Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow: Just the Facts

Digging deeper into Robert B. Weide’s misleading Daily Beast story. 

Woody Allen
Woody Allen did not sue for custody of Dylan Farrow until after her accusations were made known to him.

Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Earlier this week in Slate, I took issue with Robert B. Weide’s much-passed-around Daily Beast piece defending Woody Allen against accusations of sexual assault that have been made by his daughter, Dylan Farrow, who recently wrote an open letter in the New York Times detailing her memories of the alleged abuse. Many readers have criticized my piece for focusing on Weide’s rhetoric and tone, not his facts. So here’s a just-the-facts second pass clarifying five key points that Weide fumbled.

No. 1: The sexual-abuse allegations did not happen in the midst of a custody battle.

In his Daily Beast piece, Weide refers to “Mia [Farrow]’s accusation—used during their custody battle for their three shared children—that Woody molested their 7-year-old adopted daughter Dylan.” He also suggests it’s unlikely that Allen would have molested Dylan “in the middle of custody and support negotiations, during which Woody needed to be on his best behavior.” Many of Allen’s defenders have floated the possibility that Mia Farrow concocted the allegations to use as leverage in the custody battle; Steve Kroft suggests just this scenario in the introduction to a 1992 60 Minutes interview with Allen. In that segment, Allen tells Kroft that it would have been “illogical” to molest Dylan “at the height of a very bitter, acrimonious custody fight.”

The problem with this line of reasoning is that Dylan Farrow’s allegations did not emerge in the midst of a custody battle. According to Phoebe Hoban’s 1992 New York magazine story, as of early August 1992—eight months after Mia Farrow had discovered Allen’s sexual relationship with her daughter Soon-Yi Previn—Allen had been “prepared to sign a 30-page document that virtually precluded his seeing the children he doted on without a chaperone.” Then, on Aug. 4, 1992, Dylan told her mother that Woody Allen had sexually assaulted her in Mia’s Connecticut home. At that point, Mia and Dylan went to Dylan’s pediatrician, who reported the allegations to authorities. Allen did not sue for custody of Dylan and her two brothers, Moses and Ronan, until Aug. 13, 1992, a week after he was informed of Dylan’s accusations.

In a June 1993 decision, Acting Justice Elliot Wilk of the New York State Supreme Court found “no credible evidence to support Mr. Allen’s contention that Ms. Farrow coached Dylan or that Ms. Farrow acted upon a desire for revenge against him for seducing Soon-Yi. Mr. Allen’s resort to the stereotypical ‘woman scorned’ defense is an injudicious attempt to divert attention from his failure to act as a responsible parent and adult.”

No. 2: The Connecticut state’s attorney stated that he had probable cause to bring charges against Allen.

Weide writes that Allen “was never charged with a crime, since investigative authorities never found credible evidence to support Mia’s (and Dylan’s) claim.” In fact, the Litchfield, Conn., state’s attorney, Frank Maco, in consultation with Mia Farrow, decided in September 1993 not to press criminal charges, despite having “probable cause,” in the belief that a trial would further traumatize Dylan. At that point, Allen had already been denied not only custody but any visitation rights—supervised or unsupervised—with Dylan, per Wilk’s decision in June of that year. (As the New York Times pointed out at the time, “Mr. Maco’s remarks about the case were criticized by some legal scholars, who said it was an unfair attempt to have it both ways by claiming victory without taking the case to trial.” Maco was later rebuked by a state Grievance Council for his actions, though it did not find that Maco had violated any provision of Connecticut’s code of conduct for lawyers.)

No. 3: Dylan Farrow’s testimony was not marred by “inconsistencies.”

“There were problems with inconsistencies” in Dylan’s narrative, Weide writes. On Aug. 4, when a physician asked Dylan where her father had touched her that day, she pointed to her shoulder; she explained to her mother later the same day that she was embarrassed to talk about her private parts. After that first doctor’s visit, however, her story remained consistent, detailed, and specific.

No. 4: The unsuspicious nanny was outnumbered.

Weide makes a lot out of a deposition by a nanny in Allen’s employ, Monica Thompson, who stated “that she was pressured by Farrow to support the molestation charges,” and that another nanny, Kristie Groteke, had told her that she “did not have Dylan out of her sight for longer than five minutes.” Weide does not mention that Groteke herself testified that she lost track of both Dylan and Allen for 15 to 20 minutes on Aug. 4. Weide does not mention the testimony of babysitter Alison Stickland, who, on Aug. 4, witnessed Allen “kneeling in front of Dylan with his head in her lap” (a detail recounted in Dylan’s open letter). Weide does not mention that Sophie Berge, a tutor, later noticed that Dylan was not wearing underwear.

No. 5: The head of the Yale team investigating the allegations never spoke to Dylan Farrow.

Weide quotes at length from a sworn deposition by John Leventhal, the pediatrician who led the Yale–New Haven Hospital Child Sexual Abuse Clinic’s investigation of the allegations. Leventhal’s deposition hypothesized either that “these were statements made by an emotionally disturbed child and then became fixed in her mind” or “that she was coached or influenced by her mother.” But Leventhal himself never interviewed Dylan Farrow, nor did he interview her mother or any of the child care workers present at Mia Farrow’s home on Aug. 4, 1992. Dylan was interviewed nine times over a six-month period by Julia Hamilton, who had a Ph.D. in social work, and Jennifer Sawyer, who had a master’s degree in social work. Neither Hamilton nor Sawyer would testify at trial, and Leventhal would only testify via deposition; as Weide points out, they also destroyed their notes on the investigation. (Diane Schetky, a professor of psychiatry and past editor of the Clinical Handbook of Child Psychiatry and the Law, itemized other irregularities in the Yale investigation in this 1997 Connecticut Magazine piece.)

In his 1993 state Supreme Court decision, Wilk found that testimony “proves that Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate and that measures must be taken to protect her.” In May 1994, the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court cited a “clear consensus” among psychiatric experts that Allen’s “interest in Dylan was abnormally intense.”

My colleague Dahlia Lithwick wisely cautions against trying this case again in the court of public opinion. But it’s also worth remembering that—no matter how Robert Weide wants to spin things—Woody Allen did not fare well at all when actual courts of law looked at the facts.