On Wednesday, The Hollywood Reporter published a powerful essay by Ronan Farrow addressing his sister Dylan's sexual assault allegations against celebrated Hollywood director Woody Allen, his father. The claims that Allen touched and behaved inappropriately with his daughter when she was younger have been documented extensively in the media, as have the ensuing legal proceedings surrounding the allegations and his divorce.
Farrow, now a journalist, wrote about an interview he conducted with a peer about his biography on Bill Cosby. He had wanted to ask about the allegations of sexual assault against Cosby, but was discouraged by a producer at his network. Ultimately, Farrow brought it up towards the end, in a single question that he had told the author to anticipate beforehand.
"Today, the number of accusers [against Cosby] has risen to 60," he wrote. "The author has apologized. And reporters covering Cosby have been forced to examine decades of omissions, of questions unasked, stories untold. I am one of those reporters — I'm ashamed of that interview."
Farrow drew parallels between the media's "grudging evolution on Cosby" to his family's own experience with how the Woody Allen allegations were covered. He wrote of the powerful PR machine pushing Allen's defense and media outlets' seeming reluctance to give voice to Dylan's side of the story.
The New York Times eventually ran Dylan's personal account in 936 words online in 2014, within an article that contained careful caveats. After the story was rejected by various other publications, the placement seemed like a step forward. But "soon afterward, the Times gave her alleged attacker twice the space — and prime position in the print edition, with no caveats or surrounding context," Farrow wrote.
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Farrow identified the media frenzy surrounding the allegations, and ensuing legal battle between Mia Farrow and Allen, as partly complicit in there being no criminal conviction against Allen. He wrote: "My mother and the prosecutor decided not to subject my sister to more years of mayhem."
While pointing out how newer, digital-based media outlets — singling out BuzzFeed and Gawker — have taken the lead in covering such stories in ways that challenge this culture, Farrow lamented old-school media's lagging evolution on the issue. Its failure to give as much weight to the alleged victims as it does the powerful and accused "has helped to create a culture of impunity and silence," Farrow wrote.
In many ways, journalists' complicity in this culture is the antithesis of the trade's higher purpose — to challenge the powerful and give voice to the powerless.
"Very often, women with allegations do not or cannot bring charges," Farrow wrote. "Very often, those who do come forward pay dearly, facing off against a justice system and a culture designed to take them to pieces. A reporter's role isn't to carry water for those women. But it is our obligation to include the facts, and to take them seriously. Sometimes, we're the only ones who can play that role."
Today, the rich and famous in Hollywood continue to work with Allen and others who have weathered similar accusations, and influential corporations continue to finance their work — all while remaining silent on their partners' questionable past.
"That kind of silence isn't just wrong. It's dangerous. It sends a message to victims that it's not worth the anguish of coming forward. It sends a message about who we are as a society, what we'll overlook, who we'll ignore, who matters and who doesn't," Farrow wrote.
"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."
Cover image via Monica Schipper / Stringer / Getty Images.