BREAKING: Movie magazines, moral stampedes!


Broken intellectual practice:
The gentry at the New York Times can't seem to quit Woody Allen.

In this morning's editions
, Bret Stephens offers a column bearing this headline: "Smearing Woody Allen." It follows and perhaps responds to last Sunday's column by Nicholas Kristof, "Woody Allen Meets #MeToo."

Three days before that, film critic A. O. Scott offered a 1600-word rumination headlined, "On Second Thought: My Woody Allen Problem." It wasn't entirely clear what particular original thought Scott was citing, but he'd covered some of the same ground on January 3, in this colloquy with fellow film critic Manohla Dargis.

(Scott to Dargis: "Long before I became a film critic, I was a Woody Allen obsessive.")

Meanwhile, the Times has been faithfully reporting revived controversies involving Allen. On February 1, the paper published a 1900-word online digest, "Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Dylan Farrow: A Timeline."

"This timeline is...a guide, not a comprehensive accounting, and will be updated periodically," reporters Deb and Leiderman wrote.

These controversies involve an accusation against Allen dating to 1992. Does the accusation deserve this kind of coverage?

In fairness, the sprawling coverage gives the Times a ton of movie magazine clicks. It lets the newspaper publish giant photos of big (female) movie stars.

Surely, no one will ever imagine that mercantile motives exist at the Times, or that these is a certain "Tiger Beat" flavor to the tastes of the newspaper's lofty subscribers. That said, the question remains:

Does the current amount of coverage make sense? Also, how strong is the reasoning which goes into these recitals concerning the question of guilt?

We'd have to say that the reasoning—the journalistic practice—isn't exceptionally strong. Consider today's column by Stephens:

Does the word "smearing" in the headline suggest that the claim against Allen is false? It seems to us that the word does make that suggestion—yet nowhere in his column does Stephens actually state such a claim.

Did Woody Allen, in 1992, molest his daughter, Dylan Farrow, who was then 7 years old? Like you, we don't know, and we don't know how to find out.

That said, our discourse increasingly turns on matters where the actual truth almost surely can't be known. Increasingly, these are the peculiar grounds on which our alleged discourse is conducted.

What can we take from the way the Times can't quit Woody Allen? We'll offer a few quick thoughts, drawing on certain things anthropologists have told us:

As a species, we so-called humans simply hate to acknowledge lack of knowledge. We hate to admit that we don't and can't know X, Y or Z. Something there is that builds a wall against such simple disclosures.

We're disinclined to admit that we don't know. Our wiring doesn't seem to permit it. There's some famous history here:

At the dawn of the west, The Oracle of Delphi declared that no one was wiser than Socrates. This declaration produced a surprising response.

In a remarkable foundational act, Socrates set out to prove The Oracle wrong. Since he was sure that he himself knew virtually nothing, he felt there surely had to someone wiser than he.

Thus was born the tradition of challenging intellectual authority, a tradition most commonly honored in the breach. But uh-oh!

As Socrates paraded about trying to prove The Oracle wrong, he discovered a foundational fact about our self-impressed species. In Plato's Apology, Socrates explains what happened as he conducted his search for someone wiser than he. Down through the years, college freshmen have doted on this text:
SOCRATES OF ATHENS (399 BC): I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed to him—his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination—and the result was as follows:

When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and wiser still by himself; and I went and tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me.

So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: "Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is—for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him."

Then I went to another, who had still higher philosophical pretensions, and my conclusion was exactly the same. I made another enemy of him, and of many others besides him.
Uh-oh! As Socrates tried to show these people that they really knew nothing, he persistently triggered their anger. In effect, he had dscovered the three dirty words you can't say on cable TV:

I don't know.

"I don't know!" We humans are very strongly disinclined to say that!

Is man [sic] the rational animal, as has long been bruited? Actually, no! Man [sic] is the animal which never admits it doesn't know! Or so an impressive range of anthropologists have said.

In comment threads about Woody Allen, you'll encounter endless subscribers who can't come to terms with the fact that they don't know what actually happened. They loudly claim or suggest that they've figured it out, when, of course, they haven't.

