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Last Words: The Court of Public Opinion

I'm really looking forward to that time later this year and next year and the year after that when the new Woody Allen picture arrives and we have to do this all over again.

I'll be much briefer this time, I promise.  The Farrow/Allen debacle gave us a valuable opportunity to discuss important topics: child abuse, power imbalances, the value and imperfection of the law, family dynamics and mental health, the problems inherent in identifying with and/or revering strangers or celebrities, the art and the artist and where and when they cohabitat and divide, gender politics, etc. Maybe some good could come of this harrowing story? But mostly we wasted the opportunity on misdirected rage, name-calling, witch-hunting, woman-hating. When emotionally difficult topics are brought to the public table we should talk and listen, not insist upon idealogical purity. I don't have statistics but I suspect that no one in the history of civilization has ever had their minds opened by opposing views by being a) shamed into it, b) being out-yelled, or c) forced into declaring absolute allegiance. I said some things I regret this past week or, at the very least, that I wish I had phrased differently. [more...]

excellent courtroom drawing from 90s Woody/Mia custody battle. ©Marilyn Church

I hope a lot more people did but people seemed frighteningly 150% sure of things they couldn't possibly know about, so, who knows.  I've never experienced such a clear snapshot of the narcissism epidemic before. I mean, my narcissism I was familiar with but who knew everyone else was just as bad? 

Since we last spoke Moses Farrow came forward to defend Woody and while doing so claimed that Mia beat him as a child. I was saddened to note that the masses demanding we rally around Dylan's pain and truth (I get that) did not extend the same rules to Moses (I don't get that) who, lest we forget, had the exact same two parents.  Finally Woody Allen himself chimed in at the New York Times to once again denounce the accusations. I've heard a lot of people saying that Woody should have gone with a softer more emotional plea rather than anger at Mia. I absolutely agree but it wouldn't have changed anything because of the aforementioned heel-digging and idealogical purity tests that have been raging since the Globes. People believe what they want to believe -- yes, including me -- but be very suspect of anyone who treats their own beliefs as fact.

Since six members of this fractured family have now spoken -- the chain went like so: Mia, Ronan, Dylan, Moses, Letty (Woody's sister), Dylan again, Woody, Dylan again -- I think it's time to move on. (I suspect we won't hear from Soon Yi, Mia's ten other children or Woody's two other children until after Woody, 78, and Mia, 68, have passed away. I hope to die myself before those tell-alls to be spared the drama and obnoxious public rubbernecking). I'll still gladly watch Mia & Woody's movies -- the great ones they made separately and together -- because I'm not going to punish myself because they both seem like awful people. But at this point I never want to think about either of them again offscreen.

I leave you with this genius Jurisprudence article from Dahlia Lithwich on Slate in case you haven't read it: "Woody Allen v. Dylan Farrow: The Court of Public Opinion is now in session" . It's the single best article I read during this whole sad traumatic news cycle and one that applies to all famous scandals and accusations and court cases or non court cases. Plus it's funny which is hard to pull off with such a sober topic. 

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Reader Comments (25)

..... because they both seem like awful people.

Finally someone said the cold hard truth. people keep trying to say that afterall these two great artists are good, but they're just simply awful.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercraver

Craver -- I don't think that was Nathaniel's point at all.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Now Mia Farrow has lost her chance to at least get a Jean Hersolt Humanitatian Award one day, hasn't she?

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMrW

Mr W -- i don't think that was ever going to happen anyway. Hollywood clearly had something against her (what it was i don't know... maybe reports of her erratic behavior? maybe the frank sinatra stuff? i really have no idea) *long before* the 1992 breakup/custody/abuse scandal.

And let's not forget that she has no trouble burning bridges with other powerful Hollywood types that are not named Woody Allen. Remember her public tirade against Steven Spielberg a few years ago?

February 8, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I was mystified during all this at how many people I respect, both in real life and by reputation, debased themselves in order to take a side. There are important issues that we could use this family drama to discuss--everything from our blame-the-victim culture to how statutes of limitation are set--but few people debated them honestly. Most were content to spew venom in every direction. Disconcerting.

