Though a conspiracy of silence protected him throughout most of his life, the 2019 arrest of the financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and his apparent suicide a month later, provoked a voracious appetite for the sordid details of his assaults on underage girls. His alleged accomplice, the socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, has become a figure of grim fascination. Now, two podcasts explore her relationship with her father, the late, disgraced British media giant Robert Maxwell, and her subsequent friendship with Epstein. Both compare their stories to HBO’s darkly comic drama about a powerful media family, Succession.
The sudden voyeuristic desire to know the details of Epstein and Maxwell’s alleged assaults – after decades of denial, silence and secrecy – leaves me queasy. In LBC’s Hunting Ghislaine with John Sweeney, the former BBC journalist includes a montage of clips of Epstein’s victims describing exactly what happened when they were left alone with him; the uncomfortably explicit nature of this sequence is not lessened by Sweeney’s subsequent “debrief” with his producer, in which they both reflect on how the tapes are “just so tough” to hear as the girls sound “just so young”. The overarching salacious tone of the podcast, too, makes me squirm. Sweeney repeatedly makes reference to victims as “just out of puberty” or “just out of braces” and depicts Maxwell as a “handmaiden of child abuse” with “dark eyes that glitter”, who “feeds the monster [Epstein] with fresh children”.
Power: The Maxwells directs its gaze on Ghislaine’s bullying father: her alleged crimes lurk in the background, but are not the focus of the podcast. (The show’s host, the investigative reporter Tara Palmeri, made another podcast, Broken: Seeking Justice, about the Epstein victims Virginia Roberts Giuffre and Courtney Wild, after concluding that much of the coverage of the case was “pornographic”.) As a result, it has a less graphic, but less sombre, approach. The first episode contains bizarre anecdotes from Christina Oxenberg, a former acquaintance of Ghislaine’s, that made me laugh out loud – then wonder whether I should be laughing at all. Episode two looks into Robert Maxwell’s death in 1991.
Hunting Ghislaine/Power: The Maxwells
This article appears in the 20 Jan 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Biden's Burden