Meanwhile, in the age of 24-hour blather, producers flock to topics like this, where the truth can never be known. Such topics create the possibility of "discussions" which never end!

So it goes among the gentry, even among players like Kristof. Concerning his recent column, we'll close by quoting this remarkable passage:
KRISTOF (2/1/18): I’m a friend of Dylan [Farrow] and her family, so I’m not an unbiased observer. But over the years I have reviewed the evidence, and on balance it persuades me.


Meanwhile, it turns out that Allen’s private notes over the decades are “filled with misogynist and lecherous musings,” showing “an insistent, vivid obsession with young women and girls,” according to Richard Morgan, who sifted through Allen’s 56-box archive and recounted his findings in The Washington Post.
Though not unbiased, he's persuaded—on balance! Meanwhile, he cites this recent Outlook essay by Morgan. The essay was an intellectual, academic and journalistic embarrassment, horror show/mess.

In our view, it was amazing that the Washington Post chose to publish such an embarrassing piece of work. It should be more embarrassing still to see that Kristof, a vaunted Harvard grad, read the piece without being able to see its howling lack of intellectual or journalistic merit.

But so it was when Socrates paraded about in defiance of The Oracle. He kept encountering people who couldn't come to terms with how little they actually knew. In the end, they decided to frogmarch him off to his death.

When anthropologists review the work of our upper-end press corps, they frequently come to us in our dreams and report their findings.

They note the way these lofty beings routinely behave in ways which fly in the face of all known academic or intellectual procedure. Our journalists behaved this way for two years in claiming that Candidate Gore was the world's biggest liar, like Clinton, these anthropologists routinely tell us. Some of these scientists merely laugh. Some sadly shake their heads.

There's a great deal to learn from Kristof's citation of Morgan. For ourselves, we don't know what's true about Allen, but we do know that Morgan's piece was, by any normal standard, a blindingly obvious mess, a journalistic shipwreck.

Somehow, Kristof doesn't know that! And Kristof famously went to Harvard. Modern oracles cite him as one of our wisest men.

Gore was smeared as part of a moral stampede—a stampede involving the press corps' views about Bill Clinton. The topic the Times can't quit today is part of another stampede.

(Please note: As part of the current stampede, all sorts of major stars are let off amazingly easy for their past and current behavior. Even as they chase some down, the gentry defer to others.)

We don't know what Woody Allen did or didn't do. Almost surely, we never will.

Nicholas Kristof doesn't know either. But alas! As it was at the dawn of the west, one of the wisest men in our press corps seems disinclined to see that!

For extra credit only: To what extent can a 7-year-old child develop a strongly-held "false memory?" Setting the current case to the side, does such a thing ever happen at all?

The Times hasn't published such a report. Most likely, it never will.

The New York Times doesn't function that way. Instead, look at this big giant picture of Mariel, when she was just 17!


  1. Oh dear, Intellectuals Yet Idiots strike again!

    ...but then you're a member of the same team ('tribe'), Bob. Albeit with occasional moments of lucidity.

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  2. I'm always amazed at reading Woody haters who think that Manhattan is some kind of paean to adult-teen relationships.

    Hardly. The characters are all screwed-up individuals with screwed-up relationships. That's the idea. There's nothing attractive about any of them, and the fact that this major a theme to the film goes unrecognized is embarrassing.

    These people obviously have no functioning critical apparatus to think that Woody's promoting the idea of dating high school girls.

    1. There's nothing like young pussy though. You have to admit that.

    2. The character was in high school.

    3. You people are hopeless. Or are you just stupid and self-righteous?

      Allen was not exalting the idea of going out with high school girls in that movie. Alvy Singer was hardly a hero up to great stuff there.

      Jesus. What the hell has happened to people's perceptual apparatus these days.

    4. Alvy Singer was Allen’s character in Annie Hall. In Manhattan, he was Isaac Davis.

    5. You're right. My mistake.

  3. You should click the links in that Stephen’s article. Woody Allen lost his custody case against Mia Farrow in state court. The judge has denied Allen not only custody, but visitation rights to Dylan. The prosecutor in the case felt he had probable cause for prosecuting Allen on molestation charges.
    Not as unknowable as you thought.

    1. Sometimes prosecutors and judges are wrong.

    2. Prosecutors and judges may be wrong, but not Bob Somerby!

    3. And unlike Somerby, judges are asked to make a decision in cases like this.

    4. The (elected) prosecutor also got officially censured for those public remarks.

      And btw, "probable cause" involves grounds for simple arrest. The standard is much higher for a prosecution.

  4. "Nicholas Kristof doesn't know either. But alas! As it was at the dawn of the west, one of the wisest men in our press corps seems disinclined to see that!"

    I hope Howler readers will read Kristof's article for themselves. Kristof is far more nuanced and sensitive in his presentation than Somerby pretends. He is telling Dylan Farrow's story, but also notes the outcome of the custody hearing, where the judge said "Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate.”, and this was partially based on witness testimony. Kristof asks Dylan if her memory might be false, and states "There is always a risk that meticulous scrutiny of a long career leads to cherry-picking and finding whatever we’re looking for, especially for somebody trying to be creative and funny. I reached out to Allen through his publicist but did not receive a response. He has consistently denied the allegations of abuse, and in October he warned against allowing “a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere.”
    Indeed, the certainty of the Dylan Farrow case is that there has been a gross injustice: Either an innocent man’s career is being destroyed, or a victim has been unfairly doubted since she confided in her pediatrician about an assault when she was 7 years old."

    That sounds exactly as though Kristof is expressing uncertainty . And that despite being a friend of Dylan's.

    1. Allen's career wasn't destroyed.

    2. Kristof said "is being" destroyed, not "was."

    3. Allen is eighty-two years old. It's too late to destroy his career.

  5. One day Somerby is denouncing Hollywood liberals as hypocrites for covering up sexual abuse, and here he is denouncing the outing of sexual abuse as the new McCarthyism. Which is it?
    He was quick to condemn Weinstein, Lauer, Rose, but not Woody Allen.

    1. To my recollection, Somerby did not really attack Weinstein so much as attack liberals or media folk, saying 'they must have known'. Somerby's playbook is simple

      1) Attack Rachael Maddow
      2) Attack all liberals
      3) Defend Trump
      4) Defend Roy Moore
      5) Whine and nitpick
      6) Defend sexual molesters when they are being attacked by liberals.

    2. anon10:09 - I don't think it does any good to distort things like you do. 1. He does "attack" Maddow - but for the most part, she deserves it; 2. He does not attack "all" liberals, criticizing some liberals does not equal attacking "all liberals"; and are "liberals" beyond fair criticism?; 3. he makes it very plain that he has great antipathy toward Trump; is it inadmissible to point out instances where criticisms of Trump are unfair or inaccurate (which believe it or not does happen)? 4. ditto with Moore - his point was that different conduct, some of it apparently innocent was lumped in with more serious charges; 5. whine and nit pick - you're right, there is a fair share of nitpicking. Whining? that's your subjective characterization. 6. Defend sexual molesters when attacked by liberals - wrong, he has never defended sexual molestation. He does bring out a valid point in this post that seems beyond your ability to comprehend, that a lot of times (if not almost always) people underestimate how little they actually know, it should be more modest in their opinions. Socrates I believe was the one who said, "the more you know, the more you know you don't know" or words to that effect. Also, as far as he can tell, he has never defended Weinstein.

    3. AC/MA, you're right.

      Much of this criticism of Somerby seems awfully robotic. Almost bot-like.

      Maddow lovers?

    4. I've not watched Maddow in several years, so I'm no Maddow lover.

      Somerby's antipathy towards Trump seems to consist of valiantly defending Trump 99% of the time.

      Maybe Somerby doesn't attack every single liberal in the Universe. He keeps on referring to 'We liberals' do X, do Y. And he certainly attacks pretty much most prominent liberals in media, even other blogs like TPM and Kevin Drum.

