A prominent writer cut ties with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and went on a Twitter tirade Friday in which he blasted the research center for taking money from “pariahs” like Jeffrey Epstein.
“Pariahs with cash will redeem themselves through strategic and prestigious giving,“ Anand Giridharadas tweeted. “Institutions will take it, selling them reputational makeovers.”
Some time ago, I was asked by Joi Ito, head of MIT's @medialab, to be a juror for its Disobedience Award. I agreed.
Now I quit.
Thanks to Jeffrey Epstein and the way elite, mostly male networks protect people like him — and each other.
Giridharadas, who is also an MSNBC contributor and former New York Times columnist, resigned as a juror for the group's annual Disobedience Award, which awards a $250,000 prize annually to “individuals and groups who engage in responsible, ethical disobedience.”
The reason? Media Lab director Joichi Ito had taken $525,000 from Epstein for the lab and another $1.2 million for his private investment funds, The New York Times and other news outlets reported.
"I was on vacation when some of this first came out," Giridharadas told NBC News. "I just started feeling very uncomfortable being part of this."
Giridharadas said he first wrote to Ito privately about his concerns and when he got no response he decided to go public and share all his Epstein-related emails with The Media Lab chief.
"The reason to go public is this elite preservation racket thrives on people not knowing what really goes on in these worlds," he said. "It's not my job to keep these peoples' secrets."
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In one of these tweets, Giridharadas specifically noted that Ito had “cultivated ties” with Epstein in 2013, which is “five years after Epstein became a convicted felon for sex crimes involving minors.”
NBC News has reached out to Ito via The Media Lab's press office for a rebuttal.
Epstein, 66, was facing federal sex-trafficking charges when he killed himself last month in a Manhattan prison cell. He had previously served 13 months of an 18-month sentence for two Florida prostitution charges under a controversial 2008 deal that also required him to register as a sex offender.
Giridharadas wrote that when The Media Lab asked him to be a juror he assumed it was because “they wanted to add someone skeptical of the billionaire-academic-industrial complex.” He wrote that Ito was an acquaintance whom he respected.
“But I was astonished by the details of his Epstein ties,” he wrote. “Not only had he been involved in raising money from Epstein for MIT. He also had Epstein invest in his personal funds. And ‘visited several of his residences.’”
Ito at a recent gathering reportedly acknowledged the “damage” his taking money from Epstein caused. He also admitted visiting Epstein’s private island in the Caribbean twice to raise money and pledged “to return or donate” the funds to “causes that support sex-trafficking victims,” The New York Times reported.
Giridharadas said Ito allowed Epstein to buy his way into an elite and influential research center — and allowed Epstein to fatten his own bottom line.
“Think about it,” he wrote. “A felonious sexual predator needs redemption after his conviction. He donates to universities as part of this pursuit. And in this case, the director of a lab parlays that university relationship into one for personal profit.”
Epstein used MIT, Giridharadas wrote, and “the university uses the predator.”
And in doing so, he wrote, the prestige that Epstein gained helped “stave off justice for his accusers.”
Giridharadas said he wrote to Ito when he was debating whether to quit as a juror and requested that all his correspondence with Epstein be made public. He said he did not hear back from Ito, but heard instead from one of his “plutocrat backers,” Reid Hoffman.
Hoffman is the co-founder of LinkedIn who also serves as on the advisory council of The Media Lab.
Giridharadas said Hoffman told him “it would be complicated to release the correspondence publicly because other names might get dragged in.” The writer dismissed that explanation as “the old ‘ongoing investigation’ excuse.’”
Hoffman, Giridharadas wrote, questioned whether he should serve as a juror.
“So I resigned,” he wrote. “I’m sharing my emails for the sake of transparency, because people deserve to know how these things work. And because people should know that cruel social structures are sustained not only by outright cruelty but also by politeness and silence that entrench power.”
My proposal, in a nutshell: Anyone seriously tainted by Epstein should step down. If they wouldn’t, then I would instead.