We do not owe Woody Allen the presumption of innocence

Attention conservation notice: We owe both Mr. Allen and Ms. Farrow quite a bit, but none of it involves protecting him the way we are legally obligated to protect the rights of the accused in courts.

The interwebs predictably went into a long discussion over Dylan Farrow’s allegation that Woody Allen molested her, right after he obtained a lifetime achievement award from the Golden Globes. One feminist writer had the nerve-the nerve!–to point out that by staunchly arguing that we should “presume innocence” we, by default, presume Dylan Farrow is lying.

This has inspired lots of shouty ethics posts about what we “owe” Mr. Allen, how ‘we don’t know’ what happened, how women can and do lie about abuse claims, and how sinister psychologists and ex-wives plant memories and yada yada yada freakin’ yada. Yeah, women lie sometimes. Know what? Men do, too. False memories? Sure! I can barely remember what I did yesterday. Sometimes there are even truth-y looking statistics about how often women are lying liar liarpants. But, alas, those don’t help us here now, unless you like to indulge in ecological fallacy.

We have courts for precisely this reason. Because people lie. Because we can’t know about whether an individual actually did something just because other individuals in the group he or she belongs to do that thing sometimes. Courts. They are nifty.

1. Mr. Allen got to post his own (incoherent) rebuttal in the New York Freaking Times. I’d say the power differential between him and Ms. Farrow is well-proved by now, and I’d also say that we’ve heard puh-lenty of his side of the story. One member of this dance is the darling of the movie-going world, the other is merely a fame-adjacent adopted daughter who has inconvenienced us by reminding us of her childhood victimization when we’d rather she shut up so we can enjoy his funny movies with beautiful people and beautiful settings guilt-free.

I know which one I’d rather be.

2. We are not in a criminal court. Did I mention that? I repeat: we are not in a criminal court. We can blather on about the “presumption of innocence” all we want to here, but all we will do is repeat oodles of (extremely good) legal theory that really is not relevant here since we are not in a court. Mr. Allen is not on trial, nor is he likely going to be on trial. No government has taken any action against Mr. Allen as a result of these claims.

He still has his rights to due process (to the extent that the post-911 federal government has left any of us those). He is walking around. In fact, the only thing that appears to have happened is that her allegations rained on his Golden Globe parade, an honor he didn’t even care enough about to show up and pick up his own statue. When I am encumbered on a jury or sworn in as a judge, then I shall owe Mr. Allen what the law requires, and what my duty in those roles requires. Until then, I don’t owe it to him to suspend my personal judgment of his conduct as a member of the society I live in.

If he’s sad he’s not in a court, he can try to sue Farrow (again) for the allegations and probably lose (again). He hasn’t done that because he’s such a swell guy and he loves her so much, according to his NYT piece. Or because he’s tired of paying for Farrow’s legal fees and his very smart lawyers are telling him to just let it ride and go out and make another movie, which is my guess.

And yes, his reputation is at stake, but you know what: Ms. Farrow’s reputation is at stake here as well. We can’t separate these reputations into distinct little boxes now. Yes, it is a terrible thing to have one’s reputation sullied, particularly unjustly. Innuendo is awful. But both accuser and accused have reputations at stake, and innuendo affects both. Yes, he has a wife, children, and friends who will suffer seeing him called a child molester. Still, the Farrow family also has endured quite a bit of name-calling directed at them, as well, and none of it pleasant or easy for young people involved. I’m sure Dylan Farrow could have lived the rest of her life without being a called a deluded liar.

Because we are not in a court with clearly assigned roles, Mr. Allen is owed what is owed via the general social contract. Given that I haven’t picked up my gun to go vigilante on him, nor organized a mob to string him up, I think I’ve done my duty by Mr. Allen and no, I do not presume him innocent. I’ve read a lot of the material. Heck, I watched the credit roll on What’s Up Tiger Lily 35 years ago or so and concluded: ew. But with all the various and sundry evidence out there, I’ve concluded, in my personal opinion, the guy is a skeev at best. Does that make him a child molester? I really don’t know what happened with Dylan Farrow, but I don’t have to. I’m not obligated to base my assessments on criminal legal standards of proof.

