The Op-Ed Woody Allen Should Have Written

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Woody Allen with Mia Farrow in happier days, watching a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden in 1983. (AP)

Updated*

The public has been saying a lot of different things about Woody Allen over the past couple of weeks. But there's one thing few people have been questioning: the man's ability to write. On Friday, however, even Allen's way with words seemed dubious. His op-ed in The New York Times, denying his daughter's claims of sexual abuse, could have been his chance to show some humanity and reassert his love for his children. It could have even helped make the world a better place by putting more attention on the real issue—the only issue—that should concern the public: the very real damage that parents inflict on children every day, whether directly or indirectly, and the lifelong struggles those children undergo as they try to make sense of it all. 

Allen could have done all this while still asserting his innocence. First, he could have begun his letter by expressing a deeper concern for his children. He mentions that he and Farrow were engaged in a “terribly acrimonious break-up” and a fierce custody battle, but he fails to mention that they were also at the center of a media firestorm—and that Farrow’s ploy (if it genuinely was a ploy) would only cause his children further damage.

This leads to another, even more central omission in Allen’s piece. He argues that Farrow, in a fit of vindictive rage, took advantage of Dylan’s confused state of mind. But he fails to acknowledge his own responsibility—both for Farrow’s vindictiveness and Dylan’s confusion. Even if he doesn’t feel the need to apologize for his relationship with Soon-Yi, he could have shown remorse for the way the romance began—it enraged Soon-Yi’s mother and bewildered her children. Leaving that fact out of his story doesn’t help anyone. If anything, it makes his own memory appear all too selective. 

Finally, Allen should have minimized his emphasis on Dylan’s halting, inconsistent story. By using this as evidence for his own innocence, he unintentionally discredits any number of child victims who have genuine stories to tell but lack the context or language to express them. (See Natalie Shure's piece from earlier this week for compelling further explanation on this point.)

Granted, it’s a bit challenging for a man to empower confused child victims while denying the accusations his own child made against him. But he could have done this. In fact, he could have gone out of his way to make the distinction, emphasizing that he was disputing Dylan’s story because it was untrue, not because it was recounted by a halting and bewildered child. If nothing else, he could have expressed hope that his family’s sordid tale would prevent other parents from misusing their children in any way—either as victims or as instruments of vengeance.

But Allen didn’t do any of those things. Instead, he made himself appear even less sympathetic to an already critical public. And he made an already ugly situation even uglier.

*This post has been amended. An earlier version was published prematurely.

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Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is The Atlantic's digital features editor. More

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, an Atlantic senior editor, began her association with the magazine in 2002, shortly after graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She joined the staff full time in January 2006. Before coming to The Atlantic, Jennie was senior editor at Moment, a national magazine founded by Elie Wiesel.

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