What A Hollywood Journalist Calls “Ethics”

Listen to me, Roger, and I mean this in the nicest way: stick to gossip.

Listen to me, Roger, and I mean this in the nicest way: stick to gossip.

The Hollywood wagons are already circling around Woody Allen, accused—again, but now as an adult who can speak for herself—by Dylan Farrow of sexually abusing her when she was only 7 years old. Reading some of the statements issuing from Tinseltown, I am struck again by the ugly opposition any non-celebrity victim must face when accusing a powerful industry figure of wrongdoing. Luckily, many of the most vociferous defenders signal their desperation and their lack of basic comprehension of the issues, undermining their arguments.

Exhibit A is veteran Hollywood journalist Roger Friedman, who was quick to issue an article alleging, as he has for 20 years, that Dylan’s story is all part of a Mia Farrow plot to destroy innocent Woody. On his website, Friedman headlines his piece, “Mia Farrow Uses Close Pal Journalist in Woody Allen War: Writer of Latest Piece is Close Friend.” Friedman’s concept of what constitutes a “conflict of interest” is intriguing. His argument is that Times journalist Nicholas Kristof, who published Dylan’s open letter on his blog, is friends with Mia Farrow (Friedman implies that they are romantically involved while specifically saying that he isn’t implying it–his evident journalistic sliminess would undermine even a fair article, which this is not), and that this makes Dylan’s letter less credible. What he doesn’t explain, since he can’t, is why the same letter would be any more credible or reliable whether Kristof published it or someone else did.

If Farrow’s friendship factored into the scenario at all, it was that she did her blogging journalist friend a favor by steering her daughter’s explosive letter to his blog, giving him the biggest readership boost imaginable (I didn’t even know Kristof had a blog). Friedman asserts that Mia Farrow was responsible for Dylan’s letter, offering no proof whatsoever. Unless he has some evidence that Kristof wrote the letter for Dylan, or that his news judgment or opinion factors into the controversy in any way, I see no conflict whatsoever.

In Kristof’s post about Dylan’s letter on the Times website, he states that he is Farrow’s friend, which is an appropriate disclosure. Friedman suggests that there is something sinister about the fact that Kristof didn’t repeat the disclosure in his introduction to Dylan’s letter on his blog post containing it. I see no reason why that was necessary. The letter isn’t his letter, and his introduction is carefully neutral. Friedman’s own bias, however, is obvious and offensive. He writes (my reactions are in bold):

  • “Choosing Kristof for the ‘hit’ was a bad idea. He is not at all objective.” He may not be, but unlike in a real conflict of interest situation, his possible biases aren’t relevant because they have no effect on the content in question, and don’t undermine its credibility at all. 
  • “He’s Mia’s pawn in this endless chess game.” Prove it. Kristof, to the extent there is such a thing, is a respected and credentialed journalist. To the extent there is such a thing, Friedman isn’t, as this kind of unsourced attack proves.
  • “If she and Dylan were serious, they would have gone to someone totally impartial, someone they didn’t know.” First, Dylan is a grown woman with a family and a life of her own, and unless Friedman has evidence that Mia Farrow was involved in the writing of the letter, the assumption that Dylan isn’t capable of her own attack on Allen is unfair and unproven. Second, how can he read that letter and say that Dylan isn’t “serious”? What could be more serious? Do women write about such painful matters and accuse their step fathers of molesting them for fun?
  • “If the Farrows had been serious, they could have filed a police report, or a lawsuit.”  Again, there is nothing unserious about Dylan’s letter, and Friedman is a serious creep for insinuating otherwise. It is too late to seek a criminal indictment, and law suits are horribly expensive. (Allen, for example, is almost certain not to sue for defamation whether he’s guilty or not.) Dylan chose to write a letter. Some daughters have written books. It’s her trauma, her life and her choice, not Friedman’s.
  • “But they chose a quick ambush, a sucker punch, a swift attack during Oscar season.” Hardly. Dylan’s accusation has been public knowledge in Hollywood all along, and has obviously had no impact whatsoever on the regard their for her estranged father. Hearing Allen praised during the Golden Globes like he deserved the Oscars’ Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award apparently made his victim feel it was time to confront Hollywood directly with its miserable values. Good for her…unless she’s lying, of course.
  • “If Dylan is telling the 100 percent truth, she could have told it last fall, or next spring, or three years ago, or during the release of a Woody film that didn’t matter so much, like “To Rome with Love.” Have you ever read anything more idiotic, more Planet Hollywood? What does the timing of her letter have to do with whether she is telling the truth? If she was lying through her teeth, she also could have “told it last fall, or next spring, or three years ago.”Dylan Farrow was obviously  moved to write now because she was infuriated by a new round of personal honors for the man whom, she says, got away with sexually abusing her as a seven-year old. So would I. Did she chooose the time when her renewed accusation will get maximum attention and do Allen the most harm?  Of course. Again, so would I. What is this bizarre rule Friedman thinks is in effect, that victims of child molestation should make sure their accusations must be timed to coincide with only minor Woody Allen movies?

