He compares his filmmaker father to Bill Cosby
One week after publishing a cover story about Woody Allen, The Hollywood Reporter tapped his son, the journalist and attorney Ronan Farrow, to write a rebuttal of sorts. But it wasn’t a counterpunch to the interview itself as much as it was to the media culture that continues to honor and lionize his father—with little scrutiny—despite years of whispers and allegations regarding inappropriate behavior with children, because this immunity is not a privilege uniquely afforded to Allen.
Ronan, whose sister Dylan has publicly accused Allen of molesting her as a child, writes about his own mishandling of her trauma as a journalist by acquiescing to pressures from news producers and PR professionals who asked him not to speak on the issue publicly, and he says outright that pieces like the THR cover story are a part of the mechanism that lets potential abusers keep an eerie neutrality in the court of public opinion in the absence of formal legal proceedings stamping a person with tidy GUILTY or NOT GUILTY label.
And one need not look farther than the opening paragraph of Allen’s interview, which is pegged to his new film playing at Cannes, to see the mechanism in action: “With Cafe Society set to open the French festival, the director reflects on his unreflective stance on aging (‘If you focus on mortality, the house always wins’), his movies (‘I would erase all but a few’), saving wife Soon-Yi, working with Miley Cyrus, why TV is ‘harder’ than he thought and his willful avoidance of his own press: ‘I scrupulously have avoided any self-preoccupation.’”
Shortly thereafter in the article, Dylan Farrow’s allegations of abuse are introduced and dismissed in one sentence that touches on Allen’s “tumultuous 1990s,” because even though he “never, ever, ever” reads anything about himself it’s highly likely that Allen doesn’t sit for interviews in which his reputation will be impugned with questions about possibly sexually assaulting a child—his own child.
Ronan writes about how he as a journalist has been cowed by professional pressure not to “burn bridges with powerful public figures,” using his failure to ask a Bill Cosby biographer about why he fully omitted any allegations of rape or sexual assault from his book as an example. That was two years ago, in September 2014, and since that time nearly 60 women have come forward accusing the vaunted comedian of sexual misconduct. In that time, Farrow has realized that in the absence of legal proceedings to uncover the truth around sexual assault (remember all those statute of limitations protections?) it is the responsibility of the media to scrutinize the facts at hand and stop hanging the invincibility cloak on the shoulders of “public figures” (re: powerful men) by bending to their PR machines.
In today’s article, Farrow goes straight at the magazine that invited him to write a guest column, calling The Hollywood Reporter profile, “a sterling example of how not to talk about sexual assault. Dylan's allegations are never raised in the interview and receive only a parenthetical mention — an inaccurate reference to charges being ‘dropped.’ THR later issued a correction: ‘not pursued.’”
Then he gets to the heart of the matter: “The correction points to what makes Allen, Cosby and other powerful men so difficult to cover. The allegations were never backed by a criminal conviction. This is important. It should always be noted. But it is not an excuse for the press to silence victims, to never interrogate allegations. Indeed, it makes our role more important when the legal system so often fails the vulnerable as they face off against the powerful.”
Regardless of the prominence of the accused or the strength of the allegations, it is the job of media to be impartial and to scrutinize. That of course does not mean asking a celebrity about that time they jay walked when they were 23 or why they have unpaid parking tickets. But when we talk about Woody Allen and Bill Cosby, we need to accept that we are talking about sexual assault, and just because someone is a legend does not mean their legacy gets to have all the uncomfortable bits be redacted. Our country has a shameful history of ripping apart women who come forward as victims of sex crimes, and it is time—indeed it is past time—for that culture to change.
When Ronan Farrow told a producer of his show that he wanted to ask the Cosby biographer about omitting any conversation about sexual assault he says that he was told, “They're accusations. They're not in the headlines. There's no obligation to mention them.”
Ronan’s producer was wrong, and in the wake of dozens of possible victims stepping forward the Cosby biographer has since apologized for sidestepping the assault allegations in his book. Because as a keeper of the historical record it was his obligation, and if dirty secrets about rape and sexual misconduct aren’t in the headlines it’s the media’s job to put them there.