I’ve posted twice on the story of the publisher Hachette canceling publication of Woody Allen’s memoir, Apropos of Nothing (see here and here). In short, Hachette was committed to publishing the book, but then Hachette author Ronan Farrow protested, on the grounds that he believed Allen had molested his step-sister Dylan Farrow when she was seven. (Two investigations failed to produce any evidence that Allen was guilty.) Farrow broke his relations with Hachette, and then a number of Hachette employees walked out for a day, on the grounds that they believed the accusations against Allen.
The next day, Hachette “caved”, as Bret Stephens puts it in the op-ed below, and canceled publication of the memoirs. So far as I know, nobody has picked up the book, but I may be wrong. And, according to Stephens, they should, as he’s read the book and liked it. Having read Allen’s essays, I think he’s a clever and hilarious writer, and I would have liked to have read the memoir, too.
My own view is that Hachette committed a reprehensible act of cancellation: of annulling a contract with no real reason to do so. (Hachette knew about Allen’s history when they took on the book, and nothing had happened to change that save that the #MeToo movement arose, and with it a tendency to conflate accusations with criminality. Further, author Ronan Farrow parted ways with the publisher.)
Stephens is one of the few people to have actually read Allen’s book, and gives his take on the book, and on Hachette’s action, below.
Stephens’s words are indented:
My own bias runs strongly in favor of publication, both as a matter of principle and public interest. (Full disclosure: I have a slight social acquaintance with Allen; we are not friends but have friends in common. Further full disclosure: I am a member of a jury that awarded Ronan a journalism prize for his investigation of Harvey Weinstein.) But just to be sure the critics didn’t have a point, I decided to ask for a copy of the book and read it.
Turns out, it’s pretty good.
Allen writes well. There’s humor on nearly every page. He’s been a major creative presence on the stage of American arts for 60 years, so his cast of characters is large. The background is peopled with the likes of Ed Sullivan, Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, Pauline Kael, Scarlett Johansson and Timothée Chalamet; the foreground by Louise Lasser, Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow.
The story of how Allen made it in show business in the 1950s and ’60s was mostly new to me, and wholly engrossing. So were details about movies that remain cultural touchstones for millions of people, from “Bananas” to “Annie Hall” to “Husbands and Wives” to “Match Point.”
Still, the chief interest of the book lies in Allen’s account of his relationship with Mia Farrow — and, much more so, in the destruction of the relationship.
As Stephens argues, this isn’t really censorship, since presumably Hachette had in the contract a clause enabling it to cancel publication of the book, and Allen can still get it published. But there is, to my mind, an irrefutable First Amendment reason for Hachette to publish it: the right to be heard, even if your opinion is unpopular:
That is what fairness in a free society requires: giving both sides their say; listening to each with an open mind; and extending the presumption of innocence to those being tried, whether it’s in a courtroom or in the court of public opinion. To do otherwise isn’t to show respect for the feelings of the victim. It’s to prejudge, based on incomplete information, who the real victim is.
This goes both ways, by the way. Allen’s book alleges that Mia Farrow not only brainwashed Dylan into believing she had been molested but also that she victimized some of her adopted children physically and psychologically, claims Moses and Soon-Yi fully corroborate. In one instance, according to Moses, Mia once locked up her adopted paraplegic son Thaddeus in “an outdoor shed overnight over a minor transgression.”
If Mia, Dylan or Ronan Farrow were to write a book rebutting Allen’s charges — only for the publisher to buy the book and then quash it at the last minute — there would surely be an outcry. Rightly so.
And why should we worry about this when the world has bigger problems? Because the virus will abate, but the censorious climate will remain. As Stephens says:
It matters because cancel culture threatens our collective well-being in multiple and fundamental ways: The banishment of unpopular people; the unwillingness to examine contrary threads of evidence and entertain opposing points of view; the automatic conflation of accusation with guilt; the failure of nerve by people entrusted with preserving the institutions of liberal culture; the growing power of digital mobs; the fear these mobs instill in any would-be contrarian or gadfly who thinks to venture a heterodox view. These threats go to the heart of what it means to sustain the habits of a free society.
Many of those, too, are First-Amendment arguments: the argument of Mill, Hitchens, and others that it is the most contrarian and offensive views that must be heard. I agree. Is there anyone among the readers who thinks that Allen’s book simply should not be published at all?