There are three things I've been reminded of since the reignited Woody Allen controversy started swirling around the blogosphere like one of those bizarre tornadoes that half the country thinks is God's reckoning on a sinful planet. One, unless the offer came from a close family member or a very close friend, I would never agree to be a nanny or a baby-sitter. Two, no matter the writer or the publication, there is no such thing as unbiased journalism. Finally, when it comes to push-button topics, facts are considered insulting; sound bites are divine.
Why number one? As a gay, single man in his forties, should I ever be publicly accused of molesting a child, male or female, my reputation would be destroyed for life. If I legally cleared my name and won, I might avoid criminal punishment, but the guilty verdict would remain, if only in the shadows.
My writing career has consisted of many things, like a new book about my dog. ("Methinks he loves his dog a bit too much, and he lets the pooch sleep in his bed? Weirdo!") I've also written a book of essays with a high concentration of sex, including a night with two male hustlers and a security guard. ("He's an immoral sexual predator.") And I once reviewed gay porn for extra cash. ("Did you see some of those sites? Those guys look barely 18, and he subscribed to at least 50 of them. Research? Yeah, right. Guilty!")
I also have a running joke with friends that I despise little children and believe they are all possessed by the devil, a result of my life-long love of horror films. ("We just ran through his social media pages; he's obsessed with the occult and has satanic views of children.") Yep, there goes the ballgame.
In todays' world, I would never risk the fallout of a child or parent accusing me of sexual abuse. Which brings me to why number two is especially important, as it is more often than not ignored, or excused, in modern journalism. On February 1, "New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof penned an op-ed about Dylan Farrow's accusations that her adopted father, Woody Allen, molested her 21 years ago (which made big news in a recent "Vanity Fair" piece). Kristof has won the Pulitzer Prize twice, and starting working for the Times in 1984. He is hugely admired, and I'm a longtime fan of his work.
After reading his quotes from Dylan, and then her own letter, which Kristof published on his blog, a couple of statements troubled me, statements that I've yet to hear anyone acknowledge in the avalanche of after-press. Kristof correctly notes that Allen has never been convicted of the crime and should be, as his defenders state, presumed innocent, and then tells the reader he is friends with Mia Farrow and Ronan Farrow, Dylan's brother and estranged son of Allen. While I would never say that Kristof's friendship with the Farrows constitutes conflict of interest, it does constitute questioning his own bias. Especially as a quick search of the case will show that Allen was never even charged with a crime. Allen's response, also in the New York Times, can be read here.
One of Kristof's major beefs in the column is that the Golden Globes honored Allen with a Lifetime Achievement Award, because he is not "honorable." It would appear as if I misread the beginning of the column when Kristof said defenders of Allen were correct in saying he should be "presumed innocent." Kristof also says the Golden Globes "sided with Allen, in effect accusing Dylan either of lying or of not mattering."
Although I am not a Golden Globes participant, I do believe there is a third option in the skewered arithmetic. I do not know what happened between Dylan and Woody, as I was not there, but I do know that there has never been a conviction and that doctors' reports at the time showed no signs of molestation. I also know that Woody Allen took a lie detector test and passed, while Mia Farrow refused the test. That does not prove Allen's innocence, but it's enough to make me feel comfortable honoring a filmmaker without, at the same time, saying I don't care about Dylan or am siding with Allen. It's not an awards' ceremony's job to play judge and jury. It's their job to honor artistic achievement. Allen is worthy.
Kristof continues by saying "When evidence is ambiguous, do we really need to leap to our feet and lionize an alleged monster?"
I question Kristof's use of the word "ambiguous" here since, other than "he said/she said" the evidence points to Allen's innocence, but let's take that thought further. Godfather of Soul James Brown has been lionized for his musical gifts for decades, has a bridge named after him, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and received the Grammy for Lifetime Achievement. Brown's life also consisted of numerous arrests and prison sentences, starting at the age of 16 (armed robbery), later on drugs and weapons charges, and repeatedly for domestic violence. How many op-eds have been penned asking that his honors be stripped because he is a "convicted" monster? When Michael Jackson showed up at Brown's funeral in 2006, the singer was booed. Jackson was never convicted of child molestation or pedophilia. Anyone see a pattern?
Similarly, when Brown died, the posts and pieces were flat-out beautiful. When Jackson died, amid the beautiful tributes there were so many repulsive comments I ended up deleting about 20 Facebook friends.
