Abuse Allegations Revive Woody Allen's Trial By Media Actress Mia Farrow and two of her children have revived allegations that the film director sexually abused his daughter more than 20 years ago. The charges and countercharges are playing out not in the legal system but in social media, on blogs and in big-name publications.
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Abuse Allegations Revive Woody Allen's Trial By Media

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Abuse Allegations Revive Woody Allen's Trial By Media

Abuse Allegations Revive Woody Allen's Trial By Media

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The debate rages anew over accusations that Woody Allen sexually abused his daughter more than two decades ago, when she was 7. The comedian and filmmaker was never charged. His adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, recently revived her allegations, as have her famous mother and brother. NPR's David Folkenflik reports on this very personal battle that's now being fought in the press and on social media.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Think back a couple weeks to the broadcast of the Golden Globes. The actor Emma Stone helped pay tribute to Woody Allen's career.


EMMA STONE: ...A genius who takes chances and never compromises his vision, a filmmaker...

FOLKENFLIK: That was enough for Mia Farrow, Allen's former movie co-star and romantic partner for a dozen years, ending in the early 1990s. As the tribute came on, Farrow tweeted: Time to get some ice cream. Their son Ronan Farrow tweeted: Did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after "Annie Hall"?

Twitter erupted, with people taking sides - much as they did years ago, when the Farrow-Allen relationship imploded. Mia Farrow had found provocative pictures Allen had taken of her adopted teenage daughter Soon-Yi Previn. Previn was past the age of consent at the time the pictures were taken, and she was not Allen's daughter. Despite an outcry, Allen and Previn later married. Robert Weide made a PBS documentary about Allen's career, and he remains friendly with the director.

ROBERT WEIDE: We can always have the discussion - as though it were our business - whether Woody had any right to get involved in Soon-Yi. And I understand that people are creeped out by it because of the age difference and because she was the daughter of Woody's girlfriend. But that's not a criminal offense.

FOLKENFLIK: Writing in "The Daily Beast," Weide emphasized a finding from experts at Yale-New Haven Hospital, who concluded Dylan probably hadn't been abused and noted a Connecticut prosecutor had been rebuked for saying there was proof of abuse, even as he decided not to prosecute Allen. Dylan Farrow, now 28 and using a different name, first revived her allegations last fall in a "Vanity Fair" profile of her mother. But Mia Farrow's claim that Ronan might well actually be the son of her first husband, Frank Sinatra, drowned out those claims.

Dylan wrote a harrowing statement detailing her accusations. "The Los Angeles Times" passed on publishing it. But "New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof posted it in full last weekend, and excerpted it heavily in his column.

KELLY MCBRIDE: He turned his column over, and gave her his authority.

FOLKENFLIK: Kelly McBride is a media ethics scholar at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla.

MCBRIDE: And the reality is, is if this had been a memoir written by someone who was claiming to have been abused by an unknown person, somebody whose name we didn't recognize, we would have no objections to that at all.

FOLKENFLIK: McBride has written extensively about the coverage of sexual abuse.

MCBRIDE: Because Woody Allen has a reputation out there, we somehow feel like his right to protect his reputation trumps her right to tell her story. And I don't think it does.

FOLKENFLIK: Kristof acknowledges he became a friend of Mia Farrow and Ronan Farrow, now an MSNBC host, through their human rights activism. Yet some critics, including "The New York Times" public editor, Margaret Sullivan, questioned whether such a one-sided account was fair. "Slate" senior editor Jessica Winter wrote critically about Wiede's "Daily Beast" article. She contends that past journalistic norms of fairness often protect people accused of sexual abuse, and says the victims should come first.

JESSICA WINTER: Not to bring everything back to social media, but I saw a lot of people on Facebook and Twitter sharing "The Daily Beast" piece as a kind of rebuttal to Dylan Farrow's open letter. And I found it very strange that people thought that those two voices should be equal.

FOLKENFLIK: Even inside newsrooms, the question has sparked debate. Winter's "Slate" colleague Dahlia Lithwick argues the revived allegations against Allen have prompted disputation, not journalism. Lithwick decries what she called litigation by hashtag. She advocates a balance of presumption of innocence, with respectful treatment of those who say they have been abused.

DAHLIA LITHWICK: We have to, we just have to - even though it hurts - go into a situation where we say, you know, a little humility. We don't know everything and until we know everything, let's hold both ideas in our heads even though they pinch a little bit.

FOLKENFLIK: Late this evening, "The Times" posted Allen's response, a renewed denunciation of Mia Farrow, who he said had coached their daughter to lie because of her sense of betrayal over his involvement with Soon-Yi Previn. Allen says the piece will be, at least for him, the final word on the matter.

David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

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