By Eliyahu Federman (New York Post)
February 7, 2014
It was wrong for New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to publish a one-sided, decades-old, discredited claim of child molestation against Woody Allen. This yellow journalism may harm the fight against child sexual abuse, by undermining far more credible claims.
The accusation stemmed from a bitter custody dispute between Allen and Mia Farrow, where Farrow ultimately claimed that, in the midst of the dispute, Allen took Dylan Farrow, 7, into an attic-like space at the actress’s Connecticut home and molested her.
Yet, again, officials examined and rejected the charges at the time. A team of independent child-abuse specialists at Yale-New Haven Hospital determined them to be meritless, and the doctor leading the probe theorized that either Mia planted the story in Dylan’s mind, or Dylan herself invented it. (The accuser’s brother, Moses, echoed this suspicion in the wake of the new publicity.)
Studies show that allegations of this awful abuse are much more likely to be false when they occur in the context of bitter divorce and child-custody battles, originating with an adult coaching or planting memories in a child.
Woody also took and passed a lie detector test. And the district attorney declined to press charges (though irresponsibly claiming publicly that “probable cause” existed).
At the time of the accusations, Mia was enraged over Woody’s relationship with her older daughter. She sent Woody a threatening card (displayed on “60 Minutes”): a photo of her and her children, with a steak knife stuck into her heart, and meat skewers stuck in the chests of her children.
Strangely, in 2012 Kristof himself questioned the propriety of news outlets reporting the rape accusations against Greg Kelly, the local TV personality (and son of then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly), when there was never a criminal charge or arrest.
Kristof asked on Facebook if it is ethical for news outlets to “report an allegation about criminal misconduct, such as rape, when no criminal charges have been filed?” In a comment on the post, Kristof even expressed surprise that fans thought it was OK to report the story under the circumstances.
Did he consider that ethical question when he published a letter by Woody’s accuser, dredging up an old accusation that experts had determined to be false, and that involved neither arrest nor criminal charges? Perhaps his admitted personal friendship with Dylan and Mia had something to do with it?
By reviving the discredited story, Kristof prompted all manner of foolish speculation. For example, Sherri Shepherd ranted on “The View” that Woody “liked younger women so it’s not that far off to question” whether the molestation claim might be true.
No: You may think Woody creepy and even depraved for engaging in a relationship with his then-girlfriend’s 19-year-old daughter, Soon Yi Previn, but that has nothing to do with pedophilia. Equating sexual abuse of a 7-year-old to an older man’s relationship to a 19-year-old trivializes the barbaric crime of child sexual abuse.
Worse, Kristof’s actions may also cast doubt on the millions of credible claims of child molestation. Simply put, publicizing a discredited charge promotes skepticism about all such charges — and the inevitable backlash also encourages those who’ve been abused to fear that they, too, will meet a media storm.
To combat child sexual abuse, we need much wider awareness on its prevalence and character, as well as a climate where potential victims are comfortable speaking without fear of reprisal.
But now, thanks to Kristof’s decision to publicize a long-discredited claim of molestation, many credible claims of child sexual abuse will be further scrutinized and doubted.
Eliyahu Federman has published in the Huffington Post, USA Today, Forbes and elsewhere, writing extensively on sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community.