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Is Ronan Farrow a MeToo hero? He became the poster boy for a story about women

Did you know he won a Pulitzer? (Mary Inhea Kang for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Did you know he won a Pulitzer? (Mary Inhea Kang for The Washington Post via Getty Images)


October 6, 2022   6 mins

There was a brief moment, at the very beginning of the MeToo movement, when it seemed as if real change was in the air. Five years ago this week, the New York Times released its first report on the alleged predations of Harvey Weinstein, whose bad behaviour seemed to be transitioning at last from an open secret in Hollywood to a chargeable offence in court. In the months that followed, a wave of demands for accountability crashed over every industry where power coalesced. People were talking at last about the inescapability of being sexualised at work, where degradation might come not only in the form of being punished for refusing a boss’s advances, but also in being sidelined for not being hot enough to attract such advances in the first place.

What made this moment so revelatory was not just what was being said, but who was saying it. In a world of “he said, she said”, what she said finally seemed to matter. Women were breaking the silence; women were blowing the whistles; women were telling their stories, and retelling each other’s, in the press. The two New York Times journalists who exposed Weinstein were women. Women owned this narrative


Until they didn’t.

Men laid claim to the MeToo narrative in the way that Hemingway’s protagonist in The Sun Also Rises went bankrupt: gradually, then suddenly. The shift could be observed first on social media, where men sensing the impending tectonic cultural shift began to seek firmer footing in the form of compulsive privilege-checking. They retweeted, they hashtagged, they made grovelling apologies on behalf of their sex — while also making sure to let you know that they were not among the men who needed to apologise, those troglodytes, those boors. Even the men who rushed to confess their own sins made sure to covertly congratulate themselves in the process for having always known better, been better, than the really bad guys. New York Times essayist George Yancy, suggested in an infamous piece that men atone en masse, online, under the hashtag #IAmSexist, even though “many of us, including me, have not committed vile acts of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse the likes of which Harvey Weinstein has been accused of”.

It’s understandable. The MeToo movement was dividing the men of the world into heroes and villains; most men, naturally, wanted to be on the right side. And in this moment, onto the national stage, the most right-sided of them all emerged: Ronan Farrow.

Farrow was chasing the Weinstein story at the same time as the New York Times journalists, but his first report, for the New Yorker, didn’t come out until five days later. Still, he is regularly described — here in The Times of London — as “the man who exposed Harvey Weinstein”. The book he wrote about his MeToo reporting, Catch and Kill, was the same in substance if not in scale as all the men proclaiming their intent to #BelieveWomen on social media. Imagine every white-knighting male feminist ally impulse blown up to national (and extraordinarily telegenic) proportions: here was Farrow, vowing to use his position of privilege to speak on behalf of the downtrodden, to uncover injustice, and in doing so, atone for his complicity in the system that had wrecked women’s lives.

Farrow, who is gay, couldn’t claim to be a reformed cad Ă  la the Yancys of the world, but a family connection to a famous sexual assault case — his father, Woody Allen, was accused of molesting his sister Dylan in 1992 — served the same purpose: “I once was one of those guys proximate to a woman with a claim like this saying, ‘why don’t you just shut up about it?’” Farrow said, on PBS NewsHour in 2019.

If MeToo coverage until this moment was by women, about women, Farrow injected a new perspective — and an elevated sense of drama. His reporting was very often described as “explosive”. Even as he claimed to be merely a conduit for the testimonies of courageous women, those women had a way of fading into the background of his stories, eclipsed by the jaw-dropping villainy of whichever man he accused — but also by the presence of Farrow himself, chasing leads. His quest to uncover evidence that Weinstein had hired surveillance operatives in an attempt to stop him from telling the truth is a prominent and thrilling subplot in Catch and Kill. It was all too easy to forget the female victims in the face of such a compelling narrative — one about a dogged, handsome reporter battling a conspiracy of menacing evildoers in America’s glitziest and most elite industry.

