Life

Jane Mayer Has Been Reporting Alongside Ronan Farrow. So Why Isn’t She Getting Branded as a Hero of #MeToo?

Jane Mayer
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for the New Yorker.

On Sunday night, the New Yorker published an explosive report detailing that a second woman is accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Deborah Ramirez alleges that Kavanaugh “thrust his penis in her face” at a party when he was a freshman at Yale University. The Ramirez story has been largely received as yet another bombshell sexual assault accusation against a powerful man, with a byline from Ronan Farrow. In a statement about the fact that the New York Times attempted to corroborate Ramirez’s account but ultimately did not publish it, executive editor Dean Baquet made it clear that his paper was not attempting to dispute the magazine’s reporting. “I’m not questioning their story,” he told the Washington Post. “We’ve been competing against Ronan Farrow for a year and he’s terrific.”

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The piece comes closely on the heels of another report on Kavanaugh from Farrow on Sept. 14, in which he filled in the details of Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations before her name had become public. And online, the reporting has been greeted with adulation for Farrow as a kind of warrior of the #MeToo movement:

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Except Ronan Farrow didn’t write and report the Kavanaugh stories alone. He shared a byline on both of them with Jane Mayer, a staff writer at the magazine and a famous reporter in her own right. It’s not the first time Farrow has been singularly lauded as a kind of avenger of women, capable of slaying powerful predators with one blow. Farrow and Mayer also collaborated on the devastating report in May on allegations of sexual violence against then–New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Schneiderman resigned three hours after the story was published online, a scalp that many people credited Farrow with securing.

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The fact that people are swooning over Farrow is in many ways understandable. He is crazily talented. He’s the young, telegenic child of very famous parents. That famous family has spent decades publicly reckoning with accusations of abuse; Ronan has consistently sided with his sister, Dylan, who has accused their father, Woody Allen, of sexually assaulting her as a child. In other words, his life story seems to have trained him for the task of reporting on sexual abuse—I recently heard one observer compare him to a “Marvel superhero with an origin story.”

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Farrow has also made #MeToo reporting almost his exclusive beat in a way that Mayer hasn’t. His big break as an investigative reporter came when he published a damning report on Harvey Weinstein’s serial predations almost a year ago, a revelation that helped launch the whole #MeToo movement. Since then, he has broken other marquee stories, including accusations about CBS head Les Moonves and former model Karen McDougal’s account of her affair with Donald Trump. Stories about powerful men sexually misbehaving are received as “Ronan Farrow stories” in part because he has been such a tireless reporter in this particular arena. Mayer, meanwhile, is best known currently for her reporting on the Koch brothers’ influence over conservative politics. Her story in the current print edition of the New Yorker is about Russian interference in the 2016 election. In an interview on MSNBC on Monday, Mayer said that Farrow was the one who spoke to Ramirez directly for the story.

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In his TV and radio appearances promoting the stories, Farrow is assiduous in crediting Mayer for their joint efforts. “Ronan Farrow is really great about sharing credit with his frequent co-author Jane Mayer,” a fan wrote in a widely shared tweet. “Important that the rest of us give her due credit as well.” But this isn’t some touching act of optional generosity. It’s not that Farrow shares credit because he deigns to, but that credit is shared, as a simple matter of fact.

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It’s an odd point to feel compelled to make. Mayer herself is quite famous, as far as investigative journalists go. She has written multiple best-selling books, including Strange Justice, a damningly thorough account of Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and the disastrous circus of his confirmation hearings in 1991. (She had a co-author there, too: Jill Abramson, a former executive editor of the New York Times.) Mayer has been a war correspondent, a White House reporter, and a front-page editor for the Wall Street Journal. She has worked for the most prestigious mainstream magazine in America for more than two decades. She has won, according to her New Yorker bio, the George Polk Prize, the John Chancellor Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Goldsmith Book Prize, the Edward Weintal Prize, the Ridenhour Prize—well, you get the idea.

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It’s too much to claim that Mayer is being “erased.” But the transformation of Farrow into the solitary symbol of #MeToo righteousness is striking nonetheless. Sure, it’s easy to object to the optics of a young, handsome white man being heralded as the sole savior of women, even over his own determination to give others credit where credit is due—including publicly shouting out his New Yorker editor Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn. But the real problem is the cultural inclination to view this as a solo effort in the first place. The momentum against serial abusers in power could not have advanced without Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and Mayer and other reporters, without the institutions behind them, without Tarana Burke, without the women who have shared their stories publicly in the past year in major publications and on social media. And in any case, there’s something strange about the anointment of a journalist as the avatar of a social movement, when activism is not the role of journalism. This isn’t a superhero movie, and Farrow isn’t Superman. He’s just a Clark Kent who’s really good at his job.

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