WASHINGTON – Author and journalist Ronan Farrow said that stories from sexual harassment victims must reach the standard of being “bulletproof” before they are published.
Farrow, who won the Pulitzer Prize for public service journalism after his unveiling of the Harvey Weinstein scandal sparked the #MeToo movement, was asked if the bar has now moved to the victim’s side as compared to the past, when the public might not believe sexual harassment allegations without any witnesses.
“I hope that the bar remains extremely high and certainly in what we do at the New Yorker, it’s incredibly high and I think, correctly, one of the lessons of these stories that broke through from the Post and the Times and the New Yorker is that they needed to be really bulletproof,” Farrow said during a discussion Saturday at Café Milano organized by WHC Insider to mark the release of his new book, War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence.
Farrow compared the stories he wrote about Weinstein’s victims to writing legal briefs.
“They really needed to account for every counter-argument and they needed to interrogate every possible fact and really go through a rigorous discovery process so there were no surprises,” Farrow said. “Overall, I know there’s a lot of conversation swirling around about have things gone too far. I think that, while those questions are perfectly fair, on the whole, reporters have done an incredible job maintaining that high standard.”
Farrow was asked if he personally believes the fallout from sexual harassment and assault allegations being made public has gone too far.
“I would say, in my view, that in the cases where there’s been miscarriages of journalism or there have been consequences that don’t seem to match the severity of the allegations, our profession has been fairly self-regulating,” he replied. “It’s identified those cases and sort of called them out for what they are.”
To support his position, Farrow cited the story published in January about allegations of sexual misconduct on a bad date involving comedian Aziz Ansari.
“You look at the reaction to the Aziz Ansari story: people weren’t running around saying that’s the end of the world and we should crucify this guy, there was sort of an intelligent conversation about where the lines were in the incidences described in that anecdote,” he said. “And there was a conversation about whether the journalism was strong enough – it’s a single-source account that had a lot of opinion and color in it that stacked the deck, and people saw all of that for what it was.”
When asked if he thinks there is a “path back” for former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) after his resignation on allegations of sexual harassment, Farrow responded, “It’s honestly just not my job to speculate about paths back for anyone. I tell stories and I try to tell the stories in a way that has staying power, and I only tell them if I think they reach an incredibly high level of seriousness. And in that case, I think you owe it to all parties on all sides to really interrogate the claims as skeptically and rigorously as possible.”
Farrow spoke two days before his expose on allegations of physical abuse committed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman against intimate partners. Schneiderman resigned just hours after the story was published in the New Yorker.
Farrow, the former director of the State Department’s Office of Global Youth Issues, also discussed Rex Tillerson’s tenure as secretary of State. Farrow said Tillerson had admitted he was unaware how “budget advocacy” worked on Capitol Hill, which former secretaries of state found astonishing.
“He wouldn’t take Condoleezza Rice’s calls, and she was one of his biggest backers. They have an OK relationship, but there was a real problem that accreted around him where he was in a fortress and he had this, by all accounts, very controlling chief of staff,” he said.
Farrow also warned about the decline of “soft power” at the State Department and the need to reform USAID.
“There’s a difference between a need for reform and a need to obliterate,” he said.