Has Woody Allen Been Smeared?

Bret Stephens thinks so.

Bret Stephens thinks so.

He starts off, oddly, with a discussion of the faked rape scandal at the University of Virginia, which was not only debunked but had nothing to do with Woody Allen. But Stephens sees similarities: “Basic journalistic rules, such as seeking comment from the alleged perpetrators, had not been observed,” “how perfectly the story played ‘into existing biases,'” and, especially:

Since the account of the rape “felt” true, it was easy to assume it was. Since the alleged victim had supposedly suffered grievous harm, it was awkward to challenge her version of events. Since important people took the story on faith and sought to press it into the service of an undeniably noble cause, the story’s moral truth overwhelmed its factual one.

Stephens says the same is true of the re-emergence of charges that he raped his adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow, way back in 1992, when she was 7.

The only in-depth, contemporaneous and independent investigation into the allegations, conducted over several months by the Yale-New Haven Hospital in 1992 and 1993, noted that there were “important inconsistencies in Dylan’s statements,” and that “her descriptions of the details surrounding the alleged events were unusual and were inconsistent.” It concluded categorically: “It is our expert opinion that Dylan was not sexually abused by Mr. Allen.”

That investigation (most of which remains under seal) may or may not be dispositive. It has been criticized over the years, including by a judge who ruled against Allen in his custody battle for Dylan and her siblings.

But since the State of Connecticut declined to press charges against Allen, it is what we have to go on. Shouldn’t the weight of available evidence, to say nothing of the presumption of innocence, extend to the court of public opinion, too?

That is a thought lost in some of the commentary about the case. Dylan Farrow is a persuasive interviewee who seems absolutely sincere in her belief that she was molested by Allen as a child. Allen, by contrast, comes across as a grouchy neurotic who, in his late 50s, had a distasteful affair with Mia Farrow’s adopted, barely adult daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. In the contest of sympathies, it’s not hard to guess who wins.

But it’s precisely because Dylan’s account plays to our existing biases that we need to treat it with added skepticism. Most parents know that young children are imaginative and suggestible and innocently prone to making things up. The misuse of children’s memories by ambitious prosecutors against day-care center operators in the 1980s led to some of the worst miscarriages of justice in recent U.S. history. You don’t have to doubt Farrow’s honesty to doubt her version of events.

Nor have we learned anything else about Allen in the intervening years that might add to suspicions of guilt. He married Soon-Yi and has been with her ever since. Nobody else has come forward in 25 years with a fresh accusation of assault against him.

[…]

It goes without saying that child molestation is a uniquely evil crime that merits the stiffest penalties. But accusing someone of being a molester without abundant evidence is also odious, particularly in an era in which social-media whispers can become the ruin of careers and even of lives.

That’s something for all of us to think about, even when it comes to wealthy, peculiar old men for whom we feel no love. We still live in a country that paints a bright line between accusation and fact. Smear the accused, smudge the line, and the truth will never out.

Allen makes for a particularly unsympathetic symbol for this argument but that’s really the point. After years of reflexively disbelieving or dismissing women and girls who made charges of sexual abuse or assault against white men, particularly powerful ones, we’ve seemingly had an awakening. But, in our zeal to make up for past wrongs, we ought not create new ones by dispensing with longstanding norms of presuming the innocence of the accused, allowing for cross-examination of witnesses, and other basic tenets of a just society.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Popular Culture, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Lit3Bolt says:

    The Duke Lacrosse case and the University of Virginia fraternity rape case have become the go-to conservative “whataboutism” primal screams. Because two false claims were made, the conservative logic goes, it therefore holds that in all cases of rape and incest and child abuse there must be minimum belief for the victims and maximum doubt on their claims, and we must not “rock the boat” too much lest our beloved figures and institutions have too hard a fall, because basic accountability and decency and scrutiny is too much for some men to take.

    The entire #MeToo movement is a reckoning for decades of unaccountable behavior, and Bret Stephens is special pleading on the behalf of Woody Allen because the truth makes him uncomfortable, and therefore we should “forgive and forget” any and all crimes of the past. He may as well make the case for Roman Polanski or Bill Cosby or Jerry Sandusky or Father Geoghan or Larry Nassar.

