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Ronan Farrow Discredited

"Trust me." (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/GettyImages)

Well, well, well, the Golden Boy flew too close to the sun. Earlier this week, Ben Smith at The New York Times published a long piece questioning in detail the reporting Ronan Farrow has done on the #MeToo story. Smith’s basic allegation, which he strongly supports, is that Farrow allowed his crusading agenda to trample over basic journalistic ethics, leading him to report things that either weren’t true, or that he did not establish as true — but which boosted his narrative.

Well, one of Farrow’s victims, former Today Show host Matt Lauer, finishes the wounded Farrow off with a devastating critique of Farrow’s reporting that brought him (Lauer) down. Lauer, who admits to having had an extramarital affair with an NBC employee, said that the subsequent allegations (by that employee, Brooke Nevils) of rape against him — allegations accepted and repeated without challenge in Farrow’s book — were false, and provably false, though Farrow didn’t want to hear that. The column is a devastating series of excerpts like this:

Ronan suggests that Brooke Nevils’ accusations against me are valid, because he writes:

Nevils told ‘like a million people’ about Lauer. She told her inner circle of friends. She told colleagues and superiors at NBC. She was never inconsistent and she made the seriousness of what happened clear.

Does Ronan offer any proof of this claim? Does he say he confirmed this story with any of the friends or colleagues she claims to have told about the “seriousness” of what she now alleges happened in Sochi? Does he include a single comment or quote from a corroborating source for these claims?

No, he does not.

He writes:

When [Brooke] moved to a new job within the company, working as a producer for Peacock Productions, she reported it to one of her new bosses there. She felt they should know, in case it became public and she became a liability.

Does he write that he tried to track down that superior at Peacock Productions? (Which, it should be noted, is completely separate from the Today show.) Did he include a quote or a comment from that superior?

Did he find out if that superior had, in fact, been told about the “seriousness” of what Brooke now claims?

No, he did not. How do I know that? Because I did.

It took me 15 minutes to find out who that “new boss” was. I then contacted Sharon Scott, who ran Peacock Productions at the time Brooke was hired there. Sharon, concerned that she might not have been made aware of a serious situation involving a member of her staff, contacted Brooke’s direct superior. They spoke at length.

That new boss told Sharon Scott that, one night, Brooke simply started talking about having an affair with me. She said, most importantly, that Brooke never said a single word about this being anything but a consensual affair. She said Brooke, in no way, conveyed “the seriousness” of what she now claims. There was never a mention of assault or rape. She says she considered Brooke a friend and Brooke told the story the way someone would gossip with a friend. She told Sharon Scott that there was nothing in what Brooke told her that made her feel it was necessary to contact anyone in management about any concerns.

This superior also stated that Ronan Farrow never reached out to her to confirm the story that referenced her in the book.

Read the whole thing. It is long, and it is full of things like that: instances in which Lauer did what Farrow should have done, which is track down people who could confirm or deny his narrative. Farrow’s fact checker for his book Catch And Kill said that he checked all the claims in the book. It couldn’t possibly be true. I dunno, but it seems like Lauer has quite a lawsuit against Hachette, the publisher of Farrow’s book.

Remember when Hachette canceled Woody Allen’s memoir at the last minute after its existence ticked off Ronan Farrow? The book found another home. I bought it and read it simply out of a principle of solidarity with a canceled author. The memoir was uneven, but I tell you, thinking back now, in light of the Ben Smith and Matt Lauer pieces, to Allen’s detailed story about the abuse allegations, and how it contradicts the Farrow family narrative — in particular, the narrative Ronan has offered — makes me think that nothing this kid Farrow says should be believed. He’s clearly quite a journalistic talent, but he has destroyed his own credibility by his crusading, and by being helped along by journalists and publishers older than him, who ought to have forced him to do his job. Instead, they found a narrative they liked too, and went with it.

Lauer ends:

In an effort to promote one of his Catch and Kill podcasts several months ago, Ronan tweeted the following:

“None of my reporting would be possible without fact-checking”

After investigating Ronan’s journalistic efforts myself and reading the recent reporting on him in The New York Times I think that statement falls quite flat.

The examples of shoddy journalism I’ve explored here are the tip of the iceberg. They are only some, of the many instances I could have cited from the two chapters of this book about me. Maybe others will now begin to ask more questions about the 57 chapters of this book I haven’t touched on here.

Will anyone hold Ronan Farrow thoroughly accountable? I doubt it.

Probably not. Farrow’s narrative is too important to too many elites. But who knows? Maybe there will be some justice. There is already some justice in knowing that going forward, anything that appears under Ronan Farrow’s byline will be disbelieved. This is not like making an honest mistake from sloppy reporting. As Lauer and Smith detail, Farrow did this over and over and over, and all his “errors” were the result of his confirmation bias. As a journalist, this is an occupational hazard. That’s why professional standards exist. The questions that need asking now have to do with why so many older, more experienced journalists and publishers who were responsible for giving Farrow an audience failed. I believed everything I read from Farrow in The New Yorker, because the New Yorker is a gold standard in journalism.

Was. 

Ben Smith, in his takedown published in the Times, writes:

Mr. Farrow, 32, is not a fabulist. His reporting can be misleading but he does not make things up. His work, though, reveals the weakness of a kind of resistance journalism that has thrived in the age of Donald Trump: That if reporters swim ably along with the tides of social media and produce damaging reporting about public figures most disliked by the loudest voices, the old rules of fairness and open-mindedness can seem more like impediments than essential journalistic imperatives.

Yes. You don’t have to think that Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer (two of Farrow’s victims) are choirboys to believe that they deserved fairness. And let me point out here that for you readers who yelled at me for not reporting years earlier that I knew Cardinal McCarrick was an abuse: this is why I didn’t report it! I was certain that it was true, but I could not verify it by normal journalistic standards. Therefore, it would have been irresponsible to publish. McCarrick was and is a great villain, and I knew this about him in 2002. I wanted worse than anything to take him down. But professional journalism standards exist for a good reason — as Ronan Farrow’s disgrace reminds us.

UPDATE:The leftist journalist Glenn Greenwald weighs in on Ronangate. Excerpt:

Ever since Donald Trump was elected, and one could argue even in the months leading up to his election, journalistic standards have been consciously jettisoned when it comes to reporting on public figures who, in Smith’s words, are “most disliked by the loudest voices,” particularly when such reporting “swim[s] ably along with the tides of social media.” Put another way: As long the targets of one’s conspiracy theories and attacks are regarded as villains by the guardians of mainstream liberal social media circles, journalists reap endless career rewards for publishing unvetted and unproven — even false — attacks on such people, while never suffering any negative consequences when their stories are exposed as shabby frauds.

He’s talking about Russiagate.

(Readers, I’m being inundated with comments — a good thing! But I have very little time to interact with you all as I usually do. Thanks for your understanding. A note to new readers: you will not be published if your comment is an ad hominem attack on me or others who post here.)

UPDATE.2:Michael Luo, a New Yorker editor, rebuts in detail Ben Smith’s claims — and says that the magazine provided this to him in writing, but it didn’t make it into his story.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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