I'm with you, Nate: I will continue watch Mia and Woody on-screen, but I never want to hear anything else about their personal lives.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterW.J.

they both seem like difficult people to me.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

I get the Dahlia Lithwick piece and why it went around, but I also think people should read Jessica Winter's piece as well as Maureen Orth's piece on some of the basic facts that have been muddled through the years.



And the actual PDF of the Judge's statement in the 1992 custody case.


I noticed courts came up a lot in the people who wanted to not take sides but seem to lose side of the fact it was not a certain side that was inconsistent, not one side that did not have probable cause.

Suffice to say, I don't care about Woody or Mia or what I am supposed to think of either at this point. That seems to be what it is for a lot of people, a lot of which are superfluous to the issue. It changes the message and that's what one side wants out of this, surely. Nobody is a saint, I ge that, but playing 'Who's worse' when this is about the victim who seemingly gets lost in these debates feel like unconsciously dodging important points and issues raised in the allegations.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG


The problem, however, is that the expert independent authorities concluded that Dylan wasn't molested.

This isn't a case where they said, "We'll never know," or "we can't come to a conclusion." This is a case where they said ,specifically, that Woody didn't molest Dylan, and that her allegations were false. This isn't Woody's lawyers coming up with this brilliant defense in a closed room or anyone else vouching for him. He can have the greatest defense in the world and all of the character witnesses he wants, but if the 6 month investigation report concluded that Allen did indeed molest Dylan, or even that they weren't sure and it could have gone either way, you better believe Woody would be in prison today, or at the very least he'd have gone to trial. But because they concluded that it didn't happen, the prosecutor, despite whatever he says to cover his ass professionally and not admit defeat, couldn't bring the case to trail because he would lose. You can play the fragile victim card all you want, but if Mia and the prosecutor could have won the case, they most certainly would have followed through with it, as would any other human being whose daughter was molested. She didn't, however, because she knew of the report, and that would be evidence to prove Woody didn't do it. Take away everything else leveled at Mia and you still have this problem.

It's important to note that a custody judge in family court is not the same as a criminal judge, and while the custody judge's opinion is noted, a criminal judge would have considered the report substantial evidence. Remember, one can be arrested with "probable cause," so the State had every right to arrest Woody because of this testimony, because even though the report concluded he didn't do it, the testimony by default leaves room for the "probable cause" part, especially in serious cases like this. But he wouldn't be convicted because you can't prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he did do it because the report concluded, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he didn't. The legal process works like this for a reason.

If we're not going to bother to listen to the Yale team's findings, why hire them at all? If we don't take what they have to say seriously, why even consider anybody an expert? What's the point of spending all of this time and money on a 6 month investigation if you're not going to listen to the conclusion of such an investigation just because it doesn't align with your expectations?

This is the issue many people who defend Allen have with the Judge's statement as well as the other articles you highlight. The judge and the prosecutor publicly acknowledged that Woody might have done it despite the findings of the expert investigations who had absolutely nothing to gain from this and were merely reporting what they observed as qualified, experienced professionals. Their findings were not laced with doubt or ambiguity. They said, clearly and definitively, that Allen did not molest Dylan. The problem we have, then, is that to say otherwise is a slap in the face to these investigators who did their jobs.

It's also a slap in the face to Woody who cooperated with the investigation. It proved he didn't do it, and yet people still want to believe that he did.

So he has every right to be angry and we have every right to defend him and be angry at the Judge's comments, etc.

We must remember that in a court of law, the lawyers are never to be trusted. Testimony very rarely can be trusted. We must focus on the evidence, and in this case, the Yale team were the ones who said it didn't happen. Definitively, absolutely, they said that it didn't happen. Because the testimony didn't hold weight after a thorough investigation.

So if you're going to chose between a team of expert professionals who investigate these matters for a living and a 7 year old girl and claim that the experts are wrong and we should consider all sides and accept that we don't know anything, that's your choice.