    Liberals are trying to bring back basic decency and shame and accountability to this country, and conservatives are resisting with all their might, insisting that any and all standards of behavior must reach the criminal court level of “beyond reasonable doubt.”




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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    The entire #MeToo movement is a reckoning for decades of unaccountable behavior, and Bret Stephens is special pleading on the behalf of Woody Allen because the truth makes him uncomfortable, and therefore we should “forgive and forget” any and all crimes of the past. He may as well make the case for Roman Polanski or Bill Cosby or Jerry Sandusky or Father Geoghan or Larry Nassar.

    But he’s specifically not doing that. He’s saying that, in the other cases, there’s either credible evidence or a significant number of allegations, so we should believe the accusers. In this case, law enforcement found the claims unfounded on two separate instances.

    Liberals are trying to bring back basic decency and shame and accountability to this country, and conservatives are resisting with all their might, insisting that any and all standards of behavior must reach the criminal court level of “beyond reasonable doubt.”

    This isn’t a partisan issue. I think the court of public opinion has a right to make judgments below the “reasonable doubt” standard. I think OJ Simpson was guilty, despite the acquittal. Ditto Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger despite charges being dropped. But, on the other hand, there seems to be a movement that we should simply assume that anyone accused of crimes against women guilty unless they can affirmatively disprove the claims. That’s un-American.




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  3. James Pearce says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    Liberals are trying to bring back basic decency and shame and accountability to this country, and conservatives are resisting with all their might

    That’s one way to look at it, sure, but another view might consider that liberals, despite a lot of feminist, pro-women rhetoric, were somewhat complacent on this issue until Donald Trump won the presidency and the “years of reflexively disbelieving or dismissing women and girls who made charges of sexual abuse or assault” became intolerable.

    I mean, Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein, and a lot of the other creeps are liberals themselves.

    Point is this: liberals wants to make this a political issue and it’s not.




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  4. michael reynolds says:

    @James Pearce:
    Actually it is an issue. One side takes the charges seriously, the other side excuses wife-beaters. Pretty big difference there. Another of your ‘both sides’ fails.




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  5. Gustopher says:

    There will always be some false accusations, but given how our society stigmatizes the victims of sexual assault — they are whores, they were asking for it, they didn’t say no loudly enough, they are crazy, who would want to rape that?, etc — I think we’ve done a fair bit to discourage people from arbitrarily taking on that label.

    So, for now, the smart money on these accusations is always on the victim.

    And Woody Allen Is creepy enough to find disgusting even if these particular allegations are false.




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  6. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds:

    One side takes the charges seriously, the other side excuses wife-beaters.

    When did the “good” side start taking the charges seriously?

    Five months ago, the Times published their explosive Weinstein article.

    Six months ago, Harvey Weinstein was a celebrated Hollywood executive and a Democratic fundraiser who had been rumored — for decades- to be a creep.

    Maybe it’s more like one side wants to be seen conspicuously “taking the charges seriously” –now, after the “sea change,” of course– and the other side is responding in a predictably partisan way.




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  7. James Pearce says:

    So I guess it’s not so much “both sides do it” as “one side is full of poseurs and the other side is full of jerks.”

    It’s just our tragedy that the jerks make the poseurs pose harder and the poseurs make the jerks dig in.




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  8. al-Ameda says:

    The only in-depth, contemporaneous and independent investigation into the allegations, conducted over several months by the Yale-New Haven Hospital in 1992 and 1993, noted that there were “important inconsistencies in Dylan’s statements,” and that “her descriptions of the details surrounding the alleged events were unusual and were inconsistent.” It concluded categorically: “It is our expert opinion that Dylan was not sexually abused by Mr. Allen.”

    People should be very careful on this one.
    I don’t often agree with Bret Stephens, however on this, he makes very good points.

    (btw … I’m not making any partisan political point on this item (Woody Allen) specifically.)




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  9. Modulo Myself says:

    Once you sleep with and marry your adopted daughter, you kind of lose any sort of credibility when it comes to not being attracted to the very young. Sleeping with your wife’s sister is very distasteful; sleeping with your adopted daughter who is 18 is very much not distasteful. I don’t know what it’s a sign of, actually.

