Screenwriter and director of the 2011 PBS film Woody Allen: A Documentary Robert B. Weide published a widely circulated Daily Beast piece “The Woody Allen Allegations: Not So Fast” in 2014. The piece was ostensibly interrogative though some interpreted it as dog whistling sympathy for Allen. In it, Weide responded to the outrage directed at Woody Allen’s lifetime achievement Golden Globe that year (including accusatory tweets by Allen’s ex Mia Farrow and son Ronan Farrow)—Weide had contributed to the honor by producing the clips reel of Allen’s work that preceded Diane Keaton’s acceptance speech. By mere days, the publishing of Weide’s piece preceded Allen’s daughter Dylan Farrow’s account of her abuse at Allen’s hands when she was seven years old, which ran on Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times blog as “An Open Letter From Dylan Farrow.”
This week found Weide and his fixation at it again. He self-published a piece called “HARD QUESTIONS FOR RONAN FARROW: AN OPEN LETTER” in response to Farrow’s guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, “My Father, Woody Allen, and the Danger of Questions Unasked.” Ronan’s piece ran last month, during the Cannes Film Festival, (where Allen’s Café Society premiered) and took the press to task for going easy on Allen, even after his sister, Dylan Farrow, shared her account publicly and repeatedly.
Weide calls Ronan Farrow’s writing “disingenuous, irresponsible, and even dangerous” in his open letter. “You and your mother have both asked that the press continue to hold Woody Allen’s feet to the fire in the name of ‘women everywhere’ and ‘all abuse survivors,’” Weide continues, the former quote coming directly from Farrow’s THR piece. “But there is plenty of evidence to suggest this isn’t really your primary concern.”
Weide lays out his evidence in the following paragraph:
Your mother’s statement in Polanski’s probation report seems to imply the director’s artistic talent outweighed the damage he may have caused to the young girl who was then struggling for credibility, even after Polanski’s admission of guilt. Has Mia ever reached out to her over these past forty years to explain her lack of solidarity with the victim? Further, in 2014, your mother’s lawyer in the infamous custody battle, Alan Dershowitz, was accused of having sex with an under aged girl. He aggressively denied the accusation. Last April, a Florida judge dismissed the charge, but because the girl accused him of this crime, shouldn’t you be advocating for her? What about the child victims of Mia’s brother, John Villers-Farrow, who is currently doing prison time for multiple counts of molestation against two young boys? I don’t remember you speaking out when Uncle John had part of his sentence suspended. What about your own brother Moses, who describes being beaten often by Mia as a child? What have you done to help your brother get his story out? For someone who’s concerned with abuse victims “everywhere,” you seem to be less than universal about the cases you feel warrant public scrutiny.
Perhaps Ronan has an obvious answer to this (he did not respond to my request for comment), which could be that Dershowitz, Villers-Farrow, and Moses Farrow don’t have film careers whose continuation depends on public approval. And of course, no one’s writing open letters in defense of Dershowitz and Villers-Farrow in major publications.
Nonetheless, Weide’s questions are indeed hard and often good. He opens his piece by quoting Mia Farrow in Roman Polanski’s aforementioned probation report from 1977, regarding his rape of a 13-year-old earlier that decade. “[He’s] a loyal friend, important to me, a distinguished director, important to the motion picture industry, and a brave and brilliant man, important to all people,” said Mia Farrow then. In contrast, Ronan, with whom Mia has formed a united front against Woody Allen, wrote last month in The Hollywood Reporter:
But the old-school media’s slow evolution has helped to create a culture of impunity and silence. Amazon paid millions to work with Woody Allen, bankrolling a new series and film. Actors, including some I admire greatly, continue to line up to star in his movies. “It’s not personal,” one once told me. But it hurts my sister every time one of her heroes like Louis C.K., or a star her age, like Miley Cyrus, works with Woody Allen. Personal is exactly what it is — for my sister, and for women everywhere with allegations of sexual assault that have never been vindicated by a conviction.
In response, Weide asks:
Is the inference that if her favorite actors stopped working with him, this would bring her some happiness? If investors stopped financing his films, and studios stopped distributing them, would this finally bring healing and closure to your family? I don’t doubt that you love your sister and want her to feel empowered by speaking out, and with the encouragement of you and her mother and other loved ones, she’s done just that. But if the message here is that her sense of closure is dependent on the opinions of untold millions of strangers who aren’t eager to take her position in this matter (or perhaps any position), isn’t that message the very opposite of empowerment?
The answer to these, among Weide’s many questions—Can a reasonable person believe Allen? Can one believe Allen without thinking Dylan Farrow to be a liar? Is Moses Farrow lying?—would help clarify an unwieldy narrative that requires an intense amount of research to make it legible. (I almost feel bad for making you think about this Woody Allen shit again. Almost.) So labyrinthine is this story that an omission can slip by for those who don’t have all the details fresh in their heads. For example, in this open letter, Weide writes:
The Connecticut State Police ordered an investigation by the The Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of the Yale/New Haven Hospital, whose six-month inquiry (which included medical and psychological examinations) concluded, decisively and unambiguously, that Dylan had not been molested. (The Yale-New Haven investigation summary is actually available on line for anyone to read.) Although the custody case raged on, criminal charges were never brought against your father.
Much is made by Mia’s supporters over the fact that the investigative team destroyed their collective notes prior to their submission of the report...In any event, destruction of the notes may have been part of the reason that, despite the very conclusive position taken by the investigators that Dylan was not abused, presiding Judge Elliot Wilk found their report “inconclusive.”
I asked Weide by email why he didn’t include Wilk’s reaction to the report in his most recent piece on the matter, and he responded at length with even more details. Here’s the crux:
Let me ask you, Rich: All the people who cry foul with regard to how the investigation was handled — do you think they’d be wringing their hands over procedure if the report had found Woody guilty of the allegations? Let me wager a guess that they would not be questioning who testified or gave a deposition, or what notes were kept. They’d be quite happy with how everything was handled. It simply didn’t go their way.
Additionally, Weide points out the N.Y. State Dept. of Social Services’s assertion that the abuse claims against Allen were unfounded, as well as the Manhattan Surrogate Court’s refusal to annul Allen’s adoptions of Dylan and Moses at Mia Farrow’s request. From our email exchanges, I’ve noticed that Weide regularly uses the phrase “rabbit hole” to describe the particulars of this case (it’s also in his Daily Beast piece). The more I think about this, the more this feels like an understatement.* This story is a rabbit hole full of rabbit holes.
I want to untangle from the strands of rulings, allegations, and opinions for a moment, to say that what intrigues me most about Weide’s open letter is its apparent interest in conveying how difficult it is to discuss this story—any point made is not a point that can stand on its own without acknowledging multiple points of view from multiple sources. Sentences become paragraphs very quickly in these parts.
There is also the matter of the system that we—the liberal elite—are quietly creating in which all abuse claims are trusted at face value and any questioning of them is subsequently shamed. I understand that a big part of our culture, our rape culture, is founded on ignoring or disbelieving victims and the societal imperative among the sensitive and educated is to correct that. But without scrutiny even where it’s uncomfortable, we are putting justice at grave risk. So are abuse victims, thereby, at grave risk. Weide’s exercise strikes me as morally sound, at heart.
Weide told me he initially pitched “HARD QUESTIONS FOR RONAN FARROW” to The Daily Beast. He shared with me his account of the (eventually abandoned) editorial process by email:
I went to TDB first, since my 2014 Woody piece became one of the most-read pieces in Beast history. They sent me back their edit which was completely emasculated — the guts were just removed. They had all sorts of reasons but I perceived it as basically covering their asses. I spent a lot of time discussing it on the phone with their editor-in-chief, but at the end of the day, I just thanked them for considering it, and told them that I wasn’t interested in publishing their version of the piece. “Creative differences” as they say in the business.
In response to Weide’s recounting of this process, Gawker received a statement from John Avlon, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast:
The Beast was proud to publish his first piece, though it was controversial. This wasn’t about shying away from controversy.
The point I made to Bob repeatedly was that we thought his draft was in fact two stories. The first, a call for perspective, addressing the unfair Bill Cosby comparisons, and asking for healing on this painful, decades-long, hotly contested issue for all. The second story could have been a piece focusing on Moses’ new allegations in detail and context, from the perspective of a family member who remembers things quite differently than others. But the prosecutorial tone and the call for perspective were discordant in the same piece.