But for a lot of people including myself, the "we don't know what happened" argument is a slap in the face to Woody and the team of investigators who actually proved that it didn't happen. It still leaves a little bit of doubt lingering in the air, and the whole point of this investigation was to remove that doubt. It was removed, to be sure, but since it didn't side with the allegations, people have an issue.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

I admit I have a tendency to side with Mia and Dylan. But there are so many questions going on in my head from this spate of volleying accusations, that it is hard to wholly believe anyone's side of the story. I really really hope in my heart that Mia Farrow is not machinating any of this. Because if it is...it's going to be so tragic and shatter so many hearts.

Nevertheless, The Purple Rose of the Cairo will always hold a very special place deep within me. The best Woody Allen-Mia Farrow collaboration ever.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterthebluemoon

Orth on the Yale Team:

"7. The Yale-New Haven Hospital Child Sex Abuse Clinic’s finding that Dylan had not been sexually molested, cited repeatedly by Allen’s attorneys, was not accepted as reliable by Judge Wilk, or by the Connecticut state prosecutor who originally commissioned them. The state prosecutor, Frank Maco, engaged the Yale-New Haven team to determine whether Dylan would be able to perceive facts correctly and be able to repeat her story on the witness stand. The panel consisted of two social workers and a pediatrician, Dr. John Leventhal, who signed off on the report but who never saw Dylan or Mia Farrow. No psychologists or psychiatrists were on the panel. The social workers never testified; the hospital team only presented a sworn deposition by Dr. Leventhal, who did not examine Dylan.

All the notes from the report were destroyed. Her confidentiality was then violated, and Allen held a news conference on the steps of Yale University to announce the results of the case. The report concluded Dylan had trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality. (For example, she had told them there were “dead heads” in the attic and called sunset “the magic hour.” In fact, Mia kept wigs from her movies on styrofoam blocks in a trunk in the attic.) The doctor subsequently backed down from his contention.

The Connecticut state police, the state attorney, and Judge Wilk all had serious reservations about the report’s reliability."

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Will we have a surprise in BEST ACTRESS though i hope Cate isn't hurt by this,i feel sorry for anyone deemed gulity till proved innocent.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark


The prosecutor is a lawyer. His job is dependent upon winning cases. Anyone who is a lawyer knows this, EVEN if you work for the state. That's the reality of the courtroom.

And he and the judge can have their opinion all they want, but the difference between them and the Yale team is that the Yale team's investigation would be considered evidence. Of course we'll never know because they didn't take it to trail, but that's the reason why: They couldn't convict based upon that evidence.

And we all might have "serious reservations" about a report that concludes a young girl's testimony of molestation is fabricated, but then again, that's the reality of life. Once a molestation accusation is thrown around, there will always be doubts and reservations, even if the person is proved to not have done it. We have reservations because WHO IN THE WORLD would lie about such things? Well, people do, and that's the sad reality.

That's all I'm saying. In the court of law, the report is considered proof. Which is why Woody was never charged or convicted.

And it just seems to me that the only unbiased voice in all of this is the Yale Team and they're the ones who concluded it didn't happen. Everyone else from Woody to Dylan to Mia to the lawyers and to the judge and to the police had an agenda.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

Joseph- I just strongly disagree with that assertion and think that that assertion is wrong so I disagree with you. Sorry, this search for an unbiased voice in this case is a needle in a hay stack. I noted the flaws of the Yale Team. They're not biased but they had holes.

