Peggy Siegal made a name for herself doing what few others in the public relations industry could do what she did as well as she did. An engineer of buzz, a ruthless and clever deployer of rumors, and a hostess to the A-list, the “Uber-publicist” herded countless actors, producers, and directors to Oscars fame.
But the behind-the-scenes media maven has lately been caught in the news spotlight herself, scrutinized for her relationship with deceased sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein after the New York Times described her as one of Epstein’s “social guarantors.”
Soon after the Times published its findings, studios began distancing themselves from Siegal. Over the next six months, Siegal’s firm would lose ten jobs, lay off eight employees, and retain only one assistant. But in a recent feature in Vanity Fair, Siegal has pushed back against the reprisals, saying she was unfairly targeted because of her gender, among other things.
“I’ve finally been attacked for nothing more than being Jewish, or being a woman, or being at the wrong place at the wrong time,” she told the magazine.
“Until you, or I, or anybody else can get the truth out that I have been unjustly accused as a woman, then I have no business,” she said.
Over a decade before Epstein’s fall into ignominy and, finally, his arrest in 2018, the financier used a high-profile legal team to escape the worst consequences for earlier accusations of abusing girls as young as 14. Despite evidence of molesting dozens of girls, he negotiated a plea deal with prosecutors and admitted to prostituting a single minor—a sanitization that suggested some fault on the teenager’s behalf. The self-labeled billionaire served a nominal sentence that has since come under scrutiny for its lax terms.
Socially, Epstein also managed to skirt any potential fallout with the help of image launderers like Siegal, according to the New York Times. Soon after leaving a Florida jail in 2008, he returned to high society unmarred, dining with Katie Couric and George Stephanopoulos at his Manhattan mansion, appearing in photos with scientists like Stephen Hawking, and attending a “billionaire’s dinner” with Silicon Valley titans like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
Also raising eyebrows, in her interview with Vanity Fair the publicist compared the ostracism she’s faced to the experience of Jews in the Holocaust.
“I mean, if I had been in Nazi Germany, it could not have been worse,” she said. “I thought, Oh, my God, I’m on the train station. I’m getting on that train and I’m going to the camps.
In the immediate aftermath of the Times article, while most of Hollywood cooled to her, legendary screenwriter Paul Schrader issued a sort of backhanded defense in a Facebook post.
“I have great affection for her and have always found her to be thoroughly unprincipled,” the Taxi Driver writer said. “Of course some will say ‘she should have known better,’” he wrote, “but what person is above their very job description? How many publicists are now working to promote anti-black, anti-homosexual, anti-woman policies? Netflix, FX, Disney, Annapurna, would you like to see a list of those PR consultants and lobbyists? I bet some of them are on your payroll.”
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