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Anne Townsend

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

It’s just going to bring shame and trouble

By Martha Ross | mross@bayareanewsgroup.com | Bay Area News Group

PUBLISHED: November 6, 2017 at 8:55 am

Ronan Farrow, one of the journalists who helped chronicle Harvey Weinstein’s alleged reign of terror with his bombshell report in the New Yorker, is working on another story that he says will expose the “machine” that allows powerful men in Hollywood and in society at large to get away with being sexual predators, sometimes for decades.

That’s the least you can do. Your original response to your sister was to put the career of an alleged paedophile above her need to be heard. Keep going with your documentaries. They rock.

During an appearance Friday on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, Farrow said his new story will address the mechanisms that allowed the multiple sexual harassment and assault allegations against Weinstein to be hushed up for so long.

“People have asked, ‘How could this many allegations have stayed undercover this long?’” he explained. “I think there’s much more to be said about just how far that went.”

But Farrow pointed out that this “machine” isn’t just limited to Hollywood, and it’s not just powerful figures using threats about job opportunities to keep victims silent. It also comes from victims facing the possibility of shame within their own families.

He acknowledged to Colbert that he should know about these personal mechanisms that work to keep victims silent — because he was part of a family that was wary about his older sister Dylan Fallow publicly discussing her claims that their estranged father Woody Allen had molested her when she was 7.

“I was for many years one of the people around a victim of sexual assault, saying ‘Why bother coming forward more? What will it achieve? It’s just going to bring shame and trouble, and he’s a powerful guy,‘” Farrow told Colbert.

Sorry to tell you so bluntly, Ronan, but that response reeks. You owe Dylan an apology.

As it happens, Farrow’s statement to Colbert isn’t the first time he has admitted his former resistance to his sister coming forward.

In a powerful 2016 guest column for the Hollywood Reporter, “My Father, Woody Allen, and the Danger of Questions Unasked,” the former MSNBC host described how his father’s PR machine “revved into action” after Dylan decided to write about her experience in a 2014 open letter.

Farrow said, “Every day, colleagues at news organizations forwarded me the emails blasted out by Allen’s powerful publicist, who had years earlier orchestrated a robust publicity campaign to validate my father’s sexual relationship with another one of my siblings.”

Farrow was referring to his father’s affair with Soon-Yi Previn, Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter with her ex-husband Andre Previn. That affair was the initial event that ended Allen’s long-time relationship with Mia Farrow, Ronan Farrow’s mother.

“Those emails (from Allen’s publicist) featured 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,” Farrow wrote. “At first, they linked to blogs, then to high-profile outlets repeating the talking points — a self-perpetuating spin machine.

Farrow said his sister tried to get her letter published in numerous outlets, but they refused, and only New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof would publish her piece on his blog.

In her letter, Dylan Farrow alleged that Allen had “groomed” her with inappropriate touching as a young girl and sexually assaulted her when she was 7 years old.

Allen has long denied the allegations. Farrow said his father was investigated but a prosecutor decided not to file charges, out of concern that a trial would subject the young girl to more trauma, though he announced publicly that he had “probable cause” to prosecute.

But aside from Dylan’s letter being rejected by different outlets, Farrow admits he initially didn’t want her speaking up. He said he felt shame about this “painfully public family history” and had long worked to distance himself from it, especially as he was launching his journalism career.

“Initially, I begged my sister not to go public again and to avoid speaking to reporters about it,” he said.

You wanted to distance yourself from the story because you were launching your journalism career?  How can speaking out about an alleged paedophile destroy your career in journalism?

Meanwhile, Farrow said that he always believed his sister’s account of what happened, given what he remembered from their childhood. As an attorney with a degree from Yale Law School, Farrow also said he had gone through the evidence and found his sister’s claims to be “credible.”

He eventually came around to realizing she was right to speak up:

“When Dylan explained her agony in the wake of powerful voices sweeping aside her allegations, the press often willing to be taken along for the ride, and the fears she held for young girls potentially being exposed to a predator — I ultimately knew she was right.”

Yup. Agony. That about describes it. When the very people who need to support you, beg you not to go public, fob you off with ambivalence, or stonewall you outright. Agony is a good word.  As for the agony of knowing in your bones that others are at risk, when the paedophile is at large? There should be a special word for this feeling.

Fast forward to November 2017 and to Colbert’s show, when the host asked him if his desire to do the Weinstein story was in any way motivated by his family’s experience.

Farrow said that he simply received the assignment from New Yorker editors, though he acknowledged that, yes, “what was instrumental” in driving him throughout the course of his reporting was that “sexual assault was an issue that had touched my family.”

I so get that. You need to be driven. You need to sleep and dream this work.

“I understood over time the importance of confronting it honestly and the importance of tough meticulous reporting in exposing these kinds of crimes,” he said.

He didn’t reveal much more on Colbert’s show about the scope of his upcoming story — whether it will just focus on Weinstein or take in a broader context, even his own family’s experience. But he repeated the idea that it’s important for everyone, especially including journalists, to start listening to victims and give them a voice.

“It was a long process of my realizing you, know, that the fact that (my sister) wants to speak up is something important ethically and I as a reporter, whether looking at Bill Cosby or Roger Miles or Harvey Weinstein, you have to get tougher. We all have to get tougher,” he said.

 You totally get this topic. That’s rare, and necessary. Thank you for your effort.

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