When The New Yorker ran a story on Tuesday October 10, detailing the harrowing accounts of sexual assault and harassment reported by thirteen women, it was easy to overlook the byline.
In almost 8,000 words, the writer built a picture of a Hollywood producer with an “open secret” – who for decades had been exhibiting “predatory behaviour toward women” that left victims frightened of the implications of speaking out. The writer said three women had told him Weinstein had raped them, four women had experienced unwanted touching, and four women described Weinstein exposing himself or masturbating in front of them.
Five days prior, the New York Times had published their breakthrough report by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, making public multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against Weinstein. It was this story – which began with a disturbing account from actress Ashley Judd – that led to Harvey Weinstein being fired from the Weinstein Company’s board.
With The New Yorker article, there were now more women on the record, telling stories that started to resemble a pattern. Not only did it corroborate the existing allegations against the producer, but it put forward more serious claims. Perhaps most haunting was the fact that there was little overlap between the two stories. There were more than enough Weinstein victims to go around.
Listen to Mia Freedman, Holly Wainwright and Gemma Garkut discuss everything you need to know about the Harvey Weinstein saga. Post continues after audio.
The New Yorker story was the result of a ten-month investigation – one that predated the four-month investigation by the New York Times. And had you looked closely, the byline might have seemed familiar.
Farrow is the 29-year-old son of actress Mia Farrow and filmmaker Woody Allen. He is a prolific writer and journalist, an activist, lawyer, and former U.S. government advisor.
He’s also been vocal about his estrangement from his father, who is married to his adopted sister Soon Yi Previn, and allegedly sexually assaulted his adopted sister Dylan Farrow when she was seven.
In a piece for The Hollywood Reporter last year, Farrow wrote at length about “how potent the pressure can be to take the easy way out” when it comes to accusations of sexual assault in Hollywood. He claimed that in 2014, he was preparing to interview the author of a new Bill Cosby biography. Farrow was planning to mention the complete omission of rape and sexual assault allegations against Cosby, when he was told by his producer, “They’re accusations. They’re not in the headlines. There’s no obligation to mention them”.
In the end, it was agreed that Farrow could ask about the allegations only once, and late in the interview. On air, the author said he’d “looked into the allegations and they didn’t check out”.
Of course, more than 50 accusers and a trial later, it seems surprising that these weren't taken seriously by a biographer. "Reporters covering Cosby have been forced to examine decades of omissions, of questions unasked, stories untold," Farrow wrote. "I am one of those reporters — I'm ashamed of that interview."
In The Hollywood Reporter piece, Farrow drew a parallel between his experience with Cosby's allegations, and "a painful chapter in my own family's history".
When his sister Dylan wrote about her experiences, Farrow claimed he was "forwarded... emails 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."
"Perhaps I succumbed to that pressure myself," he wrote. "I had worked hard to distance myself from my painfully public family history and wanted my work to stand on its own. So I had avoided commenting on my sister's allegations for years and, when cornered, cultivated distance, limiting my response to the occasional line on Twitter.
"Even now, I hesitated before agreeing to The Hollywood Reporter's invitation to write this piece, knowing it could trigger another round of character assassination against my sister, my mother or me."
Farrow's article is a piercing look into why stories of sexual assault don't get told in Hollywood. There are complex relationships at stake. In many cases, there aren't criminal convictions behind women's stories. Which means journalists are asking hard questions, and making tough decisions. And it's all too easy to decide "it's not the time, it's not the place" for the necessary challenges.
The very last line of Farrow's column seems to foreshadow the story that would draw worldwide attention one year later. "It's time to ask some hard questions," he writes.
He did ask those hard questions. And the answers started a revolution.