National Post Barbara Kay: Another one bites the dust — Woody Allen the latest victim of cancel culture

National Post - Tuesday March 10th, 2020

Woody Allen

Hachette Book Group (HBG) announced last week that it had cancelled its scheduled April publication of 84-year-old film director Woody Allen’s memoir, “Apropos of Nothing.”

The decision was sparked by protest from investigative reporter Ronan Farrow, Allen’s estranged son, whose #MeToo-themed book, “Catch and Kill,” was also published by HBG. Ronan Farrow is the most vigorous ally of his sister, Dylan, in her long-standing charge of sexual abuse by Allen in 1992, when she was seven years old, a claim initiated and robustly upheld by their mother, Mia, and just as robustly contested by Allen.

Before HBG announced it was cancelling the book, Ronan Farrow expressed his outrage over its publication on social media. In one tweet, he claimed that HBG did not factcheck Allen’s book, or contact Dylan Farrow for her response regarding “the abuse she suffered at the hands of Woody Allen.” (Note the failure to include the word “alleged” before “abuse”: poor journalistic practice, but reflective of an assumption in his side’s settled truth.)

Dozens of employees staged a walkout at HBG’s New York offices last Thursday, as a pressure tactic. It worked. In a statement issued Friday, HBG uttered the now-familiar mob-appeasing bromides of surrendering publishers: “decision to cancel … difficult … take our relationships with authors very seriously …  committed to offering a stimulating, supportive and open work environment for all our staff … conclusion that moving forward with publication would not be feasible.” HBG staff reportedly cheered and clapped at the news.

As the Queen song goes: “And another one gone, and another one gone, another one bites the dust.”

The #MeToo movement and Ronan Farrow’s insider position in it should have made the blowback as foreseeable as sunrise in the east.

Barbara Kay

Last May I wrote about Hesh Kestin, author of “The Siege of Tel Aviv,” who endured a similar experience to Allen’s. His publisher, Dzanc Books, bowed to the Twitter mob and a protest on the part of its staff and authors over the demonstrably non-existent Islamophobia in Kestin’s novel, and withdrew the book from circulation. (From the most damning comments on social media, it was clear that their authors had not read the book.) At the time, Kestin remarked that Dzanc “did what they were expected to do in society today. They abandoned the norms that we old guys used to believe were sacrosanct: that you can have unpopular opinions.”

I was pretty charitable to Dzanc for backing down, but only because it was a small, independent press. I wrote that, “I don’t blame Dzanc for caving to avoid possible implosion.” But HBG is a big corporation and if it had chosen to ride out this storm, it likely could have done so without material damage. In fact, the controversy would probably have acted as an effective marketing tool and ginned up sales.

I am puzzled why HBG apparently didn’t anticipate this tempest. The #MeToo movement and Ronan Farrow’s insider position in it should have made the blowback as foreseeable as sunrise in the east.

It is possible, I suppose, that the decision-makers assumed good faith because the jury is out on Allen’s alleged crime. They may even have thought that Allen is — trigger warning — innocent of wrongdoing.

Like many others, I was skeptical of Mia Farrow’s attack on Allen because bitter divorces often elicit vengeful accusations. My instinct was later reinforced by the gripping 2018 defence of Allen by his adoptive son, Moses Farrow. If you have only ever been exposed to the adamantine denunciations of Allen by Ronan, Dylan and Mia Farrow, I urge you to read it. It is a scarifying portrait of “a deep and persistent darkness within the Farrow family.”

Ronan Farrow Sheri Determan/

Ronan Farrow and his allies would do well to remember that no official charges were ever laid against Allen. A statement released by Allen’s representative at that time adds weight to Moses Farrow’s perspective: “A thorough investigation was conducted by court-appointed independent experts. The experts concluded there was no credible evidence of molestation; that Dylan Farrow had an inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality; and that Dylan Farrow had likely been coached by her mother Mia Farrow.”

HBG had the same right to publish Allen’s viewpoint as it did to publish Ronan Farrow’s. Cancelling Allen’s book is therefore no victory for feminists or anyone else. It just put blood in the water, encouraging more such politicized feeding frenzies.

Here is what HBG should have done: First, publicly wished Ronan Farrow a polite but firm farewell. Then sought out the protest ringleaders amongst its staffers and summarily fired them. Finally, sent all employees a memo notifying them that institutional loyalty and deference to executive decisions are standpoints of HBG culture. Staffers who chose not to resign should have been expected to respect these principles in the future or face consequences. Plum jobs in publishing are not a dime a dozen. These strategies would have worked like a charm.

Somebody has to stand athwart publishing cancel culture and yell stop. It should have been HBG.

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