And from this moment, what did we think of when we thought of MeToo? Something dramatic. Something sensational. Something with movie stars in it, maybe, or at least someone who hung out with them. At the beginning, the whole point of this movement — the reason why the hashtag was MeToo and not something else — was its ordinariness. Here was an indignity to which virtually all women could relate: not just the fear of being assaulted, or harassed, or propositioned, but the sense of sex looming like a shadow over their professional lives in a way that was frustrating, and limiting, and invisible to men.

But that ordinary narrative was, well, ordinary. It certainly wasn’t winning the Pulitzer anytime soon. People didn’t want the banal injustice of women’s daily lives; they wanted Harvey Weinstein, panting and whining and banging on doors like the lecherous troll in a Grimm’s fairy tale. They wanted Matt Lauer imprisoning nubile young women in his office using a secret button under his desk, like the bad guy in a James Bond movie. They wanted Brett Kavanaugh lining up to commit high school gang rape like a real-life Gossip Girl episode. They wanted larger-than-life villains committing acts of unfathomable evil — and they wanted a blond, blue-eyed Captain America of a journalist to serve them up on a platter, at great personal risk to himself. The fact that Ronan Farrow claimed to be a victim himself — not of sexual assault but of surveillance, harassment and intimidation by a powerful cabal of men who did not want these stories told — only made it that much more exciting. And the fact that these stories often turned out not to be entirely true? It hardly mattered at all.

In 2020, New York Times reporter Ben Smith wrote what remains the most definitive dissection of the inadequacies in Farrow’s reporting, noting (among other things) that Farrow had cut corners when it came to verifying stories and checking facts, and had sacrificed nuance in his reporting in order to make his stories more straightforwardly dramatic. “The best reporting tries to capture the most attainable version of the truth, with clarity and humility about what we don’t know,” Smith wrote. “Instead, Mr. Farrow told us what we wanted to believe about the way power works, and now, it seems, he and his publicity team are not even pretending to know if it’s true.”

But Farrow’s place as the poster child for MeToo reporting is about more than the siren song of shoddy journalism. It’s about what the movement could have been, and what it eventually became instead — because in hindsight, Farrow hitching his apple wagon to the star of MeToo seems like a harbinger of all the ways in which the movement would eventually fly off the rails.

There was the emergence of grifters and hucksters like the now-disgraced Michael Avenatti, who first rose to prominence as the attorney representing Stormy Daniels in her lawsuits against Donald Trump, and later promulgated explosive (and ultimately discredited) allegations of gang rape by a then-teenaged Brett Kavanaugh. He was a darling of the MeToo media — until he went to prison for extortion and embezzlement. There was the way that the everyday sexism faced by working-class women in less glamorous professions vanished from the conversation, replaced by thinly-sourced celebrity gossip and first-person essays from supermodels with books to promote. There was the way that MeToo eventually came to serve as a magnet for the romantically embittered and the professionally jealous, and allegations of sexual misconduct became a magic bullet for relegating a loathed ex or competitive colleague to the fringes of society.

It’s not that Farrow is to blame for these things; it’s that where a male celebrity reporter was able to cast himself as the true protagonist of a story about women, other sorts of opportunism would invariably also find fertile ground. But it’s also telling that today, five years later, it’s hard to think of anyone for whom the MeToo movement was better — or anyone who remains more visibly connected to it — than Ronan Farrow.

Citations of his Pulitzer prize-winning journalism almost invariably fail to note that he shared the honour with the two women who exposed Weinstein in the New York Times, women who broke the story first and yet have always been a distant second to Farrow when it comes to getting famous from it. Their book about uncovering the story, She Said, did not make headlines in Hollywood Reporter for having sold 44,000 copies in its first week, unlike Catch and Kill. Their audiobook didn’t get a Grammy nomination, unlike Farrow’s (he voiced it himself). Farrow is the one being lionised in the Hollywood press as a having “ignited the movement”. He’s the one lingering in the spotlight, long after the villains have gone to prison and the victims have moved on with their lives. The only name more closely associated with the movement, ironically, is Weinstein’s.

