Although Epstein, 66, died in prison in August 2019, the fallout from his associations has continued to the present day. A number of news organizations have reported on those associated with Epstein, including The Epoch Times.
Lessig took issue with a New York Times article that claimed he said taking money from Epstein was fine if it was taken in secret.
The situation concerned the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Joi Ito, the head of the school’s Media Lab. Ito tried hiding the lab’s financial relationship with Epstein. He resigned on Sept. 7.
The next day, Lessig wrote about the situation in a blog post. A friend of Ito’s, Lessig said that he thought years ago, when Ito told him about Epstein’s proposed donations, that he supported his friend. “The truth is that—as I thought about it then—if Joi believed as he did after real diligence, I didn’t believe he was wrong to take Epstein’s money anonymously,” Lessig wrote.
He said that universities are funded in part by criminals, some of whom use wealth derived from their crime—which he claimed included Epstein. He also wrote, “I think that universities should not be the launderers of reputation. I think that they should not accept blood money.”
“I believe that if they are going to accept blood money (type 4) or the money from people convicted of a crime (type 3), they should only ever accept that money anonymously. Anonymity—or as my colleague Chris Robertson would put it, blinding—is the least a university should do to avoid becoming the mechanism through which great wrong is forgiven.”
Later in the post, he said he “should have known” that he should have urged Ito not accept.
The New York Times wrote an article about Lessig’s position.
“It is hard to defend soliciting donations from the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. But Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor, has been trying,” writer Nellie Bowles wrote in the piece.
Lessig said he wasn’t defending Epstein and said clearly that “taking money from Epstein was wrong.” In a new post on Monday, he announced the suit against the paper.
“Today I filed a defamation action—call it a ‘clickbait defamation’ action—against the New York Times,” he announced.
Including a screenshot of the headline and article, he wrote, “This title and lede are false. Yet I’ve found—in the months since this was published, facing the endless attacks I get in person and online—that the challenge is to focus anyone’s attention enough long to see just why they are plainly false. Offering a tweet-length proof, that a perfectly tweetable headline is flatly false is not, it turns out, simple.”
Attempts to get the paper to “correct these two false and defamatory statements” were rebuffed, he said.
A New York Times spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an email: “Senior editors reviewed the story after Professor Lessig complained and were satisfied that the story accurately reflected his statements. We plan to defend against the claim vigorously.”