Comments: Week of August 5, 2019

1 New York’s latest cover story — “Who Was Jeffrey Epstein Calling?” (July 22–August 4) — took a detailed look at the celebrities, CEOs, and presidents who orbited the sex offender. Many readers were furious at the elite’s perceived complicity in Epstein’s crimes, with @AndBrent calling the report an “infuriating rundown of the gilded class’s insidious connections.” Elizabeth Bruenig wrote, “This is the kind of wide-branching scandal somebody would invent to foment class rage, and it comes at a moment when class politics is closer to the surface of American discourse than it has been in a while.” Many noted the relationships between Epstein and other prominent men who have been accused of sexual misconduct, including Woody Allen and Charlie Rose: @CStrait2 tweeted, “Let’s hope this lays to rest any hopes for Charlie Rose to stage a comeback.” Bette Midler wrote, “You may need oxygen when you’re done reading.”

2 Molly Fischer charted Lyme disease’s development from a tick-borne illness to a full-fledged movement (“Maybe It’s Lyme,” July 22–August 4). Matt Zeitlin wrote, “The conflict between chronic Lyme awareness and advocacy and the huge advances we’ve made in recognizing the reality and legitimacy of mental illness is fascinating.” Porochista Khakpour, whose struggle with Lyme was discussed in Fischer’s story, tweeted that she “wish[es] there would be a moratorium on Lyme pieces until they could figure out why people with Lyme disease are so hated and ridiculed.” Todd Murray, whose mother, Polly, was instrumental in bringing Lyme disease to public consciousness, wrote, “I had a classic case of Lyme that went untreated for about 14 years and did not notice any change to symptoms with an extended course of IV and antibiotics by mouth. While I did wonder for years if I needed more treatment, I eventually just let it go. I am now an emergency physician in an area with a high prevalence of tick-borne illness, and at this time of year we see cases of Lyme on a daily basis and remove a lot of ticks from understandably anxious members of the community. But I have also seen people who are clearly suffering from psychiatric distress with complaints of chronic Lyme. This article accurately portrays that segment of patients. The circular logic, treatment without any end point, and use of therapies that have not been established to be beneficial are disturbing to me as a clinician. These patients and those who treat them are no longer in the realm of medical science.”

3 In “The Most Gullible Man in Cambridge” (July 22–August 4), Kera Bolonik unspooled the tale of how Bruce Hay, a Harvard Law professor, nearly lost his job and his home after a woman convinced him he’d fathered her child. The article elicited a wide variety of responses, from pity for Hay (@dearsarah tweeted, “Lordy, this is harrowing & heartbreaking”) to concern for his partner (“The line between Hay’s victimhood and his betrayal of his family is blurry,” wrote @HeideJaklin). @meghan_koushik tweeted, “Law school friends, the next time you’re sad about your grades or dearth of clerkships, just remember Bruce Hay was smart enough to clerk on SCOTUS yet not smart enough to get conned out of his whole home and worldly assets by grifters.” But @WorthlessProf was more sympathetic: “Sure, the entrapment approach didn’t seem particularly skillful, but he was also lonely and depressed. You know what lonely and depressed people often do?! Things they later regret.” @SentinelJust added, “When I did fraud work, most of the victims were well-educated folks who were ashamed to admit that they were taken in in spite of their intellect.” The story ricocheted around right-leaning news outlets. In the Washington Examiner, Madeline Fry wrote, “In one sense, Hay’s story has no moral; it’s a T. S. Eliot–esque tragedy about a lonely man grappling with modernity. In another, it’s a deeply political cautionary tale about what happens when political correctness overtakes common sense.” The New York Times’ Ross Douthat devoted a column to the bifurcated reaction the story provoked, writing, “The leftward-leaners were more likely to focus on Hay as a uniquely gullible or lust-addled individual and to draw strictly personal lessons from his disastrous arc … The rightward-leaners, on the other hand, read the story politically, as a vivid allegory for the relationship between the old liberalism and the new — between a well-meaning liberal establishment that’s desperate to act enlightened and a woke progressivism that ruthlessly exploits the establishment’s ideological subservience.” Douthat’s argument for tempering polarization was promoted by none other than Barack Obama, who called it “a worthwhile Sunday read.”

*This article appears in the August 5, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

Comments: Week of August 5, 2019