And the ordinary women who once saw hope in MeToo, which was supposed to transcend boundaries of industry and geography, education and class? We haven’t just forgotten their names; we never knew them to begin with.


Kat Rosenfield is an UnHerd columnist and co-host of the Feminine Chaos podcast. Her latest novel is You Must Remember This.

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Kayla Marx
Kayla Marx
1 year ago

The Me Too movement did bring Harvey Weinstein to justice. And it did (hopefully) make some men at least for a time more cautious in attempting to victimize vulnerable girls and women. But it was always going to be limited in its effects. If a man commits sexual crimes, he can only truly be brought to justice through the courts. Online call-outs to bring a powerful offender down, without evidence to back the crimes up, may have little effect. And through the informal call-out process, innocent men can have their lives ruined, and there certainly were Me Too cases where men who committed relatively mild offenses had their careers ruined. “Believe All Women” doesn’t really work because some women (like some men) lie. The Me Too movement confronted society with the frequency and the consequences of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and forced society to take it all seriously. That much was good. But it’s hard for me to imagine where it could have gone as a movement.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Kayla Marx

“But it’s hard for me to imagine where it could have gone as a movement.”

Well, it went into ‘affirmative consent’ legislation, for a start.

Last edited 1 year ago by Russell Hamilton
Buena Vista
Buena Vista
1 year ago

What was the purpose of smearing Brett Kavanaugh in this piece? He would be the example to use in demonstrating the damage done by nefarious use of MeToo. Instead, the author perpetuates the wrong done to him.

harry storm
harry storm
1 year ago
Reply to  Buena Vista

He wasn’t smeared. Here is what she wrote: “There was the emergence of grifters and hucksters like the now-disgraced Michael Avenatti, who first rose to prominence as the attorney representing Stormy Daniels in her lawsuits against Donald Trump, and later promulgated explosive (and ultimately discredited) allegations of gang rape by a then-teenaged Brett Kavanaugh.”
key words: “ultimately discredited.” No smear.

Buena Vista
Buena Vista
1 year ago
Reply to  harry storm

Three paragraphs prior to your citation she used his name in a less-than-flattering way.
Why mention him at all? He did nothing wrong.

Ross Holloway
Ross Holloway
1 year ago
Reply to  Buena Vista

I agree – the first paragraph about Brett Kavanaugh does smear him, and the retraction of the smear is only implied.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 year ago

Why suggest that the Hollywood Reporter is an independent arbiter in matters concerning #MeToo ? Isn’t it the house magazine of the industry which has forever used the casting couch to decide which women and probably some men too gain fame and wealth from acting?
It is also worth mentioning that the #MeToo movement was hijacked by Democrat supporting actresses, who didn’t just use the publicity to further their acting careers but turned the movement into a political vehicle which protected Democrats such as Biden and exclusively targeted Republicans.
The demands that Weinstein and Lauer be punished were because the evidence in their cases was clear and the culprits were surrounded by people who were complicit at least in not reporting their crimes. For many women, the harassment was spoken and often not witnessed or perhaps made in a way that could be dismissed as a joke and not to be taken seriously or even simply just implied. Women often aren’t sure that an offer of promotion for sex was made until they see other women rewarded for accepting the same offer.

Robert Eagle
Robert Eagle
1 year ago

I blame it all on Ronan Farrow’s mother.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
1 year ago

“Ă  la the Yancys of this world”
Bloody hell, does no-one at Unherd know even basic French?