Joan Crawford is still lionized in Hollywood, despite her adopted daughter Christina's book, "Mommie Dearest," and her lifelong commitment to fighting child abuse (child molestation was not part of the book's theme). Faye Dunaway has said that taking the role of Crawford for the film version of "Mommie Dearest" derailed her career, and Oscar ignored her brilliant performance. Several movie stars spoke out in support of Joan Crawford after the book and movie release, and none of them were chastised for believing mother's magical memory over daughter's revised recount.
Frank Sinatra, who, ironically enough, may or may not be Ronan Farrow's dad, according to Mia, is arguably considered one of the greatest and most honored stars who ever lived. He's the Chairman of the Board, and no tales of mafia connections will alter that title. Over a Christmas party this past year a friend of mine was ruminating over the brilliance of Sinatra, and within minutes was cheerfully chattering about his mafia ties. It wasn't gloomy talk--it was as cool as a Sinatra croon. I'm naïve in such matters, but doesn't the mafia kill people? And wouldn't that make them monsters?
Accused child molesters are on the bottom of the criminal food chain. As such, all accusations against them need to be dissected and debated and weighed without fear of retribution. When I posted, on Facebook, an article in the "Daily Beast" by Robert B. Weide, that examines the evidence to support Allen's innocence, I was told by one person that it needs to be ignored as Weide is a friend of Allen's (no comment from that person on Kristof and the Farrow connection), and told by another, a woman, that I should not be allowed to discuss female rape because I'm male. Should I stop arguing my pro-choice point of view as well?
Another person read the article then told me she still knew Allen was guilty, in part because he married his stepdaughter, Soon-Yi. I didn't tell her to revisit the beginning of the piece, in which Weide clears up many misconceptions about Allen, one being that Soon-Yi was his stepdaughter. (She is the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Andre Previn, and Allen and Farrow were never married and did not live together.) No matter, the former is what sounds good and sells verdicts. Allen's "marriage to his daughter" means he's a freak, an abnormal human who'd just as soon molest his child as he would make a movie. Michael Jackson was a freak too. I've read enough articles about my own "deviant behavior" to know how scary that line of reasoning can become.
For the record, I have never been molested or physically abused by anyone. However, of the many friends of mine who have experienced the trauma, most of them would tell you that the attacks were from someone who, on the outside, was a pillar of modern society, loved and respected by their community and often their family.
The facts of the case aren't the big story here; the emotions are. Barbara Walters is "stirring controversy" by supporting Allen (that quote is from Fox News, but her defense of Allen is major news), while the people supporting Dylan, like her co-star Sherri Shepherd, are simply doing their jobs--Shepherd, too, insisted that Soon-Yi was Allen's stepdaughter. How is defending Allen in any way a controversy? To make matters worse, Dylan herself seems to want to bring down the innocent in her attempt to tell the real story.
"What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett?" she writes near the end of her harrowing account, before adding Louis CK and Alec Baldwin to that list, and Emma Stone and Scarlett Johansson as hypothetical victims. Aside from the cruel timing of singling out Oscar nominee Blanchett just a week or so before the Academy picks the winners (Blanchett is a favorite to win for Allen's "Blue Jasmine"), it's a misguided aside.
Unless Dylan is suggesting that Blanchett believes or knows that Allen is guilty of molesting his adopted child, why bring her into the story? Or is the basis of her argument that no one who's worked with Allen should get off the hook, even if the alleged crime happened 21 years ago and Allen was not charged with anything? If that were the case, almost everyone I know should be punished because almost everyone I know has worked with someone accused of a crime.
"You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?" Dylan then writes, making the most emotional and passive-aggressive swipe of the night. By infusing Allen's onetime partner and all-time favorite heroine into the mix, she's managed to end her account of parental molestation by putting blame on lovable Keaton, without actually accusing her of anything.
She doesn't say Keaton knew she was abused, she doesn't even say Keaton thought or suspected she was abused; she just says they knew each other. The implication's all in the fine print. One thing I've learned in my years as a writer is that if you want to accuse a person of injustice, accuse them directly. If you want to create drama, hit the emotional button instead. The latter makes for wonderful writing but doesn't belong in the world of journalistic convictions. And shouldn't that be what we all want in this case? As of this writing, Keaton has not commented, but she's being sought after like rain in California. That brings me full circle to the third, ugly reminder of why this story has been so upsetting.
Am I biased? Of course. I think Woody Allen is one of the most talented filmmakers who ever lived, and I hope to high heaven he's innocent of this crime. I also know that my opinion can never alter the facts.