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How Ronan Farrow Used A Sick Burn To Make Us Pay Attention To Something Important

By 01.13.14

When Vanity Fair published a big profile on Mia Farrow back in October, the main story that everyone ran with was the part about her son Ronan Farrow possibly being the son of Frank Sinatra (who Farrow was having an affair with at the time while married to Woody Allen). It was an interesting story that we could report quickly with help from Ronan Farrow’s clever tweet response to the matter: “Listen, we’re all *possibly* Frank Sinatra’s son.”

It was one of those stories that screams “share this, it’s mildly humorous!” That’s the kind of story news outlets rush to cover these days, because it takes two minutes to write up and gets shared thousands of times (don’t hate the gif slideshow, hate the people who share it and whatnot). Unfortunately, covering that part of the story meant we also missed all the icky stuff about Woody Allen and the molestation allegations. Similar to with R. Kelly, there was an initial outcry, and then Woody Allen just kept working, and now years later, the general public only sort of remembers the sex crime allegations as a weird footnote, half wrong and with none of the lurid details. “He had an affair with his adopted daughter, but they ended up getting married, right?”

Well, not quite. Meanwhile, Ronan Farrow, it seems, was smart enough to learn from his first brush with Twitter fame, and this time around, the handsome Rhodes Scholar who started college at age 11 (note: you’re messing up the curve, asshole) used his sense of humor to manipulate the media into writing about the part of the story he wants them to.

This was the tweet, in reference to Woody Allen receiving the Cecil B. Demille Award at the Golden Globes last night:

Ronan-Farrow-Woody-Allen-Tweet

Yep, kind of put Tina Fey’s George Clooney jab to shame there, didn’t he.

Fair enough, Farrow. The media (myself included) did sort of ignore the bulk of that entire Vanity Fair story the first time around to focus solely on the “maybe Frank Sinatra is Ronan Farrow’s real dad angle.”

In doing another post about a funny Ronan Farrow tweet, the least I can do is direct you to the relevant material. I’d urge you to read the entire piece, but here’s a small excerpt of some of the parts relating more to the molestation stuff:

[Farrow] also continued to see Sinatra throughout her 13-year relationship with Woody Allen, which suffered a jolt when she found lurid photographs taken by Allen of Soon-Yi Previn, one of her adopted daughters, then a sophomore in college, on the mantel in Allen’s Manhattan apartment. Only a month earlier, in December 1991, Allen had formally adopted two of Mia’s children, 15-year-old Moses and 7-year-old Dylan, even though he was in therapy for inappropriate behavior toward Dylan. In August 1992, after disappearing with Allen in Mia’s Connecticut country house and reappearing without underpants, Dylan told her mother that Allen had stuck his finger up her vagina and kissed her all over in the attic, charges Allen has always vociferously denied.

The Vanity Fair piece also includes Dylan’s comments on the events, which Farrow references in his Tweet.

Dylan (who now has another name) has never before spoken publicly of what she remembers about Allen and how his behavior back then has tormented her. She refuses ever to say his name. “There’s a lot I don’t remember, but what happened in the attic I remember. I remember what I was wearing and what I wasn’t wearing.” I asked her if what she had said happened in the attic happened more than once. “That was isolated. The rest was just everyday weirdness—the weird routine I thought was normal.”

“After I told my mom what happened to me in the attic, I felt it was my fault,” she said. Individuals outside the family who were there at the time remarked to me how Dylan would shut down when Allen came around. She would complain of stomachaches and lock herself in the bathroom to avoid him. A babysitter testified that on the day of the alleged attic incident, while Mia was out shopping, she had come upon Allen in the TV room, kneeling, face forward, with his head in Dylan’s lap.

“I didn’t know anything formally wrong was going on,” Dylan said. “The things making me uncomfortable were making me think I was a bad kid, because I didn’t want to do what my elder told me to do.” The attic, she said, pushed her over the edge. “I was cracking. I had to say something. I was seven. I was doing it because I was scared. I wanted it to stop.” For all she knew, Dylan said, “this was how fathers treated their daughters. This was normal interaction, and I was not normal for feeling uncomfortable about it.” (Allen initially denied having gone into the attic. When hairs of his were found there, he said he might have popped his head in once or twice. Because of where the hair was found, his presence could not be proved conclusively.)

“Did he tell you it was a secret?,” I asked.

“Yes. He said, ‘You can’t tell anyone.’ I didn’t realize how careful he was—things that would happen when nobody was in the room. I was not feeling O.K. with him putting his thumb in my mouth, or how he hugged me.” When she was told that such behavior “wasn’t normal, I felt more guilty. There was no way not to make me feel guilty. There was no way someone was not hurt, whether me, my father, or my mother, and my brothers and sisters having to cope.”

[...]