      Somerby doesn't have any hesitation in attacking liberals, despite imperfect information. Its only when it comes to Trump or his minions, that Somerby claims they should be let off the hook for imperfect knowledge.

      Somerby is a True Trumptard. He wants liberals to loose so he can bitch endlessly for another 18 years about how all this is because of Gore 2000.

    5. Oh, and TDH's 40 odd posts trying to claim there was nothing aberrant about Moore's behavior ? Certainly seems like defending sexual molesters to me. But one must defend anyone whom liberals are criticizing ! That is TDH's goal in life.

    6. Bob never defended Moore, he just said that most of his alleged actions were neither illegal nor unusual for the time and place. And he's correct. He also made fun of the MSNBC crowd's phony piety over the issue.

      Moore's relationships also seemed more than a little chaste for the time. One woman's claims totally fell apart too, btw. Thank Gloria Allred for that one.

      Oh and btw, Moore was not a "child molester."

    7. Bob wants "liberals" to fight with (t least) one hand tied behind their back. Then doubles down by calling them losers for getting beat by Republican two by fours.

    8. 'One woman's claims totally fell apart too, btw.'

      Isn't it interesting that Somerby defenders instead of claiming (as he does) that we don't know what happened are promptly willing to say that
      a claim 'fell apart' ? Some aspects of her claim may be in doubt, but many remain intact. In any case, there were 6-7 other accusers.

      Yes, Moore is not technically a child molester, just an adolescent girl molester. Yay, yay, yay !

      Notable that Somerby posted maybe one article in defense of Franken, against whom there was less evidence and whose actions were arguably far less repulsive.

      This is the Somerby playbook -- defend Trump and Moore, because he wants liberals to loose, so he can bitch endlessly for another 18 years about how this is all due to 2000.

    9. "sn't it interesting that Somerby defenders instead of claiming (as he does) that we don't know what happened are promptly willing to say that a claim 'fell apart'"

      To clarify, what I meant here was that TDH (and its defenders) seem very quick to dismiss allegations against Moore and his ilk.

  6. Somerby suggests that the NY Times has never explored the issue of whether memories can be implanted in children. That is incorrect. Here is an article about the work of Stephen Ceci and Maggie Bruck, experts in suggestibility in children and reliability of child testimony in court cases involving memory for sexual abuse:

    Ceci and Bruck are from Cornell, which is in NY state. They spoke widely and received a great deal of attention in the 1990s when the debates about recovered memories were central in academic circles. Since then, a great deal of research has been done about the identification of real versus fabricated memories and how to treat them in the courtroom.

    Somerby likes to take the pose that if one cannot know something for sure, then judgment must be withheld and uncertainty maintained. That is not always possible in life. There are many situations where a decision must be made in the face of existential uncertainty. Abdicating decision-making in such situations is often untenable. You do the best you can, as the courts did with Allen.

    It is possible to find Allen's themes and the content of his work repugnant without deciding about his personal life. Annie Hall, for example, is an awful portrayal of a woman and it is clear Allen doesn't like her much, as a character, never mind his feelings for Diane Keaton. Don't get me started on Manhattan.

    Somerby, as usual, knows nothing whatsoever about psychology, memory, children's suggestibility, or court testimony by children. He does know who he wants to absolve and who he wants to condemn. He thinks he is being subtle or Socrates-like, but he isn't fooling anyone, especially not the women among his readers here.

    1. Anon 9:37 - Somerby knows "nothing whatsoever about psychology" - not even a smidgen? I don't see that you have that much insight. There is no "suggest[ion" in this post that the NYT never printed anything about the false implantation of memories in children. You are right, to function, people need to make decisions in situations where certainty isn't possible. I think lots of people to a substantial degree go way overboard on this. You don't always have to decide one way or the other - if you have a capacity for critical thinking, you can simply live with being in doubt. The Allen case seems to fit that category.