Yet this was Friedman’s most reasonable attack on the Farrows, particularly Mia, in defense of Woody. On his website, he has another post making this despicable and illogical argument:

“Mia Farrow has waged a war against Woody Allen, claiming he’s a sex offender, for 22 years. Allen has never been charged with anything. But Mia says nothing about her own brother, John Farrow. He is currently serving 10 years in a Maryland prison on a 25 year sentence for sex abuse of two young boys. And that’s not the only trouble surrounding Mia’s family. Her other brother, Patrick, committed suicide almost five years ago. Is Mia projecting her anger toward her brothers onto Woody Allen? Think about it. Where is Mia’s public outrage over an actual convicted offender? …More importantly: were Mia’s kids ever harmed by this man? No one has ever spoken about that.”

What kind of warped thought processes could generate Bizarro World ethics that? If Mia Farrow doesn’t publicly condemn her imprisoned brother, that means she’s lying about her husband molesting one of her children? The fact that another brother committed suicide makes her daughter less credible? (For the record, Roger, three of my cousins killed themselves. Ethics quiz: do I have a conflict of interest?) Who says Mia is “angry” at either brother? They didn’t molest her children. And no one has ever spoken about Mia’s kids being harmed by her brother because there is no indication, evidence, rumor or anything else to suggest that there were.

The only remaining question regarding Friedman is this: was he so cognitively and inept and ethically ignorant before he became a Hollywood reporter, and indeed was drawn to the job as a result of these twin maladies, or did covering Hollywood for so long render him this way?

__________________________

Sources: Showbiz411 1, 2

33 thoughts on “What A Hollywood Journalist Calls “Ethics”

  1. I was struck by Dylan Farrow’s letter, and am inclined to believe she;s describing what actually happened, influenced no doubt by Allen’s general sleazziness. But I’m cautious, more than you, because of an experience I had 15 years ago when I was a jury foreman in Arlington.

    A 19-year old man was charged with aggravated sexual battery against his 6- or 7-yr old girl cousin. She testified clearly and dramatically, and he did not testify in his defense. The jurors, mostly women elected me foreman, and then I expected a quick decision of guilty. But the women, including two elementary school teachers, were vehement that they couldn’t believe the girls testimony. In fact they would disbelieve any testimony by a 6-or 7-yr old because the children were so easily led to believe things that weren’t true.

    Shortly after the NYTimes had a piece on experiments that showed that children of that age were easily subject to suggestion that fixed a wrong belief. So who can be sure that Dylan’s memory is what really happened and not what she was led to believe happened.

    • The implanted memory phenomenon, which is certainly real, has had the effect of providing an automatic shield for genuine predators. I think especially in court testimony this is the case, which is one reason Mia Farrow did not pursue legal action. Either Mia Farrow intentionally implanted a toxic false trauma in her young daughter that would shadow her life forever in order to falsely destroy the reputation of her former husband out of revenge, or she knows Dylan is telling the truth. Either she is evil, or she is not. We know quite a bit about Mia Farrow; there is no other evidence that she is evil that I am aware of, and much evidence that she is an altruistic, generous, loving woman who would rather die than harm any of her children, or any children at all. There is doubt—but I really don’t see any reasonable doubt in this controversy.

        • Boy, I think there was a lot of malice, or criminal negligence if not evil, in the McMartin case, just as there was in the Salem Witch trials. I also have to wonder about the Catch 22 of a psychologist saying that a little girl can’t be believed about the incestuous abuse that psychologically disturbed her because she is psychologically disturbed. How nice for the abuser.

          If Woody 1) was not, by his own admission, sexually warped 2) had not had an affair with his adopted daughter, whom he subsequently married, grossly betraying the trust of both her and his wife/partner 3) was not be prone to saying crap like “the heart wants what the heart wants” and 4) had not glorified pedophilia in “Manhattan,” I’d be willing to agree that this is a he said/she said problem with few clues as to who is telling the truth.

          • Woody Allen didn’t have an affair with and marry his adopted daughter, he had an affair with and married his long-time girlfriend’s adopted daughter. It’s not quite as creepy.

            • It is. Those children regarded him as their father, and called him one. He lived with the family as her husband in every way. Would you say the same if Kurt Russell had slept with Kate Hudson?

