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The Woody Allen Witch Hunt

I'm a Grand Central Publishing author who thinks the director is a creep, but who stands by his publisher
Woody Allen Starts Filming In San Sebasti√°n

Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, announced this week that it would soon publish a memoir by Woody Allen. This came as a surprise to many employees of the publishing giant. Today, a number of them staged a walkout in protest. From the NYT:

The free-speech nonprofit PEN America defended the Hachette workers’ right to protest, as well as the company’s right to publish the book.

“We believe everyone — including authors and publishing employees — has the right to express their opinions and raise their voices in protest. That said, we also are concerned about the trend of pressuring the withdrawal of books from publication and circulation, depriving readers of the chance to make their own judgments and disincentivizing publishers from taking on contentious topics,” Suzanne Nossel, its chief executive, said in a statement. “While we don’t take a position on the editorial judgments in question, we think that once a book is slated for publication, it should not be withdrawn just because it’s controversial or gives rise to vociferous objections.”

Here’s a tweet about the event:

I would love to know something about the demographics of the crowd — specifically, how many of the walkout protesters are under the age of 40. The reason I ask is because for a long time now, I’ve been hearing from conservative academics that as the old-school liberals move into retirement, they are being replaced by Millennial and Gen Z academics who are Jacobins, with no respect for liberal values of free speech, free inquiry, and expression.

Slate published an anonymous interview with one of today’s protesters. Excerpt:

Do you see any value in publishing the book?

I do not. Perhaps [Allen] still has fans, but I don’t think any of that matters in the slightest considering the things he’s been accused of doing.

How many people walked out?

Around 75. It wasn’t just from Little, Brown. There were people from Grand Central and Orbit, but the majority of the people were from Little, Brown. Most of my team walked out. The people I work with are so amazing. Normally in publishing, we’d be told to defend the company but my entire publicity team is women, and our director supported us in walking out. Especially, in publishing, which is historically older white men and problematic, it’s nice to know there’s a team like this.

What do you hope the walkout will accomplish?

We want the book to be canceled. It’s going to be expensive, but it’s the right thing to do. We want a public apology from the CEO. This has ruined a really amazing relationship that Little, Brown had with Ronan Farrow, who’s been in touch with us and sent us support. The least they can do is cancel the book.

This scares the hell out of me. Here’s why.

Grand Central Publishing brought out my 2013 book The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. The editor who acquired the book left the company a few years ago, and I haven’t had any contact with GCP since around 2014. I had nothing but a great experience working with them. Put me down as standing 100 percent in their defense on this Woody Allen thing, solely as a matter of principle.

I say that as someone who used to be a Woody Allen fan, but soured badly on him after the Soon-Yi scandal broke in the early 1990s. What he did was morally reprehensible — a symbolic form of incest. I think he’s a real creep. I have found it difficult to watch his movies since all that. I am not the target audience for this book.

I also say it as someone who cannot be fairly considered to be soft on child abusers. My record of reporting on the child sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, and speaking out in harsh criticism of the bishops for their role in it, cannot be denied. I lost my Catholic faith over it all — the most painful experience of my life. I would do it all again (though somewhat differently, as I’ve explained elsewhere). It was, and is, extremely important to stand up for victims of sexual abuse, especially children. I regard the #MeToo movement mostly favorably, because I recall being part of the NYC film journalism community in the late 1990s, and hearing stories from sources within Miramax about what a horrible bully Harvey Weinstein was to others, but not being able to get anybody to go on the record about it. Harvey was really that powerful. It is justice that he is sitting in a cell on Rikers Island tonight.

That said, we do not know if Woody Allen abused Dylan Farrow. He has been accused of doing so. He was investigated and not charged. Perhaps he really is guilty, but investigators didn’t find enough evidence to charge him. Perhaps he was, and is, falsely accused. I don’t know. I don’t know that anybody other than Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow will ever know. I don’t blame Ronan Farrow for severing his relationship with Hachette over this. He believes his sister, and I respect that. That doesn’t make his judgment on Woody Allen’s behavior correct, obviously, but I understand why he has made the decision that he has made.

But employees of a publishing house demanding that the publishing house not publish a book because its author is a pariah to them is something very, very different.

Notice what this anonymous publicist within Hachette told Slate: “I don’t think any of that matters in the slightest considering the things he’s been accused of doing.”

Accused. Woody Allen has never been tried in a court of law. He was investigated, but Dylan’s mother, Mia Farrow, declined to press charges. He is judged guilty of a sex crime by this protesters simply on the basis of an accusation.

It is a vile thing he is accused of. In this 2014 piece, Dylan Farrow talks openly about what she says her father did to her sexually when she was seven. She might be telling the truth. Hear me: Dylan Farrow might well be telling the truth. 

But we don’t know that for certain. We probably never will. Read the Wikipedia page devoted to the case; this is an extremely complicated affair. Are we never supposed to listen to anything Woody Allen has to say about anything else because he stands accused, and an accusation is as good as guilty?

This is not like that French pedophile writer, who was open about his pedophilia, and still praised and celebrated for ages by the French elites. That writer never denied his pedophilia — he was quite open about it. There can be no doubt that Woody Allen has a thing for young women, and yes, it’s gross (try watching Manhattan again, and his scenes with Mariel Hemingway), but he has vigorously denied these allegations of child sexual abuse, and again, they have never been subject to court scrutiny.

Would I be surprised if that were to happen, and they were actually true? No, I would not. Would I be surprised if Woody Allen made a deathbed confession of this crime? No, I would not. But we are not supposed to live in a society in which someone who has merely been accused of a horrible thing finds himself unable to publish a book telling his side of the story, or silenced because the cultural winds have shifted. Thirty years ago, or less, children who made accusations against powerful men were not believed. Women too. It is not progress to go from disbelieving women and children as a matter of course to believing them reflexively. We think we are advancing justice, but really we are just rearranging our prejudices.

