But Epstein didn’t stop at socializing with scientists or giving them grants; he also helped spread their ideas. Mother Jones says that Epstein and his accused procurer-of-girls Ghislaine Maxwell were on the board of Seed Media Group, publisher of an influential science magazine and blog network of the early 2000s that featured many Brockman clients. And no influence peddler’s circuit is complete without a stop at TED, the then-exclusive, now-ubiquitous conference at which Brockman was a stalwart, and on the lookout for new clients. Brockman threw an annual dinner during TED, for a while called the Millionaires’ Dinner and then, for a while, the Billionaires’ Dinner. Epstein sometimes flew Brockman’s chosen guests in a private Boeing 727 that the New York Times described in 2002 as “outfitted with mink and sable throws” and catered by Le Cirque 2000.
This rot goes deep. These men—it’s almost entirely men—have defined the way culture has thought about, absorbed, and acted on technological change. And their inner circle included a monster.
Which brings me to the missing noun here: WIRED.
In some ways, WIRED began at the Media Lab. Nicholas Negroponte, the Lab’s co-founder and its director from 1985 to 2000, was one of WIRED’s first investors. Pitched at TED in 1992, Negroponte gave publisher Louis Rosetto $75,000 for a 10 percent stake and became the back page columnist. Since then, WIRED has featured many of the people I’ve named here and other Brockman clients. Ito is a longtime WIRED contributor. (When President Barack Obama guest-edited the magazine, he asked to interview Ito.)
WIRED’s affiliation with the Media Lab was mostly over long before Epstein’s conviction, though members of the Brockman circle continue to contribute and participate in stories. Chris Anderson, WIRED’s editor in chief from 2001 to 2012, was a client of Brockman’s and says that he attended one of the agent’s dinners at which Epstein was present, though Anderson says they didn’t actually meet. (Anderson’s predecessor as editor, Katrina Heron, as well as founding executive editor and “senior maverick” Kevin Kelly, are also on the guest list. Some of the guests describe their experiences here.) Whatever overlap remains between WIRED and the Brockman circle is, as far as I can tell, limited. But WIRED, like Epstein, profited from the association.
Just because Epstein dined alongside intellectuals doesn’t, on its own, taint their work. The scientific method still stands. The data and conclusions hold. But in the spirit of the Edge Question that Brockman used to toss out for his crowd to pontificate on, here’s a Big Question: What ideas did Jeffrey Epstein shape? A convicted sex offender, an accused child rapist, a person who would ask what quantum computing or the origin of life had to do with “pussy” … what did he incept into the work of important scientists, into the writing of influential authors? The idea that should run freon through your cortex is that Jeffrey Epstein likely helped plant some thoughts there.
Here’s an even bigger Big Question: Who got ignored because Epstein helped shine a light on someone else? Cultural ideaspace is finite. The Brockman/Epstein circuit was very male and very white.
Giving the Epstein money back, or donating it to someone who helps the kind of people he victimized, doesn’t solve any of this, of course. But at least it’s feasible. Extracting the money from the equation lets the focus shift, rightly, to the more pernicious influences that people rarely acknowledge—and that are much harder to fix.
After the revelations of abuse and rape, the most frightening thing the Epstein connections show is the impregnable, hermetic way class and power work in America. In private rooms, around tables full of expensive food, middle-aged white men agree to help each other out. They write complementary books about each other, they introduce each other to people who can cut seven-figure checks, and they trade yet more invitations to other, even more private rooms. These are the places where power in America gets apportioned.