    Or check out Nancy Jo Sales–she was 13 when she was wrote him a fan letter. He responded, and they ended up meeting:

    I was visiting Manhattan with two older companions on a cold, clammy day, and I had left a note at his building. To my delight he called my hotel 10 minutes later asking me to come over. But at the last minute I became panic-stricken at the thought of seeing Woody Allen in person, knowing that an epistolary relationship is fragile, like a delicate fern that crumples when touched.

    My knees shaking, I finally tottered into his penthouse on a pair of too-tall Katharine Hepburn sandals. I remember how pale his skin was behind the trademark glasses, how translucent he looked, like a corpse or an angel. I couldn`t say a word, and my companions filled in the silence with aimless chatter while Woody, wearing his very same clothes from Annie Hall, sat Indian-style in an armchair, nodding politely and trying to catch my eye.

    She was 13. Evidence that he molested a 5 year old? No. Should he prosecuted? Not a chance. But there’s something weird about a celebrity desperately intrigued by a 13-year old who wrote a letter to him.




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  10. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce: Women have been saying this stuff for decades.

    The difference now is men have started to listen, and power is no longer the get-out-of-jail-free card it was. The Weinsteins and Wynns and Nassars are no longer insulated by position and wealth.

    Now I know contrarian cynicism is your schtick, so you’ll spin our late arrival to the party as “poseur,” or whatever. And sure, we should have been listening all along, and maybe some of it is political opportunism. But it doesn’t matter–what matters is women are finally being listened to, and at this point I don’t care why. I care that the necessary change has finally begun.

    I just hope it sticks.




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  11. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey:

    The difference now is men have started to listen, and power is no longer the get-out-of-jail-free card it was.

    You ready for more contrarian shtick?

    I think power and money is still the get-out-of-jail-free card it always was. I don’t think there has been a “sea change” at all. I think there have been some very high-profile sensationalized cases that have left a lot of decent, hopeful people with the false impression that there’s been a “sea change” when the worst abusers will only find worse ways to terrorize their victims into silence.

    I’ll go further. Trying to turn this into a partisan issue will only give political cover to abusers* and will, in the end, make it easier, not harder, for powerful men to abuse women.

    * Has this not already occurred?




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  12. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce: The abusers aren’t just going to stop, of course. Did I ever say they were? What I actually said was “I just hope it sticks.” As in: there are no guarantees.

    But to deny there’s been a sizable shift in what’s acceptable–what people are willing to sweep under the rug, what women are willing to just shut up about–in the past year is simply to deny reality.

    I think it was inevitable this would become a political issue because the leader of one of the two major parties is himself an abuser, and his party will move to protect him no matter what. So what you’re seeing isn’t driven by the women speaking out, but by the men who want to silence them.




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  13. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey: Well I do deny there’s been a big cultural change. There have been some high profile stories, yes, and for a minute Joe at Allied Metal was worried about how he treated Maria, but then he remembered the company owner is his golf buddy and Maria quit already and when she goes to tell her stoy to the media, they’re going to ask her which Kill Bill she was in, and when she says none, she will be ignored.

    As always.




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  14. michael reynolds says:

    @James Pearce:

    Show me a Democrat who has refused to fire a wife beater? Shall I show you a Republican?

    Like I said: fail.




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  15. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Show me a Democrat who has refused to fire a wife beater?

    I’ll do one better.

    Tom Carper is a Democrat who once slapped his wife so hard she got a black eye. But it was a long time ago and it only happened once and he really, really regrets it.

    He’s currently serving in the Senate, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and a deputy whip.

    From his wiki article:

    …the New York Post published an article claiming that the “dirtiest campaign in the country is being waged in tiny Delaware.” Retelling the well-known story of Evans’ golfing trip, it went on to accuse Carper of abusing his wife and stepchildren. But the story actually ended up working to Carper’s political advantage when suspicions spread that the allegations had been planted by an Evans supporter and when public opinion seemed to conclude that the allegations were inappropriately exploiting a private issue

    Times have changed, but this hasn’t: Playing politics with abuse is how abuse gets swept under the rug.

    So I guess the appropriate question is this: Do you care about abused women, or do you care about using abused women for political gain? I think you genuinely care about both, and that’s fine, but you should be aware that tilting too far in a particular direction, toward “political gain,” you’re risking your own credibility and the women themselves.




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  16. michael reynolds says:

    @James Pearce:

    Tom Carper should resign.