But look, my argument here is not with people who think Woody Allen is guilty. My argument is with publishing industry employees who demand that the book be canceled. My argument, as a writer and former editor, is about professional standards in a liberal society. I’ve been a professional journalist for over thirty years. In some of that time, I was the editor of a Sunday commentary section of a major metropolitan daily. As an opinion columnist, I was a conservative. I saw my job as section editor to publish a section that was editorially balanced. That meant helping writers whose views I did not agree with — strongly, at times — shape their essays into the best and most persuasive versions possible. I think abortion is abhorrent, but I saw it as my professional duty to publish as many pro-choice pieces as pro-life ones — and not just to put a desultory pro-choice column in the paper so I could be technically “balanced,” but to publish the best pro-choice piece I could find. If I ever thought that I could not have done that in good conscience, I would have quit. Editors have that responsibility.

Journalists also love to complain about their employers. Go to a bar where journalists gather, and you will find endless — and endlessly entertaining — bitching sessions in which writers run down their editors, the publisher, and bean counters, and so forth, and talk about what they would do different if only they were in charge. I’ve been part of those scrums at every newspaper at which I’ve worked. With some distance from all that, I can see that sometimes we were prima donnas … but I can also see that sometimes we were right on target. And yet, it never would have occurred to me — or, I think, any of my colleagues — to walk off the job to protest the editorial policy of the newspaper. That would be an appalling lack of professionalism. If, say, a journalist at the newspaper landed an exclusive interview with Woody Allen, in which he denied all the allegations, we might have gathered around the bar to complain about what Woody Allen said in the paper, but we never would have faulted the paper for publishing the interview. Why would we? Woody Allen — like everybody else — might be a hero or a villain, but he has the right to speak his mind.

True, neither a newspaper, magazine, or book publisher is obliged to publish his words, but to refuse to do so solely on the basis of an unproven allegation is a hell of a thing. But that’s exactly what these protesters are demanding. Why are they in the book business? I mean it. Where does this stop? Do publishing employees (or journalists at newspapers) reserve to themselves the right to dictate who their employers can and cannot publish, based on the sentiment of their employees? It’s Woody Allen today, but tomorrow, it could be someone less vividly controversial who has nevertheless gotten on the wrong side of the woke mob.

We have seen these past few years important liberal institutions – universities and academic associations, chiefly – surrendering to the illiberal demands of the progressive mob. Now it’s moving into publishing. I hope Hachette will stand firm. If the protesting employees win, then precedent established will give staffers a heckler’s veto over editorial decisions – and any writer whose work, personal life, or demographic status (“older white men”) offends militant progressives within a publishing house will find their livelihoods in jeopardy.

In fact, if Hachette were to announce plans to publish the memoirs of Ted McCarrick or Harvey Weinstein, it would turn my stomach, but I would still defend the publisher. Despite the undeniable and catastrophic moral failings of these powerful men – and in Weinstein’s case, proven crimes — they still would be writers with important stories to tell. That’s what publishing (and journalism) is supposed to be about, and what it must always be about. If you don’t agree, then your vocation might be to the ministry or politics, but not the making and selling of books.

One more time: I do not like Woody Allen, I think his sexual exploits have been ugly, and I have no interest in buying his book. But I strongly defend his right to write the book, and the decision of Grand Central Publishing to publish it, because I don’t want any writer to have to face cancellation by an internal revolt of publishing industry employees. It’s a terrible, illiberal precedent. Yale University, like many other institutions, have surrendered to the demands of the woke mob. Stand firm, Hachette!

One more thing. A fellow Hachette writer tweets:

Wait, “a notorious child sexual abuser”? This is libelous. N.K. Jemisin joins the mob today, but what happens tomorrow when she finds herself on the wrong side of an issue, based on an unsupported accusation alone, or because she has become associated with an unpopular viewpoint, and there are publishing industry employees clamoring for Hachette to cancel her books? Who will she expect to stand up for her? As I say above, if the employees win here, it will be terrible for writers, because it will give all a publisher’s staff a veto over who gets published.

If the employees feel so strongly about the wrongness of publishing the Woody Allen memoir, then they should resign. That would be a sacrifice worthy of respect. But as far as I can tell, nobody is offering to surrender their job on principle. They are rather demanding that other people pay the financial cost of their #MeToo moral convictions, and their abandonment of professional responsibility.

So, you can count me as a Grand Central/Hachette author who stands up for victims of child sex abuse — and who has done so at significant personal cost — but who in this case, also stands up for a writer, and his publisher. I cannot believe that I’m taking this stand in defense of someone as unsympathetic as Woody Allen, but the principle of the thing is what’s most important here.

UPDATE: Too late, too late:

So if you get on the wrong side of the woke mob, neither the fact that the accusation against you has not been proved, nor your status as one of the most important film artists of the 20th century, will help. My God.

Who’s next?

UPDATE.2: More details on Hachette’s call, from the NYT. Excerpt:

Hachette Book Group on Friday dropped its plans to publish Woody Allen’s autobiography and said it would return all rights to the author, a day after its employees protested its deal with the filmmaker.

“The decision to cancel Mr. Allen’s book was a difficult one,” a spokeswoman for the publisher said in a statement. “We take our relationships with authors very seriously, and do not cancel books lightly. We have published and will continue to publish many challenging books. As publishers, we make sure every day in our work that different voices and conflicting points of views can be heard.”

Bulls**t. They caved to the progressive mob. Now woke 27-year-olds can push around the head of publishing houses, and determine who can and cannot be published. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

UPDATE.3: Yep: