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Why Ronan Farrow’s op-ed on Woody Allen and the media is so important

Opening Gala Dinner Arrivals - The 69th Annual Cannes Film Festival
Woody Allen
Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Journalist Ronan Farrow wrote a powerful op-ed in the Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday, taking the news media and the entertainment industry to task for the silencing of his sister Dylan Farrow, who says their father Woody Allen sexually abused her as a child.

Farrow includes himself in the blame. He discusses how he begged Dylan not to write about the incident publicly in 2014, and how ashamed he is of himself for that now. He also talks about how ashamed he is that he bowed to pressure to minimize questions about Bill Cosby's sexual assault allegations in an interview with Cosby's biographer.

But that incident, he says, is an object lesson in how the media and the entertainment industry systematically silence and erase the women who come forward to allege sexual assault against powerful entertainers like Cosby and Allen:

Being in the media as my sister's story made headlines, and Woody Allen's PR engine revved into action, gave me a window into just how potent the pressure can be to take the easy way out. 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. Those emails 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. At first, they linked to blogs, then to high-profile outlets repeating the talking points — a self-perpetuating spin machine.

Farrow adds that Allen's publicist represents a lot of other A-list stars, and reporters might have worried that "deviating from the talking points" might cause them to lose access.

Farrow's piece is a devastating indictment of the entertainment industry and the media. It's also an important insight into the mechanisms of victim blaming in the media — how public and private pressure, producers and PR teams, and star power create incredibly strong incentives to just sweep it all under the rug. And because prosecuting rape in court is so difficult, victims are in a double bind when journalists lazily equate "no criminal charges" with "he didn't really do it."

Rape denial and victim blaming have a long, twisted history in human society. But as Farrow points out, members of the media have a unique ability, and a unique responsibility, to tell a different story and make different choices — whether it's deciding to ask the hard interview questions or declining to celebrate an alleged abuser. It's not easy, but it's necessary.