David Kaiser, who exposed the horrors of prisoner rape and the deceptions of Exxon

  • July 19, 2020
  • The New York Review of Books

David Kaiser died this week at the age of 50, of cancer. A great-great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller and president of the Rockefeller Family Fund, Kaiser used his influence and voice to take on hugely powerful interests, champion unpopular causes, and bring injustices to light.

Twenty years ago he was an editorial assistant at The New York Review. He went on to publish important, damning articles in our pages on two subjects: the sexual abuse of prisoners, a horror he devoted years of his life to ending, and climate change—specifically what ExxonMobil knew about it, and what the company hid from the public for decades.

In 2017, when the Review’s editor Robert Silvers died, Kaiser wrote a short tribute to him. He told this story:

He sent me galleys at 11:45 the night before my wedding—and he was a guest at the wedding. At the top of the galleys, in his most painstakingly legible handwriting (I could just see the look of angry concentration as he gripped the pencil), he wrote, “we hope for corrections soonest.” I think he was very pleased with himself at having one-upped his own reputation for calling his writers at three in the morning, asking for corrections on Christmas, etc. I think his attitude was that anyone as pitiless with himself as he was, working to the limit of his capacity not just day after day or week after week but all the time, year after year, his whole life, could ask whatever he wanted of others.

It’s a measure of David’s own care and precision in writing that when he was photographed in 2016 for a Times article about his challenge to ExxonMobil, he was holding a set of galleys covered with scribbled edits and corrections. That photo appeared again this week, next to his obituary.

We mourn the loss of a colleague and valued contributor.

Articles by David Kaiser

The Rockefeller Family Fund Takes on ExxonMobil
The Rockefeller Family Fund vs. Exxon

by David Kaiser and Lee Wasserman


For over a quarter-century the company tried to deceive policymakers and the public about the realities of climate change, protecting its profits at the cost of immense damage to life on this planet. (2016)

The Rape of American Prisoners
The Way to Stop Prison Rape
Prison Rape and the Government
The Shame of Our Prisons: New Evidence

by David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow


Prisoner rape is one of this country’s most widespread human rights problems, and arguably its most neglected. Frustratingly, heartbreakingly—but also hopefully—if only we had the political will, we could almost completely eliminate it. (2010)

Originally posted here