A former New York Times reporter solicited a $30,000 charitable donation from accused serial sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, NPR reported Thursday.
Last summer, according to NPR’s David Folkenflik, financial journalist Landon Thomas Jr. told his editors at the Times that he had become friends with Epstein after previously covering the disgraced financier—and had gotten Epstein to donate to a charity. The Times forbade Thomas from further contact with Epstein and he left the paper in early 2019, NPR reported.
Multiple Times sources confirmed NPR’s story and provided The Daily Beast with new details about what went on between Thomas, Epstein, and the paper’s editors.
Thomas, who wrote a glossy story about Epstein after he pleaded guilty to sex charges in 2008, did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast.
But revelations about his close relationship with Epstein—who was accused of molesting underage girls for more than a decade before his jailhouse suicide—was the talk of the Times newsroom Thursday evening, according to insiders.
“This was a shocking lapse of journalistic standards. It was clearly a fuck-up of epic proportions,” said a person with knowledge of the matter.
It started last summer when the Times received a tip that Epstein had been advising Tesla CEO Elon Musk on who to appoint to a high-powered position at the company. (Musk has since denied this rumor.) NPR reported that business editors asked Thomas to attempt to interview Epstein, given their history, about the Musk tip.
Thomas did interview Epstein, then debriefed his colleagues on the business desk, Times sources told The Daily Beast.
He then disclosed to his editor, David Enrich, that Epstein was not only a source but a long-time friend and that the two had had dinner together on multiple occasions. Then Thomas dropped the bombshell: He had asked Epstein to donate $30,000 to a Harlem cultural center in 2017.
Enrich was shocked, sources said.
“It was made clear to Landon that he was never to have any professional contact with Epstein whatsoever,” said a person with knowledge of the situation. “He wasn’t to call him or speak to him or use him as a source. This was a flagrant breach of NYT ethical guidelines and editors were horrified.”
Thomas tried to downplay his relationship with Epstein to the paper, sources said. At the same time, he resisted giving Epstein’s contact information to colleague James Stewart who had been assigned to interview Epstein about the Tesla situation, sources said.
Ultimately, Thomas was “pushed out” out of the paper by top business editor Ellen Pollock, as one Times source put it.
“We wish we had of gotten rid of him sooner. He should have been fired on the spot,” a person with knowledge of the matter said.
Thomas left the Times in early 2019 in a departure that was kept secret from virtually the entire newsroom until NPR’s scoop on Thursday, sources said.
In a statement on Thursday, the paper said Thomas had violated the Times’ ethical rules around donations, which only allow employees to solicit small amounts of donations from figures who are not covered in the paper.
“Landon Thomas Jr. is no longer on staff at the Times. Soliciting a donation to a personal charity is a clear violation of the policy that governs Times journalists’s relationships with their sources, and as soon as editors became aware of it, they took action,” the spokesperson said.
As part of the process, editors also reviewed what Thomas had previously written about Epstein—including a story published in 2008, as Epstein was preparing to begin a 13-month prison following a plea deal with prosecutors investigating him for sex trafficking.
One Times source called the story—which portrayed the pedophile in glowing terms—as an “abomination.” Epstein was described as an “advisor to billionaires” living in “secluded splendor” on a “palm-fringed Xanadu in the Caribbean.” He was portrayed sympathetically: a man of wealth, charity, and “precise, at times unconventional, habits.”
The Times published the story on its website on July 1, 2008, and ran a slightly different version in its international edition, then known as the International Herald Tribune. That one was even more cringe-worthy.
“For all his power and wealth, there is an insecure aspect to Epstein, a sense that inside the soft 55-year-old body is a thrusting, testosterone-charged teenager eager for locker-room approval,” Thomas wrote in the overseas edition, according to records in the Nexis news database.
After Epstein served barely more than a year in a Florida jail—most of it on work-release—he tried to re-establish himself in society, cultivating famous friends and doling out donations. But he continued to face allegations of sexual abuse and trafficking, including in lawsuits filed in 2015 and 2016.
When Stewart went to interview Epstein about Musk at his Manhattan mansion in August 2018, the money manager acknowledged he “was a pariah in polite society,” Stewart would later write.
Epstein also revealed an unapologetic lust for teenage girls in the off-the-record interview, which Stewart disclosed earlier this month after Epstein hung himself while awaiting trial on federal sex-trafficking charges.
Stewart’s account raised eyebrows among some critics who wondered why the Times had not apparently been more aggressive in pursuing stories about Epstein’s behavior before he was indicted again last month.
In an interview with Columbia Journalism Review last week, Stewart said he found Epstein “charming,” and had planned to treat him as “just another source.”
— With research by Adam Rawnsley