A veteran columnist for The New York Times was once prevented from covering Jeffrey Epstein after his editors learned he had asked the late billionaire for a five-figure charity donation.
Landon Thomas Jr., a financial correspondent with the Times for 16 years, was initially supposed to cover a story on the convicted sex offender who died Aug. 10 after an apparent suicide in a New York City federal prison while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
But the veteran journalist disclosed a connection to Epstein that left his editors “aghast,” according to a report by National Public Radio.
Thomas reportedly had come to know Epstein well after first writing the billionaire financier in 2002, before he joined the Times. He continued to use Epstein as a source for financial stories he wrote after that as the two became friends.
But after being directed to cover a report in 2018 that Tesla founder Elon Musk was seeking Epstein’s advice, Thomas let his editors know that he had solicited a $30,000 donation for a Harlem cultural center from Epstein.
“Thomas suggested Epstein was just a source of information, not someone he would report on or investigate. His editors were aghast. They rejected the distinction he was trying to make,” the NPR report stated, adding that Thomas was blocked from having any other professional contact with Epstein.
“Soliciting a donation to a personal charity is a clear violation of the policy that governs Times journalists’ relationships with their sources,” Eileen Murphy, the Times Co.’s chief spokesperson, said. “As soon as editors became aware of it, they took action.”
The $30,000 donation was listed on the 2017 tax filings for Epstein’s non-profit, Gratitude America, Ltd. The contribution was to a private preschool called O’Gorman Garden in Harlem.
The New York Times staff were reportedly appalled by the connection between Epstein and Thomas, who left the newspaper in January. Given the news outlet’s work on the #MeToo movement, Thomas’ previous articles on the registered sex offender proved to be “an embarrassment” to his colleagues, according to NPR.
One piece, in particular, was a profile Thomas had done of Epstein when he visited his private isle in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2008, just as the convicted sex offender was set to begin serving 18 months for soliciting prostitution.
“The article largely presented Epstein as someone who solicited prostitutes, not committed sex crimes against minors,” NPR reported.
It was not clear if Thomas’ departure from the Times this year was due to his earlier revelation of the donation request.
According to NPR:
This account is based on interviews with five current and former New York Times staffers with knowledge of the episode. They spoke on condition they not be directly named; while the Times confirmed the contours of the incident, it declined to authorize its journalists to comment. Thomas also declined to comment for this story.
NPR’s report detailed the relationships between Epstein and media outlets such as Vanity Fair and ABC News in addition to The New York Times, examining “Epstein’s drive to avoid tough journalistic scrutiny and the media’s reluctance to take the story on.”
A former editor at Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter, believed Epstein tried to intimidate him when the publication went ahead with a March 2003 story on the source of the billionaire’s wealth. Former Vanity Fair editor John Connolly told NPR that Carter believed Epstein was behind the bullet sent to his Manhattan home and a severed cat’s head sent to his home in Connecticut.
The NPR report also detailed how Epstein’s past lawyers, including Alan Dershowitz, worked to get some news organizations to drop stories they were planning to do on him.
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