A few hours before the Cannes Film Festival opened–where Woody Allen will debut his new film, his son Ronan Farrow wrote a powerful piece about sex abuse–and how the media covers it up. The Hollywood Reporter piece, called My Father, Woody Allen, and the Dangers of Unasked Questions, begins with a story of the time he wanted to interview an author about his new biography of Bill Cosby for MSNBC. “The book omitted allegations of rape and sexual abuse against the entertainer, and I intended to focus on that omission,” he writes. But his producer, “one of several industry veterans,” warned him against it.
“So we compromised”, he says. “I would raise the allegations, but only in a single question late in the interview. And I called the author to let him know what was coming. He seemed startled when I brought it up. I was the first to ask about it, he said. He asked if it was really necessary. On air, he said he’d looked into the allegations and they didn’t check out.”
“It was shortly before the Cosby story exploded,” continues Farrow, “that my sister Dylan Farrow wrote about her own experiences — alleging that our father, Woody Allen, had “groomed” her with inappropriate touching as a young girl and sexually assaulted her when she was 7 years old.”
“Being in the media as my sister’s story made headlines, and (seeing) Woody Allen’s PR engine revved into action, gave me a window into just how potent the pressure can be to take the easy way out,” he notes. Every day, Ronan says he read emails from his father’s PR company “featuring talking points ready-made to be converted into stories, complete with validators on offer — therapists, lawyers, friends, anyone willing to label a young woman confronting a powerful man as crazy, coached, vindictive.”
Mia and Allen with Ronan (left) and daughter Dylan in 1988
“Reporters on the receiving end of this kind of PR blitz have to wonder if deviating from the talking points might jeopardize their access to all the other A-list clients. In fact, when my sister first decided to speak out, she had gone to multiple newspapers — most wouldn’t touch her story. An editor at the Los Angeles Times sought to publish her letter with an accompanying, deeply fact-checked timeline of events, but his bosses killed it before it ran. There were too many relationships at stake. It was too hot for them.”
“When The New York Times ultimately ran my sister’s story in 2014, it gave her 936 words online, embedded in an article with careful caveats. Nicholas Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and advocate for victims of sexual abuse, put it on his blog.”
“Soon afterward, the Times gave her alleged attacker twice the space. It was a stark reminder of how differently our press treats vulnerable accusers and powerful men who stand accused.”
“But when Dylan explained her agony in the wake of powerful voices sweeping aside her allegations, I began to look carefully at my own decisions in covering sexual assault stories. I believe my sister. This was always true as a brother who trusted her, and, even at 5 years old, was troubled by our father’s strange behavior around her: climbing into her bed in the middle of the night, forcing her to suck his thumb — behavior that had prompted him to enter into therapy focused on his inappropriate conduct with children prior to the allegations.”
“But more importantly, I’ve approached the case as an attorney and a reporter, and found her allegations to be credible. The facts are persuasive and well documented. I won’t list them again here, but most have been meticulously reported by journalist Maureen Orth in Vanity Fair.”
“Allen, Cosby and other powerful men so difficult to cover, he says because” The allegations were never backed by a criminal conviction. It makes our role more important when the legal system so often fails the vulnerable as they face off against the powerful.”
Farrow with his mother, Mia Farrow, at the Time 100 Gala in April 2015.
“Very often, women with allegations do not or cannot bring charges. Very often, those who do come forward pay dearly. It means going up against angry fans and angry publicists.”
“Tonight, the Cannes Film Festival kicks off with a new Woody Allen film. There will be press conferences and a red-carpet walk by my father and his wife (my sister). He’ll have his stars at his side — Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg. They can trust that the press won’t ask them the tough questions. It’s not the time, it’s not the place, it’s just not done,” he says, proving the point of his article.
Ronan ends with “We are witnessing a sea change in how we talk about sexual assault and abuse. But there is more work to do to build a culture where women like my sister are no longer treated as if they are invisible. It’s time to ask some hard questions.”
Farrow’s investigative reporting series, “Undercovered With Ronan Farrow,” airs on NBC’s ‘Today.’