Founder of MIT's Media Lab Continues to Believe Taking Money From Epstein in 2013 Was Justified

Founder of MIT's Media Lab Continues to Believe Taking Money From Epstein in 2013 Was Justified
Image:Associated Press

For decades Jeffrey Epstein styled himself as a philanthropist, throwing millions at institutions like Harvard University and MIT as well as an array of prominent scientists including the late Stephen Hawking, whom he would, incidentally, tell of his truly disgusting dream of improving the human race with his DNA by impregnating women. Now, in the wake of his arrest and subsequent death by suicide, those who accepted his money—at times years after it was well-known that he sexually abused young girls—are attempting to explain themselves, and unsurprisingly, they’re doing an incredibly shitty job of accepting responsibility for lending a veneer of respectability to a sexual predator.

Take MIT’s Media Lab, whose director Joi Ito met with and accepted money from Epstein in 2013, years after Epstein had pled guilty to child prostitution and was a registered sex offender. In a case of way too little, way too late, Ito last month apologized for accepting money from Epstein not only for the Media Lab, for but several of Ito’s personal investments in tech start-ups.

“I was never involved in, never heard him talk about, and never saw any evidence of the horrific acts that he was accused of,” Ito wrote in a post on the Media Lab’s website. “That said, I take full responsibility for my error in judgment. I am deeply sorry to the survivors, to the Media Lab, and to the MIT community for bringing such a person into our network.” Ito then pledged to both return the money he received from Epstein for his own investment funds, as well as raise money for nonprofits that support trafficking victims.

Ito’s belated mea culpa hasn’t satisfied everyone, though. Per the Boston Globe:

After Ito’s revelations, a well-known professor and a visiting scholar both announced they will quit the lab in protest. Students at the lab have demanded a fuller accounting of Ito’s relationship with Epstein.
At least one graduate student and several outside critics have called on Ito to resign. But more than 200 students, faculty, alumni, and other Ito supporters have signed a petition backing Ito and his leadership.

Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT and an associate professor at the Media Lab, is one of the people who has decided to quit. “My logic was simple: the work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view. It’s hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship,” Zuckerman wrote in a Medium post on his decision. He added, “For me, the deep involvement of Epstein in the life of the Media Lab is something that makes my work impossible to carry forward there.”

But at least one person—Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the Media Lab and its director for 20 years—is vocally supporting Ito, and continues to maintain that accepting Epstein’s money was justified. At a meeting this week with staff of the Media Lab, Negroponte defended the decision.

“If you wind back the clock,” he said, according to news reports, “I would still say, ‘Take it.’” He then added, reportedly with emphasis, “Take it.”

Negroponte sounds like a real dick. More, from MIT’s Technology Review, on this week’s meeting:

Negroponte said that he prided himself on knowing over 80% of the billionaires in the US on a first-name basis, and that through these circles he had come to spend time with Epstein. Over the years, he had two dinners and one ride in Epstein’s private jet alone, where they spoke passionately about science. (He didn’t say whether these occurred before or after Epstein’s 2008 conviction.) It was these interactions, he said, that warmed him to Epstein and made him confidently and enthusiastically recommend that Ito take the money.

In a follow-up interview with the Boston Globe, Negroponte repeated his view that he continues to believe accepting Epstein’s donation was the right call. “I would say that again based on what we knew at the time,” he wrote in an email. Again, as a reminder, in 2013, we already knew that Epstein was a sexual predator who enjoyed abusing young girls, so I’m not sure what point he’s trying to make, other than that he has no problem accepting money from extremely fucked up people and brushing aside questions of ethics?

His defense somehow got worse. “We all knew he went to jail for soliciting underage prostitution,” Negroponte told the Globe. “But we thought he served his term and repented. I even discussed this new leaf with him.” Negroponte was surprised by Epstein’s more recent arrest (why, I have no clue), and, according to the Globe, is only now somewhat regretful. “Yes, we are embarrassed and regret taking his money,” Negroponte said.

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