Don’t Listen to Woody Allen’s Biggest Defender

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Feb. 4 2014 2:35 PM

Don’t Listen to Woody Allen’s Biggest Defender

Why are so many journalists lauding Robert Weide’s sleazy, passive-aggressive attack on Mia Farrow and her daughter?

Robert B. Weide, Woody Allen
Robert B. Weide and Woody Allen.

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Getty Images.

On Jan. 27 in the Daily Beast, Robert Weide, director of the two-part PBS special Woody Allen: A Documentary, wrote a 5,600-word defense of Allen against allegations that he molested his 7-year-old daughter Dylan Farrow in 1992. A few days later, Dylan, now 28, published her own account of the alleged molestation in the New York Times. Dylan’s open letter convulsed the Internet, forcing Allen’s defenders to confront the public statements of an adult woman who says, with no caveats, that she was sexually assaulted by her father.

Jessica Winter Jessica Winter

Jessica Winter is a Slate senior editor.

In the aftermath of Dylan’s essay, Weide’s Allen apologia seemed, at best, embarrassingly timed. At least, that’s what I assumed everyone who had read the Daily Beast piece would think. But very many people did not agree.

New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse, sharing Weide’s article on Feb. 2, said that it “raises serious questions about Dylan’s allegations of sexual abuse.” The following day, no less than the Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, linked to Weide’s piece and wrote, “I urge those who have not yet done so to read Mr. Weide’s illuminating article. It provides essential context.” Also on Feb. 3, tech-journalism superstar Kara Swisher tweeted Weide’s article to her 930,000 followers, calling it “the counter” to Dylan’s letter. And on that same day, Michael Wolff praised Weide’s piece as “detailed and powerful” in an unhinged Guardian column that hypothesized that the “rehashed scandal” was being revived in the public memory to raise the public profile of Allen’s ex-partner Mia Farrow and her son, Ronan, both of whom made public statements in support of Dylan after Allen was honored at last month’s Golden Globes ceremony. (Weide worked on the celebratory montage of Allen’s films for the broadcast.)

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Given all the accolades, is Weide’s Daily Beast piece actually “detailed and powerful”? It is certainly detailed. And yes, it’s powerful, in its own way. Weide’s long essay is full of sleazy innuendo, bad-faith posturing, and passive-aggressive self-promotion. Like the recent Grantland piece “Dr. V’s Magical Putter,” one wonders—one hopes, actually—that smart people have been sharing the article approvingly because it was long and seemed interesting, not because they’d actually read it.

The first thing you need to know is that this is what Robert Weide’s Twitter profile looks like.

140204_CBOX_WeideAllenTwitterBio

Screenshot via BobWeide/Twitter

How can we possibly trust a young woman’s firsthand account when we’ve got this fellow to patiently explain the situation to us?

Now let’s turn to the article itself, which promises a “closer examination” of charges that Allen molested his daughter. Here are some highlights from its first 1,800 words:

  • Weide uses Dylan’s current name, though she prefers to keep it private. Later, when called out for this on Twitter, Weide justified the choice by digging up a 1 ½-year-old tweet from Mia Farrow that referred to Dylan by her current name.
  • Weide clarifies that Farrow’s daughter Soon-Yi Previn, whose affair with Allen when she was 19 pulverized the Allen-Farrow household, was in no way like a family member to Allen, despite the fact that she was his children’s sister and his longtime partner’s daughter.
  • Weide quotes Ronan Farrow’s famous condemnation of Allen—“He’s my father married to my sister. That makes me his son and his brother-in-law. That is such a moral transgression”—and then adds: “However, this particular dilemma might be resolved by Mia’s recent revelations that Ronan’s biological father may ‘possibly’ be Frank Sinatra, whom Farrow married in 1966, when she was 21 and the crooner was 50.” This passage doesn’t track—it’s not clear if the “particular dilemma” is the Woody/Soon-Yi relationship or Ronan’s feelings toward it. But the upshot is that if Farrow did indeed sleep around, then that’s a lucky break for Ronan, who can rest easy about the whole Soon-Yi situation.
  • Weide then spends two more paragraphs auditing Mia Farrow’s sexual history. Alleged victims of sexual assault are commonly subjected to such scrutiny, but when we’re dealing with a 7-year-old, it seems her mother will serve just fine by proxy.

All of that is just an appetizer. It’s when Weide finally arrives at his ostensible subject—unpacking the child-molestation accusations—that the piece becomes most noxious.

Here is Dylan Farrow’s account of the events of Aug. 4, 1992, in her mother’s Connecticut home, called Frog Hollow, as it appeared in the Times:

When I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me.

And here is Weide’s:

During an unsupervised moment, Woody allegedly took Dylan into the attic and, shall we say, “touched her inappropriately.”

The “shall we say” is the worst rhetorical crime in a piece brimming with them, glibly framing an unconscionable act as a bit of innuendo. It’s the skeleton key to the entire article’s sneering cluelessness.

What’s most galling about Weide’s writing is its preening faux-gentility. He adopts the pose of a gentleman who is above the fray. He is “not here to slam Mia,” who is “an exceptional actress.” He is not “blaming the victim,” Weide insists. He is “merely floating scenarios to consider.”