Quick Flags: Power controls all


Two stories I’d like to quickly highlight today: one from the Miami Herald and the other from the New York Times. Both are fantastic (and long!) pieces of journalism, and both are united by the common theme of the depravity of our elites, and how traditional systems of justice and basic human traits like morality can be easily vanquished if you’re a dude with enough power. 

Quick Flags is a recurring spotlight of important or notable pieces I want to highlight.

How a future Trump Cabinet member gave a serial sex abuser the deal of a lifetime (Julie K. Brown/Miami Herald)

Jeffrey Epstein’s case reads like an absurd Youtube conspiracy theory. A billionaire, friend of Donald Trump and Bill Clinton alike, skirts off horrific charges of sexual assault against minors with a sentence so minor it feels comedic. Julie Brown’s story builds upon earlier reporting in outlets like Gawker, creating a definitive account of Epstein’s nightmarish story while simultaneously grounding it in a timely news peg. 

His client, Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, 54, was accused of assembling a large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day, the Town of Palm Beach police found.

Facing a 53-page federal indictment, Epstein could have ended up in federal prison for the rest of his life.
But on the morning of the breakfast meeting, a deal was struck — an extraordinary plea agreement that 
would conceal the full extent of Epstein’s crimes and the number of people involved.

Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal — called a non-prosecution agreement — essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes, according to a Miami Herald examination of thousands of emails, court documents and FBI records

This is the story of how Epstein, bolstered by unlimited funds and represented by a powerhouse legal team, was able to manipulate the criminal justice system, and how his accusers, still traumatized by their pasts, believe they were betrayed by the very prosecutors who pledged to protect them.

The prosecutor who negotiated and allowed this extrodenary plea agreement? His name is Alexander Acosta, and he’s Trump’s Secretary of Labor.  

You should really read the whole piece; it’s an astounding piece of reporting. I do want to highlight two things: the exhaustiveness of Brown’s research and how cool it is to see something this impactful come out of a local non-Acela corridor newspaper. 

To the first point, here’s a quote that I think speaks for itself:

The Herald also identified about 80 women who say they were molested or otherwise sexually abused by Epstein from 2001 to 2006. About 60 of them were located — now scattered around the country and abroad. Eight of them agreed to be interviewed, on or off the record. Four of them were willing to speak on video.

I’ve been vaguely aware of Epstein’s story for years now. Part of why I think his story has never been explored this completely is because of how monumental his crimes were: the scope of his actions defies understanding. Reconstructing his story requires tremendous effort. Brown absolutely rises to the occasion. 

Secondly: wow, good on the Miami Herald. 

I don’t say this to disregard the Herald, it’s a newspaper that won a Pulitzer as recently as last year. But this was a story that languished in the shadows for years. We live in a time where monumental stories on this scale rarely come from newspapers that aren’t located in DC or coastal cities. I think Brown’s piece shows the value of a healthy newspaper industry: a network of papers individually able to spend the time needed to craft local story with national implications. 

‘If Bobbie Talks, I’m Finished’: How Les Moonves Tried to Silence an Accuser (James B. Stewart,Rachel Abrams, &Ellen Gabler/NYTimes)

This is a terrific story that takes us inside of the final weeks of Les Moonves’ time as CEO of CBS, before years of sexual assault allegations ultimately surfaced and ended his career. Our window into this story is a pathetic washed-up agent named Marv Dauer. Exploiting the fact that he represents one of the actresses Moonves violated, Dauer basically attempts to extort Moonves.

On Dec. 4, six days after The Times contacted him, Mr. Dauer emailed Mr. Moonves: “Leslie — it’s very important you call me.” Moments later, Mr. Moonves was on the phone. It was the first time in years that the two men had spoken.

Mr. Dauer and Mr. Moonves have given different accounts of the conversation, but they agree on one crucial point: They discussed the possibility of getting Ms. Phillips an acting gig to keep her happy.

It’s important to note that Bobbie Phillips, the actress that connects the two men, retired from the industry. She left years earlier, a career change she says was at least partially related to trauma from Moonves’ conduct. As the authors* lay out, Dauer is trying to restart his languished career, establish a friendship with Moonves and–bizarrely–secure the CEO’s presence at his birthday party. 

For weeks Mr. Dauer had been badgering Mr. Moonves to come to his 75th birthday party. When he finally confirmed that he and his wife — Julie Chen, a host of CBS’s daytime show “The Talk” — would attend, Mr. Dauer was thrilled. “When you get to valet tell him that Marv Dauer said you are a VIP so your car will be parked very close and you can get out of there,” Mr. Dauer texted.
At the April 28 party, guests mingled in the backyard, where tables were piled with small cards on which people could write birthday messages for Mr. Dauer. When Mr. Moonves arrived, Mr. Dauer escorted him around, introducing him to impressed acquaintances.

There are many great things about this piece: the way it offers a window into a terrible man fighting desperately to retain his power; how it subtly condemns both of its subjects as completely manipulative of Phillips, who serves as the story’s only hero. But I think it’s especially notable because it offers an insight into how our wretched capitalistic industries have created a system where power rules above all else.  

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