    2. You are right AC, at least about most of us, and in your general point. But Somerby is quoting Kristof, and attacking him, in this post today. Kristof is a friend of Dylan Farrow's, and is clear in his story that he doesn't know for sure what happened. Somerby is trying to accuse of Kristof of passing some kind of definitive judgment in this case, when Kristof is clearly not doing that. My criticism is of Somerby's unfair characterization of Kristof. Somerby can make the (reasonable) point that most of us don't know what happened without the swipe at Kristof. That betrays an agenda on Somerby's part rather than a genuine search for truth.

    3. Somerby is misrepresenting Kristof. No surprise, attacking liberals is what TDH does best. Yay !

  7. The parties in the Allen/Farrow custody case are probably glad that Bob Somerby wasn't the judge. He would've said "Some things just aren't knowable", and failed to render a verdict, satisfying neither party, and thereby abdicating his responsibility as a judge. See, this is why it's comfortable for critics like Somerby to remain in their ivory towers. Being a critic in an ivory tower means never suffering any consequences or taking any responsibility.

    1. We don't see everything the judge sees. But even after seeing all the evidence, if the judge doesn't know something, he shouldn't pretend that he does know it.

    2. Not sure what that means. We ask judges to decide to the best of their ability. Hopefully, they make the right decision. In this case, I don't see where the judge is making any post-trial statements "pretending" to know something.

    3. If the party with the burden of proof in a civil case doesn't prove her case by a preponderance of the evidence (more than 50% more likely than not) then that party loses. So if one party proves her case and the judge, if a bench trial, or the jury if it's a jury trial, under the law must decide in favor of the person with the burden of proof, if they think the evidence shows that person is at least 50.1% more likely to be in the right. (In criminal cases, the standard is beyond a reasonable doubt). One thing is that in a court, there are rules of evidence, so hearsay and speculation are inadmissible as evidence, and may not form the basis of a verdict by a judge or the jury. In real life, the rules of evidence are often far looser to the point of nonexistence.


  8. "(Please note: As part of the current stampede, all sorts of major stars are let off amazingly easy for their past and current behavior. Even as they chase some down, the gentry defer to others.)"
    This is worthless unless Somersby names names. I learned that reading the Daily Howler.

  9. "It is possible to find Allen's themes and the content of his work repugnant without deciding about his personal life. Annie Hall, for example, is an awful portrayal of a woman and it is clear Allen doesn't like her much, as a character, never mind his feelings for Diane Keaton. Don't get me started on Manhattan."

    You have no idea what you're talking about when it comes to either movie. You also apparently don't know how to take in obvious farcical content.

    Nor do do few people these days. What an awful and stupid age we're living in.

    1. He was just kidding. Can’t you take a joke? Jane you stupid slut.

    2. Allen in Manhattan was not extolling the idea of going out with high school girls. Hardly.

      Jeez. You scolds just see what you want to see. You're hopeless.

      Deadly, really.

  10. Ok, here's the deal: Most of us don't really know what happened between Woody and Dylan. I am not claiming that we do, nor am I passing judgment on either party. It's a perfectly reasonable point to make that we (i.e. most of us) probably can't ever know what really happened.
    My criticism is strictly related to Somerby's criticism of Kristof. Kristof never states that he knows for sure what happened; in fact, he very clearly says that he does not. Kristof writes about the case because it involves prominent people, it pertains to the current MeToo movement, and Kristof knows Dylan and her family.
    And Somerby was pretty damn quick to condemn all those Hollywood liberals for NOT speaking up about these matters.
    Somerby is always operating from an agenda, and not from a genuine desire to find the truth.

  11. Somerby’s biggest issue with Kristof here is that he cites (and seems to accept the conclusions of) the Richard Morgan article with which he, Somerby, has a major problem. Whether Morgan’s article warrants all of Somerby’s inflamed rhetoric (“The essay was an intellectual, academic and journalistic embarrassment, horror show/mess”) or not, it was largely bandwagon nitwittery and the type of thing weak journalists write to spoon-feed a certain targeted segment of the audience.

    1. The underlying premise of that inane WAPO article would require the jailing of Stephen King.

      Or the banishment of Dickens. Et al.

  12. Wearing you White Rex T-Shirt today?