Staff at the Yale–New Haven Hospital Child Sexual Abuse Clinic concluded that Dylan had not been sexually abused. They had been asked by Frank Maco, the Connecticut state attorney handling the case, to render an opinion solely on Dylan’s ability to perceive facts correctly, her ability to recall, and her ability to repeat the story on the stand in court. Instead, as Maco tells it, not only were his requests ignored but the clinic went far beyond them, and he learned in March 1993 from Dr. John Leventhal, the pediatrician in charge of the clinic, that “ ‘we find no merit in this claim, and we’re going to present this to Woody Allen’ the next day. The next thing we know Woody is on the steps of Yale proclaiming his innocence.”

Maco says giving the results to Allen first, ignoring the state attorney’s request, and then pronouncing judgment on the case was unprecedented. In a 1997 Connecticut Magazine article, investigative reporter Andy Thibault quoted a deposition given in April 1993 by Leventhal: “Regardless of what the Connecticut police wanted from us, we weren’t necessarily beholden to them. We did not assess whether she’d be a good witness in court. That’s what Mr. Maco may have been interested in, but that’s not necessarily what we were interested in.”

The clinic cited Dylan’s “loose associations” and her active imagination as thought disorder. Dylan, for example, had told them she had seen “dead heads” in a trunk in the attic. When he was informed that Mia “had a trunk in her attic in which she kept wigs from her movies on wig blocks,” Thibault wrote, “Leventhal acknowledged this was not evidence of a fantasy problem or thought disorder.”

Thibault cited a litany of practices employed by the Yale–New Haven clinic that at least one expert put into question. Based on an examination of court documents and the report, he wrote, “The Yale team used psychologists on Allen’s payroll to make mental health conclusions.” He reported that the team had destroyed all of its notes, and that Leventhal did not interview Dylan, although she was called in nine times for questioning. They did not interview anyone who would corroborate her molestation claims. Judge Elliott Wilk, who presided over the custody hearing brought by Allen, wrote in his decision that he had “reservations about the reliability of the report.”

The specter of celebrity and Allen’s clout loomed over everything. The general public today has no memory of how complex, intense, and ugly this battle became. The court proceedings and hearings dragged on for more than four years. Although Allen spent millions of dollars in legal fees, he lost two trials and two appeals. The day after the Yale–New Haven clinic report came out, Maco issued a press release that said he was going to continue investigating.

[...]

In June 1993, Justice Elliott Wilk awarded custody of Dylan to Mia and denied Allen immediate visitation with the child. He allowed Moses to decide for himself whether he wanted to see his adoptive father again, and he increased Ronan’s—then Satchel’s—visits to three a week, supervised. The judge concluded that Allen demonstrated no parenting skills and was “self-absorbed, untrustworthy, and insensitive.” Allen’s trial strategy, he concluded, had been “to separate his children from their brothers and sisters; to turn the children against their mother.” He found “no credible evidence” to support Allen’s contention “that Ms. Farrow coached Dylan or that Ms. Farrow acted upon a desire for revenge against him for seducing Soon-Yi.” He found the molestation allegations inconclusive. Allen appealed, but the opinion was upheld.

Unlike the Yale–New Haven staff, the state investigators found Dylan credible. “When a little girl says someone digitally penetrated her,” one of them told me, “if a child relates pain to the incident at that age, that’s credible.” Maco had steered clear of any questioning of Dylan during the Yale–New Haven inquiry. After Wilk’s decision, however, he decided he needed to see for himself if she could be relied on to take the witness stand. “I sat down with the child, with my secretary, with another female from the state police, and we rolled around—we had stuffed animals. As soon as I broached the idea of Woody, the child just froze. Nothing.”

On September 24, 1993, Maco called a press conference to say that he believed he had probable cause to arrest Woody Allen but that he would not press charges because of the fragility of the “child victim.” Maco’s statement caused at least one legal expert to accuse him of wanting it both ways—of convicting Allen without a trial. Allen called a press conference to say that “vindictive” Mia’s “cheap scheming reeks of sleaze and deception.” He asked, “Did State’s Attorney Maco choose to overlook the truth and become a stooge for Miss Farrow because he didn’t like my films?”

“It should have been ‘complainant’ instead of ‘victim,’ ” Maco admitted to me, but he had felt he owed his community an explanation: “It’s not that the mother is a fabricator or concocter or that the child is unbelievable.” Dylan just wouldn’t cooperate, he said, so it would not have been fair to Allen or anyone involved to bring the case to trial.

As is often the case, the truth sounds complicated, it’s mostly nauseating to think about, and the chances that we’ll ever know the full story seem slim. That’s why it’s not especially fun to write about. People would rather cover bitchy celeb tweets instead. Instead of complaining about it, Ronan Farrow seems to have found a way to use it to his advantage. Smart dude.

Again, I’d highly recommend reading the entire piece when you have time.

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TAGSGOLDEN GLOBESGOLDEN GLOBES 2014RONAN FARROWWOODY ALLEN

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