After communicating with The Daily Beast, Weide attempted to place his open letter at the same outlet Ronan Farrow had published his most recent words on the Woody Allen affair, The Hollywood Reporter. Says Weide:
I then went to Janice Min at The Hollywood Reporter, since she published Ronan’s original piece. Before I submitted it, I laid out the condition that whether or not they published it, the contents could not be leaked outside their office, and I didn’t want it mentioned to Ronan Farrow, since Woody and his people were never told about Ronan’s piece prior to publication. Janice agreed, and was even apologetic about Woody and his publicist not being told. She said that Woody’s people were absolutely supposed to be looped in days beforehand, but that the editors totally and completely dropped the ball, so it looked like an ambush. In any event, I submitted the piece and she read it and then said they couldn’t publish it without showing it to Ronan first. So she did a 180. She now changed her story and offered up a vague excuse that Woody’s publicist was sent emails but they didn’t indicate the nature — I didn’t understand it. When I wrote again, asking for clarification — radio silence.
I followed up with Weide about his proposed conditions to The Hollywood Reporter, which seem to place him firmly on Team Woody, and this is what he wrote:
Isn’t that simple equilibrium? They printed Ronan’s piece without first submitting to Woody or his publicists. So my piece, which presents an opposing side, shouldn’t first go to Ronan for comment. Doesn’t that make sense? All this Team Woody and Team Mia business is just bored people on the internet turning a tragic situation into Fantasy Football.
The Hollywood Reporter President/Chief Creative Officer, Entertainment Group, Janice Min shared the following statement with Gawker in response to Weide’s recap of their interaction:
The piece was rejected for many reasons, not least of all that it didn’t advance any narrative. The issues brought up by Ronan in his essay were far larger than Woody Allen’s guilt or lack thereof. Mr. Weide’s piece fits into a familiar genre of obfuscation-as-defense, i.e. maligning Mia Farrow’s parenthood and character as a means to discredit a child’s account of sexual abuse. We’ve heard these arguments before, in fact, from this very author in another outlet, and the story was not adding anything new or thoughtful to a difficult and sensitive conversation. We are on no one’s “side,” except the side of running the best stories possible.
Is Weide a crusader for the truth or does he have a more personal stake in the public’s perception of Woody Allen? (He refers to himself as “friendly” with Allen a few times in his 2014 Beast piece, with a caveat: “We weren’t so close that anyone could rightfully accuse me of being in his pocket.”) I asked Weide, again by email, what his motivation is. He explained it this way:
To be absolutely honest, I’ve never given it a moment’s thought, and I’ve always found it peculiar when others speculate about it. If you see a guy walking down the street, and there’s a hit and run, and the driver takes off, do you really have to figure out your motivation for coming to his aid? As to what led to the decision to write the Beast piece, yes, it’s in that first article. It’s the same thing here. Half-truths, speculation, and emotion steamrolling over facts. Ironically, the one person who’s always saying not to bother with any of this is Allen. I’m also in a good position to speak out because there’s something in my DNA that just makes me immune to all the haters. Whenever they throw those hashtag epithets at me, I take it with the same seriousness as I do those experts who insist that Obama is a Kenyan-born Communist Muslim. So it’s never bothered me. Also, as I clarify in this latest piece, one can believe in Woody’s innocence without thinking Dylan is a liar.
How’s your film history? When I say, “Fatty Arbuckle,” what comes to mind? The film comedian who raped a girl with a Coke bottle and killed her, right? When you do your homework, you discover not only that there was no Coke bottle, but that Arbuckle had nothing to do with the woman’s death and was fully exonerated in court. That’s not my theory — that’s a fact. (As the kids say, “Google it.”) Yet 95 years later, in the greater public’s mind, he’s known for this heinous crime. I believe Ronan and Mia want to Arbuckle Woody. Unfortunately for them, here I am.
The implications of Weide’s crusade are important and titillating: He rejects knee-jerk reactions, promotes deep understanding of an issue as a means to discuss it, and in the process aims to fortify speech with nuance. And yet, the situation read simply shows one artist who has previously worked with Allen defending a man that most sensitive and intelligent people would rather shun publicly. Woody Allen, it would seem, is Weide’s strange hill to die on, but like the director himself famously said: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”