical and didn't want to participate away from Epstein and prevent them from seeing him, they were concerned that these young women who were there might be there against their will and said, you know, they were particularly kind to these women, that they tried to create a space where they could open up if they were there in a way that was inappropriate.
So people were placed in an uncomfortable position. And again, this is an institution devoted to good and important research. These were people who signed up to do good work, and they did not expect themselves to be participating in this.
SIMON: At the heart of it, in the time we have left, though, seems to be the distance between the amount of money MIT says they accepted and the amount of money that you've documented they actually accepted.
FARROW: There is a gap there that a lot of these whistleblowers feel is active concealments and even lying.
SIMON: Ronan Farrow, thanks so much for being with us. His forthcoming book is called "Catch And Kill." And you can read his reporting in The New Yorker. Mr. Farrow, thanks very much.
FARROW: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.