              • It’s still a factual error to refer to Soon-Yi as Woody’s adopted daughter. (And as far as I know, I don’t think his relationship with any of his adopted daughters could be called an “affair.”) Also, I don’t know a lot about Woody, but what I could find online suggests he and Mia Farrow did not live together as a family.

                It seems unlikely that Kate Hudson would willingly sleep with Kurt Russell since she is on record as saying she thinks of him as her father. Soon-Yi and Woody Allen have been married for 16 years, so I don’t think she has similar feelings about him. In fact, she explicitly denied it when the story of their affair broke.

                I’m not saying it isn’t creepy, just not quite as creepy as if he’d adopted her. And nowhere near as bad as what Dylan says he did.

              • Dude, 1) Woody Allen DID NOT LIVE w/ Mia Farrow and her+their children – EVER! and 2) Woody Allen DID NOT ACT AS A FATHER-FIGURE to Soon-Yi Previn – André Previn did, however.

                If you’re going to claim to be qualified to arbitrate ethics disputes relating to media reporting, you should at least get your facts right.

                Alas, you’re no better than any other slanted commentator, letting his personal biases influence how he pronounces on the issue (“It is [quite as creepy].”)!

                • He maintained a separate address. People who use the bizarre and convoluted nature of that couple’s relationship to parse his conduct are pure enablers. He adopted some of her children and had others with her, maintained what they called a family, but “never lived together.” Sure.

                  I take it back—you’d be an even worse public editor than Sullivan. I was rash.

        • I’m on your page on this one, Bob. ANY vivid childhood memory is prone to being riddled with inaccuracies and false constructions. On the one hand it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily false, but on the other it means that it shouldn’t be automatically taken as gospel out of a sense of pity, outrage, or distaste for a creepy sumbitch (which Allen is, no question).

          • I don’t think anyone is suggesting that it “automatically be taken as gospel,” though—I’m not. There is, as I have noted, circumstantial evidence that suggests credibility based on Allen’s prior conduct, character and points of view, the lack of motive for Dylan, and the established good character of Mia. I’m not suggesting he be jailed, or even, at this point, tried, as a conviction would be impossible. I am saying that reasonable people can fairly conclude that they wouldn’t let him babysit their lovely, precocious 12-year old daughter

            because, on balance, he’s neither trustworthy nor admirable, and probably a serial sexual predator.

            • I know you’re not, and not in this case. But in the general sense of accusations based on childhood memories the point stands- the commendable instincts to show trust, to protect a child (even though the child has grown up), to punish someone who harms a child, combined with an apparently detailed and vivid memory, can lead to false conclusions.

              After all, when you have an articulate and intelligent woman tearfully recounting the details of her abuse, down to the words that were said and the toys she was looking at, that happened 20 years ago, and the counterargument is the man she KNOWS abused her saying “no, that didn’t happen, I have no idea what she means” who WOULDN’T be inclined to belive her?

  2. “If the Farrows had been serious, they could have filed a police report, or a lawsuit.”

    Since the case did reach a prosecutor this was a fatuous statement on Friedman’s part.

    Well, since it’s an ethics blog by a lawyer, here’s a question about legal ethics.

    If there were somehow litigation, would Allen’s attorney(s) be able ethically to argue that Mia Farrow’s repressed shame over sex offenders in her own family was displaced onto Woody Allen, that she planted false memories in her daughter out of spite or as a weapon in the divorce, that they went to their friend Kristof because no independent journalist would have taken the story, and that the timing proved a vindictive motive rather than one of resolving a trauma?

    Would that be ethical zealous advocacy, stomach-turning slime, or both?

    Can lawyers ethically fire a client in a civil matter because he disgusts them too much?

  3. Because of how memory is constructed, I always try to take any vivid and detailed recollection by an adult of their childhood with a grain of salt. Every time you recall that memory your brain reconstructs it, and bits and pieces are lost or altered. That doesn’t mean that the memory is false, but it does mean that just because you recall it clearly and in detail doesn’t mean that’s how it happened. You might be totally wrong, you might be confusing details or adding circumstances of a different memory. The one sure thing is that it almost certainly didn’t happen exactly as you remember. That’s a valid point to raise when discussing issues like this one, hinging on a single person’s detailed memory of childhood.

    “But this might make people frown about his movie! Couldn’t she have said this when he didn’t have a movie I like coming?” on the other hand, made me throw up in my mouth a little bit.

  4. Are we trying to punish the wicked or protect children?

    Put it this way, Why disgrace or prosecute perpetrators at all, when you can diagnose them instead? A judge or a doctor leading a process of enquiry arguably might be more accessible, swift, cheap, kind to child victims and more accurate in its findings than a court.