    There’s no such thing as a single act of domestic violence. Even if never repeated it leaves behind an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

    See? No defense by me of Tom Carper, no excuse. And I’ve been unable to find any instance of a Democrat defending him since this story resurfaced in the current context. Can you?

    Your equivalency remains false and you’ve just thrown me a softball that proves my case.




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  17. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Tom Carper should resign.

    Why should he resign? The only reason for him to resign is to conform to latter-day Reckoning demagoguery, so you could say, “See, the Democrats purge our abusers.”

    Points for consistency, but no, Tom Carper should not resign. He should stay in the Senate, a Democratic vote, until the voters of his state send him packing. If they want to send him packing due to forty-year old wife-beating allegations, so be it.

    Times have changed.




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  18. Pascal says:

    People saying they know W. Allen molested his 7 years old daughter because he have a relationship with his underage adoptive daughter are not only despicable: they are also completely wrong: Woody Allen and Mia Farrow have never been married and have never lived together. Soon-Yi Previn was Mia Farrow and Andre Previn 19 years old daughter and as she has said herself, Woody Allen was never a paternal figure for her: Andre Previn was the paternal figure.

    Dr. Coates, who regularly treated the couple’s biological son, Satchel, from 1990 to 1992, and often conversed or met with both parents testified that on Aug. 1 Ms. Farrow called her after having learned that the affair with Ms. Previn was continuing. Ms. Farrow described Mr. Allen as “satanic and evil,” Dr. Coates said, adding that Ms. Farrow pleaded with her to “find a way to stop him.”

    Four days after that conversation, the psychologist testified, Ms. Farrow phoned again, saying that Dylan had begun complaining that Mr. Allen had abused her. Dr. Coates characterized Ms. Farrow as having been extremely calm during the call, in contrast to her agitated state in other calls.

    Because of Woody Allen celebrity and because he wasn’t showing remorse about his love relationship with Mia Farrow ‘s 19 years old daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, Judge Wilk’s conclusions are skewed by barely concealed revulsion toward him.

    Worst, as if that was not enough to make it biased, he was married to an attorney who advocates for abused women and children and “believes the victim”. Can you believe one second that Judge Wilk didn’t WANT Woody Allen guilty ?

    Judge Wilk was so biased against Woody Allen that he found some reasons to challenge ALL testimonies saying he didn’t abuse Dylan: the Dr. Susan Coates (a woman), the Dr. Nancy Schultz (a woman) and the Yale-New Haven team (The Yale-New Haven investigation was conducted over a six-month period by Dr. Leventhal, a pediatrician; Dr. Julia Hamilton, who has a Ph.D. in social work; and Ms. Jennifer Sawyer, who has a master’s degree in social work: they found Dylan Farrow has not been abused but could have been coached or influenced by her mother, Mia Farrow).

    At the end, Judge Wilk couldn’t find Dylan was sexually abused and Woody Allen wasn’t prosecuted.

    Woody Allen was cleared a 2nd time few months later by a different report from a different state:
http://www.nytimes.com/1993/10/26/nyregion/agency-drops-abuse-inquiry-in-allen-case.html

    Now that Moses Farrow has spoken and said that so many times he saw his mother, Mia Farrow, trying to convince his sister Dylan that she was abused, we know the Yale-Haven report was right and the Judge Wilk, wrong. Woody Allen didn’t abuse his daughter, as he has always professed since 25 years.

    Dylan Farrow has said his brother Moses Farrow is dead for her. Moses Farrow is an asian man, MeToo don’t want to hear about him.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/29/movies/mia-farrow-woody-allen-abuse.html
    https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/feb/05/woody-allen-dylan-farrow-moses
https://ronanfarrowletter.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/moses-farrow-speaks-out/




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  19. Pascal says:

    I should have preview my post: there are some problems with the links and Click to Edit gives me a blank comment.

    So

    Woody Allen was cleared a 2nd time few months later by a different report from a different state

    http://www.nytimes.com/1993/10/26/nyregion/agency-drops-abuse-inquiry-in-allen-case.html

    And the links where Moses Farrow says Dylan Farrow was coached by her mother to falsely accuse Woody Allen:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/29/movies/mia-farrow-woody-allen-abuse.html

    https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/feb/05/woody-allen-dylan-farrow-moses


    https://ronanfarrowletter.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/moses-farrow-speaks-out/




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