Pod: An Epstein Survivor's Warning to Hollywood
Maria Farmer on HBO's coming project, and the writer of the vanishing 'Vanity Fair' story with deals at Discovery+ and Audible: "She's culpable for the rapes of so many women"
Back in the mid-’90s, Maria Farmer was a promising artist with a tiny New York City apartment who had just been commissioned to create two large installations for director James L. Brooks’ film As Good as It Gets. Enter Jeffrey Epstein, a well-connected patron of the arts whom she met at a gallery showing of her work, and a friend to Hollywood figures such as Mike Ovitz, Ron Burkle, Chris Tucker and Alec Baldwin. He offered her space to create the works as an artist-in-residence at the Ohio property of Victoria’s Secret billionaire Les Wexner. What followed was a now-familiar story of sexual abuse at the hands of Epstein and his literal partner in crime, Ghislaine Maxwell. Those stories were at the heart of Netflix’s Filthy Rich, and also are in an upcoming HBO project from Adam McKay.
The now-deceased Epstein went on to become a prolific predator of underage girls, with help from Maxwell, who was found guilty in December on five out of six sex trafficking-related charges and is facing up to 65 years in prison. But his predation could have been stopped by a 2003 Vanity Fair story about the late financier. In fact, Farmer and her sister Annie, another Epstein victim, gave their on-the-record accounts to Vanity Fair writer Vicky Ward one year earlier. But their stories never made it to print, prompting The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner to take a closer look at the circumstances surrounding the omission and who exactly was culpable (hint: Ward comes off looking even worse than former editor in chief Graydon Carter). After that publication, Ward hit back with a pair of rebuttals (What the New Yorker Got Wrong and The Last Word on the New Yorker and Isaac Chotiner). For Farmer, who was undergoing cancer treatment and didn’t participate in the New Yorker story aside from a statement (she has lymphoma and brain cancer), Chotiner got it right. “Vicky Ward was, I think, a very dangerous quote journalist because she promised our safety. And then she goes and has a drinks with the people who are the perps and befriends them,” she says of Ward, who would later describe Maxwell as “passionate” and capable of “vulnerability” in another Vanity Fair story from 2011 (both stories no longer exist on the magazine’s website). Says Farmer: “She's culpable for the rapes of so many women, in my opinion, because of her not reporting what she had been told and instead befriending the perps and hanging out with them and going to bars and writing about it." Indeed, even as recently as 2016, Epstein was making the rounds at the 2016 premiere of Warner Bros.’ Batman vs. Superman, prompting Ankler Hot Seat co-host Tatiana Siegel to ask a Warner Brothers executive that night “why a level three registered sex offender was invited.”
When asked for comment, Ward tells Siegel today, “I did do my very best to protect them, and it kills me that I failed in 2003. That is why in 2015, I did tell the story (in The Daily Beast), with their permission and support, and also wrote what had happened at Vanity Fair.”
To date, Ward has profited off her relationship to the Epstein-Maxwell stories through an Audible podcast, Chasing Ghislaine, and a Discovery+ docuseries of the same name. Farmer calls those who have profited off the stories of Epstein’s victims “presstitutes.”
In addition to the Ward controversy, Farmer also weighs in on Prince Andrew’s stunning settlement with a fellow Epstein accuser (also represented by David Boies), and the suicide hanging of Epstein accomplice Jean-Luc Brunel in a Paris jail. As for Maxwell’s planned appeal, Farmer says, “Ghislaine is shameless to put the survivors through more trauma. Of course, she does not care and is desperate at this stage.”
Farmer also voices her opposition to the HBO series in the works from Adam McKay based on the work of Miami Herald journalist Julie K. Brown’s book, Perversion of Justice (neither HBO nor McKay responded to requests for comment), as Brown is now being sued by two other Epstein victims for her portrayals of them. She also raises objection to Netflix’s Epstein documentary Filthy Rich because of Ward’s participation. (Netflix declined comment.)
The conversation is sobering, and reflects a rarely-discussed rift between survivors and the journalists who cash in with their #MeToo coverage.