Why not?

3. Neither Mr. Allen nor Ms. Farrow are members of any community I belong to, or my family. If they were, I would have obligations to BOTH him AND her that differ from those of a juror or court officer where the presumption of innocence is clearly owed due to our laws, imperfect as they are. However, he’s an artist and a media persona to the vast majority of people weighing in here….and so? Fellow human traveler he may be, and he may also be a celebrity, but we don’t know him, and he doesn’t know us. He is still simply a fellow American who gets lots of press time but whose rights, as far as I can see, have not been violated by either Ms. Farrow or any government acting under my authority. It’s a shame the press is on his fanny, but he wasn’t objecting to that when it got people to buy tickets to his movies. Double-edged sword, fame.

The only real question in front of us as his audience, which is what we are, is whether the allegations will prompt us to avoid his movies, since he and I are not invited to same cocktail parties, and I’m pretty sure he’s not feeling bad he’s not been invited to my place or that if I see him in the grocery store, I shan’t speak to him. He’s made a great deal of money off his art, and he’s been free to make that art during the 10 years since the original allegations, and he continues to be free to make art that his fans will undoubted keep buying as they did even after he took off with another teenaged daughter of Mia Farrow’s, which is where I personally drew the line despite being shouted at by various Team Allen partisans. Legal-yep. Yucky? More than a little. I’m pretty sure that my desire never to give him another penny of my money will not result in his needing food stamps* even if my personal assessment turns out to have been unjust.

4. Mia Farrow bashing, OMG. Yeah, yeah, I know, we’re all supposed to believe that Farrow has coached and duped Dylan into doing this because she is burning–BURNING–with jealousy and rage because she no longer enjoys the big manly love of Woody Allen. Because it’s so much easier to believe in a bitter old harpy still using her innocent daughter as a pawn during an acrimonious separation that happened a decade ago than to think that a dude might have groped and frightened a little girl who has grown up into a young woman who wants to speak out about it.

Mia Farrow is this young woman’s mother. She’s supporting her daughter as that daughter steps into a shitstorm, no matter how it turns out. Is that really that difficult to understand? Unlike the “she’s using Dylan to get at her ex” narrative, my explanation doesn’t make the dude the most important person in the story, but…a mother supporting a daughter during a difficult time strikes me as pretty easy to believe. Actually much easier to believe than the idea that Ma Farrow still gives a rip about exacting revenge on Allen anymore.

We don’t owe Mr. Allen anything that we don’t also owe either mother or daughter Farrow. Mr. Allen has been tremendously privileged throughout the entire process, and that is unlikely to change even if those nasty feminists get their way and get us to stop pretending that there is a neutral point of view here that requires we extend him grace until something is “proven” to criminal court standards. There isn’t a neutral point of view. Real life requires we deal with the messy interconnections among people, not artificial construct of the legally constructed world of a courtroom. In this context, presuming Mr. Allen innocent sides with the person who, by far, has the most power in the conflict, one who is facing no consequence except that others think poorly of him.

So what do we do? We change the focus. We focus on what we owe Ms. Farrow. I know, I know, once again, focusing on a woman instead of a man–it’s horrible, but just listen. We owe it to her to listen. We owe it to her not to shout over the top of her or call her names. We owe it to her–at least–to step back and think about Allen and what he may have done. We don’t owe it to her to presume him guilty. But we do owe it to her to take her experiences, perceptions, and feelings seriously. He has plenty of opportunity to go forward from here and show that if he ever was that guy, he’s not that guy now and we don’t need to worry about him hurting young women. That should be the discourse–not how we should protect him from having to deal with reputational loss.

* Which is good because apparently we’ve decided that poor children are better off without food, a much bigger problem than whether Mr. Allen is going to end his career on a high note.