by Chez Pazienza
At the risk of sounding glib about a very serious subject, I guess we're going to do this again, huh? We're going to once again re-litigate a 24-year-old case that's already played out twice before in exacting detail but to the satisfaction of almost no one. We're going to do this in the notoriously unreliable court of public opinion because that's the only place it can be heard anymore. We'll go through the same motions we went through last time and once again nothing will be resolved, because it simply can't be at this point. It will still come down to one person's word against another and to court documents, testimony and facts that have remained unchanged for nearly a quarter-century. We'll do this because Ronan and Mia Farrow continue to insist, some would say rightly, that justice was never done for Mia and Woody Allen's adopted daughter, and Ronan's sister, Dylan Farrow.
The Hollywood Reporter today features a lengthy op-ed written by Ronan Farrow in which he takes the media to task for their "questions unasked" of Woody Allen throughout the years. Farrow complains about the press treatment Allen continues to receive each time he releases a new film or project or simply when he's profiled in a publication, treatment that in Farrow's mind is unfairly fawning and which typically overlooks the incident that Farrow believes should always hang like a dark cloud over Allen's life: the accusation that Allen molested Dylan Farrow back in 1992. Farrow ties the Allen scandal to the one that's recently sunk the career and legacy of Bill Cosby, arguing that the media refused for years to acknowledge the accusations against Cosby even though it's now commonly accepted that Cosby is guilty as sin, that the women who made allegations against him were in fact telling the truth. Farrow writes that the benefit of the doubt given to people like Cosby and Allen is an example of "how differently our press treats vulnerable accusers and powerful men who stand accused."
It's almost certainly not a coincidence that Farrow is seeing his piece published today, given that Woody Allen is opening the Cannes Film Festival on the same day. Any honor bestowed upon Allen these days seems to be a sore spot for Ronan Farrow and his mother, given that it was the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award Allen received at the 2014 Golden Globes that was the impetus for a series of biting Twitter barbs from both Farrows aimed at Allen. Those comments brought the case bubbling up to the surface of pop culture once again, this time to be branded with hashtags and turned into a cause célèbre for online advocates for sexual assault victims. At that time, Dylan Farrow wrote her own harrowing account of what she claims happened at the hand of her adopted father all those years ago, published in The New York Times, which led Allen to respond, also in the Times. Farrow's story was viscerally affecting and even difficult to read at times, while Allen simply ran down the details of the investigation into the case -- which was tabloid fodder for months in the early-90s -- and maintained his innocence as he has for decades.
That, in a nutshell, is what's really at the center of the supposed "media blackout" on the allegations against Woody Allen, meaning the press's reluctance to hammer Allen with the questions Ronan Farrow believes he should be forced to face up to. It's true that as a world famous filmmaker -- a "powerful man" -- Allen was probably not only given the benefit of the doubt by many back in '92 but he had vast legal and PR resources at his disposal to launch a counteroffensive against Mia Farrow, who first brought the accusation against him to light. But Allen isn't Bill Cosby, no matter Ronan Farrow's attempt to tie the two together and their basic status as famous entertainers.
What separates Cosby from Allen is that Cosby faced down a series of accusations beginning in 2005 -- there were earlier charges but they weren't made public -- when Andrea Constand went public with an alleged sexual assault by Cosby, telling authorities about it. Investigators would go on to cite a lack of evidence to pursue the case, but by that time another woman, Tamara Green, had come forward to accuse Cosby of another sexual assault dating all the way back to the 70s. A civil suit by Constand followed as even more women came forward. Remember, this was all in the mid-2000s, making the news media's refusal to examine it closely for nearly a decade a dereliction of duty. The press should have been "asking questions," but it wasn't until Hannibal Buress publicly called Cosby a rapist in 2014 that the scandal broke wide.
The entire Allen case, meanwhile, actually did play out both in court and publicly. It was all anybody was talking about for a while in 1992, particularly since Allen was in the middle of a bitter split from Mia Farrow at the time, after he'd begun dating her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. (Creepy? Sure. But not illegal as she was 19 at the time.) The relationship had detonated a nuclear bomb smack at the center of Allen and Farrow's already unconventional family and the sexual abuse accusation -- or actual act of abuse, depending on whom you believe -- happened right in the middle of that all-out war between the couple. In the end, though, doctors said that there were inconsistencies in Dylan Farrow's story and that it had a "rehearsed" quality to it. The state's attorney claimed publicly that he felt he had probable cause to move forward, but believed Dylan to be too fragile to offer credible testimony. He was eventually disciplined for making the "probable cause" comment, but those charges were ultimately dropped. Either way, a court never prosecuted Woody Allen.
Dylan Farrow claims she was abused. Mia and Ronan Farrow back her up and despise Woody Allen to this day. Ronan and Dylan's brother Moses Farrow came forward in 2014 to stand behind Allen and slam Mia Farrow for supposedly brainwashing Dylan into believing she'd been molested by Allen -- all as payback for Allen's affair with Soon-Yi. The battle lines have been there for years and they're not moving.
That's the issue. That's why the press isn't obligated to turn every single interaction with Woody Allen into an inquisition. Because it can ask all the tough questions it wants and it won't get any new information since there is no new information. The statute of limitations has long since expired so Allen will never see a courtroom and the main players have been telling the same story since day one. With Cosby, there was new information to be dug up and the exposure of that information caused a domino effect, which made more alleged victims come forward. If Woody Allen molested any children other than his alleged molestation of Dylan, all that time with the story in the spotlight didn't bring them out of the woodwork. It's the same people talking about the same incident the same way. Something terrible happened to Dylan Farrow, whether it was abuse at the hands of her father or the poisonous effect of her mother's rage, but tragically we'll never get to the bottom of it.
Ronan Farrow's anger is somewhat understandable, but as someone who works for NBC News these days one would hope he understands that it's not the job of the media to be anyone's personal attack dog. The goal of the press is to dig and assemble facts and when those facts are cohesive, that's when you confront the person or persons they would appear to indict. Were some resourceful journalist to uncover new, concrete information about what happened to Dylan Farrow nearly a quarter-century ago, Woody Allen should be forced to account for that new information. Until then, though, asking the same questions over and over again to satisfy the court of public opinion or the outrage a family feels would eventually become akin to social media harassment. Did Woody Allen molest Dylan Farrow? Unless new facts are somehow dug up in this 24-year-old case, only two people know for sure.
Tonight at the opening of Cannes, master of ceremonies Laurent Lafitte made a crack that seemed to tie Woody Allen to another legendary but controversial director, Roman Polanski. The latter has been living in Europe since running out on his sentencing in the United States in 1978 after taking a plea bargain in the wake of his sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl. Lafitte joked to Allen, "It’s very nice that you’ve been shooting so many movies in Europe, even if you are not being convicted for rape in the U.S." That's the thing. Even if the court can't get you journalists dig up nothing so they stop asking questions, you're not immune to being the butt of incisive humor. And that can do a lot of damage. Just ask Bill Cosby.