I prefer not to go to war with this, so I'm stopping the conversation here. Let me just say a team cited by just one side but not considered kosher by everyone else seems more logical than an alleged abuse victim who has kept up the same appearance of a lie for over 20 years.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Nathan, I have admired you for a while now, but never so much as I do upon reading your recent excellent articles about this case. I am sorry because I can tell from reading these that your heart is breaking. So is mine. The agony that is being wrought by both sides of the debate is tragic.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I am old enough to remember just how sordid and confusing this was back in 1992. As time wore on and the investigation team did not present a conclusion in Mia and Dylan's favour, there was no trial and no conviction. But suspicions will forever be represented as fact, and accusations beget counter-accusations. It's a tawdry sordid mess that I do not wish to read anymore about.
Does anyone believe this rehashing has served any purpose? My advice to the family is to handle their feelings in a private matter, and for us to try to ignore it, and not pour gasoline on the fire.
It won't be easy, but Cate Blanchette really did say it best.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Allen's response was awful. Narcisistic, arrogant and misogynistic. Its more an attack on Mia than anything else.He forgets that he was already in therapy because of his obsession with Dylan before the Soon-Yi scandal broke.He forgets that Soon-Yi may not be his daughter, but she was his own children's sibling. He never considered how traumatic it would have been for his children. He also forgets how he never broke up with Mia to be with Soon-Yi. The affair was going on for months behind everyone's back when everybody found out. And bringing up the possibility of mia cheating with Frank 1) what does that has to do with anything? 2) He cheated with her daughter. I dont think he is in a Place to say much regarding this matter.

But, its always better to judge a woman's sex life in ordet to deminish and degrade her. Slut shaming always works.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Nathaniel: Thanks for another excellent article on this subject. Like you, I don't quite know what to think, and like you, I want to absorb all sides of the argument and not to presume I 'know' what happened. I am a massive Woody Allen fan, and I also have great respect for Mia's work, both with him and elsewhere. So I find it terribly hard to conceive of either of them having done what they have been accused of. But whatever else I feel - be it murky or conflicted or full of doubt - I'm grateful for your efforts to provide a level-headed voice in amongst all the online turmoil.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Amanda -- much of that is true but the Frank Sinatra criticism is not fair. It was Mia who shamefully brought his name into this cesspool and solely to provoke. What other purpose could it have possibly served for her to suddenly state that Ronan might be Sinatra's son after 25 years of silence on that particular matter?

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nat: Difficult work you have done here. I know what I think about this. Its the same I felt 22 years ago when it was fresh. None of the recent tirades have changed my opinion.

I keep hearing Dylan's supporters talking about how "Victims need to speak up." and I agree 100%. Thing is, she did speak up. Back when this happened. Back when Mia and Woody's careers were far more equal. And public sentiment was very much on Mia's side at that time. They had their day in court and lacking new evidence, none of which has come to light, there isn't much point to all this drama. The accusation is punishment and no one has forgotten that it exists. We see that here every time an Allen picture is debated, someone will post that he is a child abuser, they won't see his pictures, etc. etc.......it will follow him to his grave. The HFPA never should have chosen him for that honor, its not like there aren't 100s of other film artists they couldn't have chosen or that this is new information. They opened an ugly can of worms which has caused far more hurt than their award will offer honor.

Anita Hill is the example I feel, of how to deal with this. She made her accusation (with a lot of evidence) but Clarence Thomas was still named to the Supreme Court. However, he will always be remembered for being a sexual abuser which obviously bothers him and his wife to this day. Anita Hill, on the other hand, has moved on, has a brilliant career and most importantly, is above the fray and doesn't look like a victim. She looks honorable and laudable. She spoke up, she had her day in court (senate hearings anyway), got justice of a kind even if it wasn't what she hoped for and got on with her life and will be remembered as the winner. Everyone in the Allen/Farrow situation look like, in Nat's word, "awful people."

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

The Anita Hill situation is NOT sexual harassment, regardless of what our PC culture suggests. Even feminist scholars like Camille Paglia (granted, a more radical feminist) won't go that far.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

I doubt the statements by Dylan Farrow will make any difference to Cate Blanchett's Oscar chances. She is so far ahead and, I expect, enough Academy members have worked with people who they don't personally like or approve of that they won't judge her.
That said, if members of the public want to refuse to see Woody Allen films for any reason, that is their right. Just as I can reject SodaStream, Chris Brown or grain-fed beef but know that all will exist whatever I do.
Not that a fall in Woody Allen box office would make any difference to Dylan as it seems that there is nothing that is likely or legal that could fix this.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVaus

The Court of Public Opinion is such an accurate title. It's the public talking about matters that they shouldn't be because its none of their business; things they really have no idea about. No one will know. It's a brutal he-said-she-said case and that's clearly all it will ever be.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

I agree with bringing Sinatra's name into this mess. Lets not forget he is dead and therefore obviously cant speak for himself. It was mainly the cheating I was refering to. Both did it.

