Despite the “partisan inferno” evident during the last week with the Kavanaugh hearings, journalist Ronan Farrow said Friday that “our culture has crossed a Rubicon and is not going back” in recognizing sexual violence.
“Survivors have stood up,” Farrow told an audience at the New Yorker Festival in Manhattan during a late-night on-stage discussion with his New Yorker senior editor Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn. But, cautioned the author of the Harvey Weinstein expose that contributed mightily to the Hollywood mogul’s downfall, while many woman are feeling and expressing a long-pent-up rage, a “counter-rage” exists on the part of some men who are watching their accustomed way of living slipping away.
And that “counter-rage,” along with the partisan sparring that showed itself after Judge Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and others, could undue at least some of the progress made over the last year with regard to abuse survivors feeling welcome to tell their stories.
“There was a battle over the truth and the truth lost a lot of times this week,” Farrow said, adding at one point, “Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz – every day, just lying…”
Providing at least some comforting perspective, Farrow said that the situation a year ago, when he was reporting and writing the Weinstein expose, was, in many ways, worse than today with regard to survivors’ confidence in being heard. Though he cited cultural and journalistic moments in which the truth began to come out – comedian Hannibal Buress publicly calling Bill Cosby a rapist, Bill O’Reilly getting fired from Fox News, that same network’s Gretchen Carlson telling her story, even the speaking-out of Farrow’s own sister Dylan Farrow against their father Woody Allen – those stories had yet to coalesce into something “persuasive” enough to convince silent victims into going public.
“It was not a robust body of precedent that we could point to,” Farrow said, adding, with emphasis, that those stories “counted” nonetheless in the evolution of our understanding of sexual violence.
Before taking questions from the audience, Farrow spoke about how much his own professional and personal life has changed over the course of the year. When he was reporting the Weinstein story just more than a year ago, his career, he said, was at “rock bottom,” and “no one was banking on my success.” He felt “scared shitless” and “heartbroken” he said, making reference at one point to feeling betrayed by the news organization he’d been working with (NBC went unnamed last night) before he took his work to the New Yorker.
But if progress has been made, Farrow was clear that this past week’s events in Washington could frighten or intimidate victims of sexual violence into remaining silent. At one point, he noted his profound disappointment with “the lying, the distortion, the ad hominem attacks on women.”
“It is very clear the effect that partisan sniping has had on the potential of additional information coming to light,” Farrow said. “There are more sources who might come forward in a different context.”
Farrow himself shows no sign of slowing down. He’s written a second book (his first was War on Peace), continues his work for The New Yorker, is involved in an HBO project and just yesterday handed in his Oxford PhD thesis. “I’m operating in burn-out mode,” he half-joked, adding, in strike- while-the-iron’s-hot logic, that a couple years of overdoing makes professional sense, long-run sustainable or not.