More generally, lol at the arc of the universe being long but bending towards everything being an Onion article: https://www.theonion.com/man-finally-put-in-charge-of-struggling-feminist-moveme-1819569515

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago

Sounds to me as if Rosenfield is arguing that men are damned if they do (apologizing even for crimes that they haven’t committed) but also damned if they don’t (avoiding responsibility even for crimes that they have committed).
The primitive and profoundly cynical notion of “collective guilt” is inherently wrong and destructive. (One example is the belief that Jews of all times are collectively guilty for the crucifixion of Jesus.) This notion has been challenged effectively on moral and legal grounds over the last few hundred years–the results of which lie at the heart of every liberal democracy–but collective guilt remains attractive to many people on emotional grounds.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul Nathanson
harry storm
harry storm
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

She isn’t arguing that at all. She certainly wasn’t promoting “collective guilt”. Are you sure you read the article?

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  harry storm

She argues that men are guilty no matter what they say. That amounts to collective guilt.

Robert Eagle
Robert Eagle
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Whereas you, sir, are innocent as freshly drifted snow?

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Robert Eagle

Why the hostility? My comment was about a double standard. I neither said nor implied anything at all about myself. To make myself clear, though, I think that the notion of collective innocence is just as foolish and just as dangerous as that of collective guilt.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul Nathanson
Smalltime J
Smalltime J
1 year ago

Lol at an article complaining that Ronan Farrow gets more credit than two NYT journalists for effectively the same scoop, which then fails to name the women who actually broke the story. More generally I find it absurd to attack Farrow for working on this important story and giving interviews about it. The fact that some other journalists were working on the story at the same time doesn’t diminish the importance of his work (nor does his article diminish the importance of theirs). Violence against women is an important subject for everyone, and discouraging men from speaking out about it and taking it seriously is not a positive feminist act.

Smalltime J
Smalltime J
1 year ago
Reply to  Smalltime J

Also surely Farrow was giving interviews about Weinstein because most (all?) of his sources were anonymous (and even leaving this aside not all rape victims are going to want to go on prime time tv to talk about their experiences). And because he was willing to go on the record about his belief in his father’s guilt.

Else Verwoerd
Else Verwoerd
1 year ago

There is no serious doubt in my mind that Woody Allen is the victim of Mia Farrow’s vicious false allegation.
Firstly because *four* child abuse expert instances, all working in Dylan’s best interest, thoroughly investigated the allegation and did not find it credible. Yale-New Haven, NY Child Welfare Services, the NY custody and appellate courts, and the NY adoption agency that granted Allen and Soon-Yi the right to adopt children after serious scrutiny. Moreover, not even the Farrows’ own hired expert and their attorney believed the abuse happened.
Secondly because the allegation itself stinks.
There is the absurdity of Allen picking this moment in his life to become a pedophile. Never before, never after. Precisely during these 20 minutes, when in a house full of people who were supposed to watch him like a hawk.
There’s 3 other reasons for my disbelief, having to do with the circumstances of Mia’s allegation.
1. On July 12th, Mia announced to the world that Woody was now out to molest Dylan. On Dylan’s birthday, she hung a note on the bathroom door that read “Child molestor (sic) at Birthday Party! Molded then abused one sister. Now focused on youngest sister. Family disgusted”. Three weeks later, she invited this Terrible Child Abuser to Dylan’s home, left them together, and ‘went shopping with a friend’.
What mother does THAT?
2. Mia ‘suddenly’ ‘discovered’ the abuse on Aug 5th. One day before she was to sign a hard-fought custody agreement with Woody, that had been months in the making.
But according to Mia’s attorney Martin Weltz, she had called him on the evening of Aug 4th (!) and told to not send the papers because of ‘disturbing news’.
Was Mia clairvoyant, eh?
3. There were only 20 minutes between Woody’s arrival at the house and Mia’s return.
All three nannies who were allegedly told to watch him, decided on that very moment to leave Dylan alone with him and ‘went to drink tea in the kitchen’.
A nanny who claimed to witness some kind of abuse, did and said nothing. Not to Woody. Not to the other nannies. Not to Mia when she returned.
Are you gullible? I’m not.
In sum, ZERO credible evidence was found for the alleged abuse; indications were found by the Yale-New Haven experts that Mia had ‘coached’ her daughter, and even Mia’s own hired expert testified that Mia had ‘set a tone for a child about how to answer’ to her videotaped ‘interview’ questions. And the above ‘circumstances’ 1, 2 and 3 should make any rational mind think twice before attaching any belief to Mia’s allegation.
An allegation, I should add, for which Mia and the other Farrows have *always* evaded legal responsibility. Mia never went to the police, Mia agreed to *not* prosecute Allen (but smear him in the media), conveniently evading testimony and possible perjury, and neither Mia nor Dylan or Ronan have ever taken their father to court. Not even to civil court, with its much lower evidentiary standard.
Only the gullible and the hateful will continue to present Allen as guilty, ignoring all the above facts. It is a bloody shame.

Else Verwoerd
Else Verwoerd
1 year ago

There is no serious doubt in my mind that Woody Allen is the victim of Mia Farrow’s vicious false allegation.
Firstly because *four* child abuse expert instances, all working in Dylan’s best interest, thoroughly investigated the allegation and did not find it credible. Yale-New Haven, NY Child Welfare Services, the NY custody and appellate courts, and the NY adoption agency that granted Allen and Soon-Yi the right to adopt children after serious scrutiny. Moreover, not even the Farrows’ own hired expert and their attorney believed the abuse happened.
Secondly because the allegation itself stinks.
There is the absurdity of Allen picking this moment in his life to become a pedophile. Never before, never after. Precisely during these 20 minutes, when in a house full of people who were supposed to watch him like a hawk.
There’s 3 other reasons for my disbelief, having to do with the circumstances of Mia’s allegation.
1. On July 12th, Mia announced to the world that Woody was now out to molest Dylan. On Dylan’s birthday, she hung a note on the bathroom door that read “Child molestor (sic) at Birthday Party! Molded then abused one sister. Now focused on youngest sister. Family disgusted”. Three weeks later, she invited this Terrible Child Abuser to Dylan’s home, left them together, and ‘went shopping with a friend’.
What mother does THAT?
2. Mia ‘suddenly’ ‘discovered’ the abuse on Aug 5th. One day before she was to sign a hard-fought custody agreement with Woody, that had been months in the making.
But according to Mia’s attorney Martin Weltz, she had called him on the evening of Aug 4th (!) and told to not send the papers because of ‘disturbing news’.
Was Mia clairvoyant, eh?
3. There were only 20 minutes between Woody’s arrival at the house and Mia’s return.
All three nannies who were allegedly told to watch him, decided on that very moment to leave Dylan alone with him and ‘went to drink tea in the kitchen’.
A nanny who claimed to witness some kind of abuse, did and said nothing. Not to Woody. Not to the other nannies. Not to Mia when she returned.
Are you gullible? I’m not.
In sum, ZERO credible evidence was found for the alleged abuse; indications were found by the Yale-New Haven experts that Mia had ‘coached’ her daughter, and even Mia’s own hired expert testified that Mia had ‘set a tone for a child about how to answer’ to her videotaped ‘interview’ questions. And the above ‘circumstances’ 1, 2 and 3 should make any rational mind think twice before attaching any belief to Mia’s allegation.
An allegation, I should add, for which Mia and the other Farrows have *always* evaded legal responsibility. Mia never went to the police, Mia agreed to *not* prosecute Allen (but smear him in the media), conveniently evading testimony and possible perjury, and neither Mia nor Dylan or Ronan have ever taken their father to court. Not even to civil court, with its much lower evidentiary standard.
Only the gullible and the hateful will continue to present Allen as guilty, ignoring all the above facts. It is a bloody shame.