There's one person I feel sorry for in this ugly situation is Sinatra's widow. An elderly lady who has to watch her late husband's named dragged into this midiatic tragedy. She has to witness people discussing her late husband's sex life and whether or not some other young men is or his not his son. Gross.

All of them are horrible people. There must be a reason why they were atracted to each other, made this mess and stayed on it for so long. They must be both deeply disturbed.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda


I agree with you about the Sinatra thing but the only reason why Woody addresses it is because Mia originally addressed it, and he's trying to demonstrate her character. The fact that she said this is an insult to Woody who has been paying child support for so many years and who had to fight for a son that "might not" be his during a custody battle. Any man would be angry about that, whether its true or not.

Woody and Sinatra's widow both dismissed the claims as rubbish when Farrow first suggested it, but the fact that she even addressed it is important for Woody to highlight because from his perspective, he didn't molest Dylan and truly believes that Mia, his ex-girlfriend, is trying to sabotage him. So he's pointing out all of these different hypocrisies about her character so people understand what kind of woman he's dealing with.

Of course this is she said he said, but I think it's fair to say that Woody, a private person, never asked for ANY of this, and it's the Farrows and the media who brought this upon themselves. Would I have preferred Woody to remain silent and take the high road? Is his letter harsh toward Mia? Absolutely. But if they didn't want this debate in the public and if they didn't want Woody to retaliate like that, they should have kept it a private matter.

If this is considered "victim" shaming or whatever else, then perhaps this is a lesson that victims should always take the appropriate legal steps. If, instead, they decide to construct salacious "tell all" narratives for the public to consume, perhaps on some level they deserve the criticism.

February 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

Woody Allen Quotes Through The Years

Audience Question: Would you accept the vice presidential nomination...
Woody: I’m apolitical. I have no political convictions whatsoever. I’m a registered pervert. - “Question and Answer Session,” Monologue 1964
Fielding Mellish: I’m doing a socialogical study of perversion – I’m up to child molesting. - Bananas, 1971

Father Andre - "I have lived many years and, after many trials and tribulations, I have come to the conclusion that the best thing is…blond twelve-year-old girls. Two of them, whenever possible”?
- Love and Death 1975
Woody Allen: I mean, if I was caught in a love nest with fifteen 12-year-old girls tomorrow people would think, yeah, I always knew that about him. - 1976 Interview
Isaac Davis: I’m dating a girl who does homework! - Manhattan, 1979
MICKEY: Why all of a sudden is the sketch dirty?
ED: Child molestation is a touchy subject…
MICKEY: Read the papers, half the country's doing it!
ED:Yes, but you name names. - Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986
"I didn't feel that just because she was Mia's daughter there was any great moral dilemma," the actor-director said. Time Magazine, Aug. 31, 1992

Honeymoon Motel, a one-act play produced in 2011:
FAY:I was a little girl. I had an Uncle Shlomo…
NINA: Oh Mom!
FAY: Three fingers, he tried to molest me. Suddenly, three fingers I feel fondling me—

Stardust Memories (1980), in which the Allen character, Sandy, hints at incest when talking with his lover Dorrie about her father?

SANDY: What about you? Did you have a little crush on him? You can admit this to me if you like.
DORRIE:Sure, we had a little flirting.
SANDY:A little small flirt? Mother away getting shock treatment, and the only beautiful daughter home. Long lingering breakfasts with Dad.


Sandy Bates: You can make an exception in my case, I’m a celebrity. -Stardust Memories, 1980

Allen on Polanski in 2010:
‘Enough is enough. It happened many years ago. He has suffered.He’s an artist, he’s a nice person. He did something wrong and he paid for it.

JUDAH:People carry awful deeds around with them. What do you expect him to do, turn himself in? This is reality. In reality, we rationalize. We deny or we couldn't go on living.
- Crimes and Misdemeanors 1989


Also there is this: The Internet Digs Up Allen’s Creepy Child Lovin’ Past


February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBella

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