Here’s what I’ve learned this week from the Dylan Farrow/Woody Allen scandal:
I wonder if New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof really knew what he was unleashing when he gave over his journalistic real estate on Saturday to Dylan Farrow, who re-ignited charges that her father, Woody Allen, sexually molested her in a Connecticut attic 21 years ago as her parents were engaged in a high-profile custody battle.
The revived scandal has prompted a flurry of discussion about the duty we owe children who say they’ve been wronged, whether an artist should be judged by his life as well as his art and the wisdom of dragging a painful family scandal back into the public arena.
The charges have prompted many people to re-read two Vanity Fair magazine stories by Maureen Orth, who paints a portrait -- if not a slam-dunk case of sexual abuse -- of a chaotic household whose primary adult male figure touched his daughter inappropriately, ignored his son and eventually violated the most basic family taboo. (He married the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow, his longtime lover and the mother of his children. That is moral, if not legal, incest.)
Apart from a brief statement calling the charges “untrue and disgraceful,” Allen has not responded publicly. Which is why I’m looking forward to reading his side of the story, which the New York Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, said Wednesday may be forthcoming. Allen, she wrote on her blog, requested the opportunity to make a rebuttal in the same forum that Farrow was allowed use.
Allen has always denied the sexual molestation allegation and was never criminally charged.
That does not mean he has not behaved inappropriately, or caused his family extreme mental anguish or even that, like so many great artists, he is not a horrible human being with a broken moral compass. (“What was the scandal?” he asked a Reuters reporter during a 2011 interview. “I fell in love with this girl, married her.”)
Nor does it mean that Mia Farrow did not stand to gain something from destroying the reputation of the man who fathered her children and then married her daughter.
I applaud Slate legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick for cautioning against allowing the “Court of Public Opinion” to render a judgment in this impossible debate.
“In the Court of Public Opinion there are no rules of evidence, no burdens of proof, no cross-examinations, and no standards of admissibility,” Lithwick wrote. “There are no questions and also no answers. Also, please be aware that … choosing silence or doubt itself is a prosecutable offense.”
That’s the problem. You hear the charges and the denials and you believe you must take a side.
Did Woody Allen molest Dylan Farrow, now 28? I don’t know, and you don’t either.
Even their family is split.
“Of course Woody did not molest my sister,” Moses Farrow told People magazine on Wednesday. Moses, said People, is a 36-year-old therapist who is close to Allen and Allen’s wife, Soon-Yi, who is Moses’ sister. “She loved him and looked forward to seeing him when he would visit. She never hid from him until our mother succeeded in creating the atmosphere of fear and hate towards him.... I don’t know if my sister really believes she was molested or is trying to please her mother. Pleasing my mother was very powerful motivation because to be on her wrong side was horrible.”
Dylan Farrow’s response? Moses, she told People, is “dead to me.”
“This is such a betrayal to me and my whole family,” she said. “My memories are the truth and they are mine and I will live with that for the rest of my life. My mother never coached me. She never planted false memories in my brain. My memories are mine. I remember them. She was distraught when I told her. When I came forward with my story she was hoping against hope that I had made it up.”
Another child demolishes a parent, another family relationship implodes for the pleasure of strangers.
I wish the Farrow clan all the best.
But did this awful spectacle really have to happen?