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 year ago

Bitter, resentful and jealous.
You refer to “they” numerous times
 the willing participants in the poisoning of MeToo.
The “they” category includes most women.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 year ago

This disjointed complaint is very similar to a high-pitched whine.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

Probably one of the best examples of left, elitist, progressive hypocrisy – their defence for decades of a bloke, Allen, who shags a girl he raised from childhood. They still acted in and lauded his films until recently. They still stuck up for the child rapist Polanski until recently.
And even setting aside the accusation that Allen groomed her in childhood, as alleged by Farrow, it’s just so ‘flicked’ up that this daddy/daughter relationship came about at all. They just won’t call out the nakedness of their emperor-heroes.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Stewart
Rob N
Rob N
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I don’t believe that it is by any means certain that Woody Allen did those things some accuse him of. I believe that Ronan Farrow’s sister, for example, disagree with him and says that Woody didn’t do anything.

Jim R
Jim R
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob N

Men are bad, women are good. What don’t you understand about that?

harry storm
harry storm
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob N

It’s the brother, Moses Farrow, who credibly maintains nothing happened and it’s all down to Mia Farrow’s quest for revenge.

harry storm
harry storm
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Allen deserves to be defended; his vengeful ex-girlfriend has committed a form of child abuse by inculcating false memories into her adopted daughter and blackening Allen’s name to his biological (in theory) son (who happens to resemble Frank Sinatra).
Pedophiles have previous and go on to commit further crimes. Allen has no previous, nor has anyone else accused him of pedophilia.
His affair with Soon-Yi showed very bad judgment but he’s made up for it by marrying her and staying married for the past several decades.

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
1 year ago

Woody Allen is innocent. That’s what you have stated in previous articles.
Of course you are going to attack Ronan Farrow.
But as a survivor of father-daughter incest – committed by a man beloved by his community – I know how impossible it is to know by appearances who is or is not guilty of raping their own children.
Because Ronan Farrow stood by his sister – a troubled and unknown young woman (incest has a tendency to make one “troubled”) – instead of standing by his rich famous and powerful father (which would certainly have been much easier) he will always be a hero to me.
But you believe that Woody Allen is innocent, so of course you would dump on Ronan Farrow.
Woody Allen’s guilt insults the vanity of upper middle class professionals. He’s the R Kelly of your class (R Kelly also married one of his victims to obscure his crimes).
#MeToo succeeded in many ways, and it has helped society evolve away from normalizing sexual abuse.
But this article is not really about #MeToo.
This article is about your belief in Woody Allen’s innocence, and by extension, your own.

harry storm
harry storm
1 year ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

Your personal history has coloured your view of events. Dylan Farrow’s story does not ring true in any way, shape or form. And nobody else has accused Woody Allen of any perverse behaviour, before or since. That isn’t how pedophiles behave.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

There is no reason for us to believe you really are a victim of incest. You may be, you may not be. But it doesn’t make your point any more valid. You seem to think you can recognise guilt that others can’t. Presumably this is because of your past. But what is your evidence?
“I know how impossible it is to know by appearances who is or is not guilty of raping their own children.”
Thats fair statement, so then live by it.

Jim R
Jim R
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

In a criminal trial, someone who had previously been a victim of a similar crime would never make it on to a jury. Objectivity is impossible. Not just because their trauma potentially blinds them, but also because they will use their trauma to effectively bully other jurors into accepting their conclusions. If you don’t agree with the judgments of the former victim, then they will carry on as if you are further victimizing them. We see this play out all over the media in the age of ‘me too’ – believing an alleged victim becomes virtuous in itself.

John McKee
John McKee
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim R

AMEN!

Else Verwoerd
Else Verwoerd
1 year ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

Please read my other, long reply. I explain why it does not make sense to believe Woody Allen is guilty of the alleged abuse. It is a belief based on zero evidence, and in total ignorance of strong refuting evidence and totally suspect claims made by the Farrows.