    And if the social disgrace of being a dirty old man is similarly low impact, the maximum number of perverts would report themselves before, or confess after, a crime.

    A patient/offender need endure only the same precations we use for discharged sex-convicts. By which I mean monitoring, tag wearing, curfew and separating him from children for example.

    That is, if we are prepared to sacrifice any notion of retributive justice. But we never wil do that. We never will optimally protect children.

    Because we watch too many movies filmed by these Hollywood bums.

  5. The NYT public editor now also conceded that Kristof’s behaviour of publishing the letter of the daughter of a close friend of his raises serious questions and encourages everyone to read the Robert Weide piece for providing context as well as balance.
    Unfortunately the internet is not interested in context nor balance. Nothing new really.

    • I don’t think the current NYT public editor, based on previous columns, knows what she’s talking about.

      Again—who wouldn’t publish that letter, other than Woody’s allies? And if virtually anyone would, how can it be said that he gave in to a conflict to do so himself? Journalism is run on contacts, back-scratching, friendships and sources. This is a double standard. A Senator leaks a document to a friendly journalist he drinks with who prints it, and that’s fine (and it is); but this “raises serious questions”? A journalist conflicts are relevant to what HE writes, not what someone else does.

      • I would certainly not have published that letter in the way that it was and I am no Woody Allen fan or ally. There is no double standard involved. You appear not to comprehend journalistic ethics. Hiding behind being an opinion page writer, as Kristof appears to be doing, doesn’t excuse this kind of hit job. I don’t know because I can’t know what happened between Allen and the young Farrow. I do know this is still the USA and decent journalists don’t engage in the kind of activity that Kristof stooped to. Apples and oranges in regard to leaked documents and this kind of smarmy attack on a private citizen. I’m amazed that The New York Times let fly something so unprofessional. And something that will not help Dylan Farrow or her cause in the long term.

        • Huh? He agreed to publish a letter about a public figure, regarding a past event that has been in the news. Show me the principle of journalistic ethics that applies and that you think was violated. You can’t. Kristof didn’t register an opinion at all, moreover, he published it on a blog, where the ethics are very different.

          Your objections don’t even slightly match up with what occurred.

      • “I don’t think the current NYT public editor, based on previous columns, knows what she’s talking about.” < < < < WOW!

        So perhaps the NY Times should fire Margaret Sullivan and employ you instead as their Public Editor?

        Wow. So what qualifies you to overrule the New York Times' OWN public interest ombudsman on an issue that they have identified as raising serious questions of objectivity and transparency?

        • Why? Because the public editors for the Times have been apologists rather than objective ethics watchdogs for about a decade or more. Because he is an editor and reporter from the recent, as in, ethically corrupt, period of journalism. Because she has no ethics background whatsoever, and apparently doesn’t comprehend what a conflict of interest is. Because of mealy-mouthed work like this.

          And sure, I could so a better job than Sullivan as Times ethics watchdog, if the Times actually wanted anyone to do the job. Many people could. YOU could.

    • I find that confusing, Nancy. At one time, Friedman was probably one of the few reviewers you could count on for a good analysis without the fluff and feathers. He was really hard nosed when it came to movies, their content and the means of their making. I quoted his reviews on a number of occasions. One thing he could never have been called then was a “shill”. He left Fox after supposedly being accused of plagiarizing himself in a review. That seemed a little fishy!

        • I don’t dispute that, Jack. I just find it amazing that Friedman has apparently changed his outlook so greatly since I was a reader of his columns. The Roger Friedman of THAT era would have roasted Woody over a slow journalistic fire. I guess the powers-that-be broke him to their will!

            • Pathetic, isn’t it? Friedman was one of the few reviewers that dared to challenge the position of the Hollywood Collective over the issue of on-screen obscenity with children during the infamous “Hounddog” case. I really wanted to shake his hand for his hard hitting, well-researched and ethically derived columns on that issue of which I was so involved. I guess he just stepped on too many toes and decided to “ease off”.

  6. Roger Friedman frequented Elaine’s, a cozy hole-in-the-wall with celebrity regulars. Friedman and the place’s long-term owner, Elaine Kaufman, spent years living in symbiosis. Friedman lauded Kaufman’s restaurant/bar in his column — free publicity! — while Kaufman introduced Friedman to famous people and made him feel like an integral part of her little universe. Among the most famous patrons of Elaine’s — Woody Allen.

    This is the reason why Friedman has so heatedly attacked Mia Farrow and her children while defending Woody Allen.

    You’re reading it, here, for the first time. Perhaps I should be writing a gossip column?

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