Longtime New York Times book critic Janet Maslin, in a panel discussion last night, told an audience that Dylan Farrow had published her child-abuse accusations against her father, Woody Allen, in the Times as a way of “calling attention to herself,” inspired by “sibling rivalry issues” with her brother Ronan Farrow.
The Farrow letter has made this an awkward month for the Times. Columnist Nicholas Kristof published Farrow’s letter online, circumventing the op-ed page, which had initially rejected the piece. Public Editor Margaret Sullivan wrote that she was “troubled” by Kristof's one-sided approach, and the opinion section published a prominent rebuttal under Allen’s byline. But beyond that, the staff was mostly quiet about the awkwardness, at least on the record.
Now Maslin has broken the peace. Speaking to an audience at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York, Maslin called Farrow’s letter an “outrageous use of an op-ed column” and a “really questionable use of that space.” She went on to argue—citing “a friend very close to the story”—that Farrow was motivated by the attention that her brother Ronan, the budding TV personality, had gotten by suggesting that his real father might have been Frank Sinatra.
When approached in the film center’s lobby, Maslin declined to elaborate on her remarks. “Please do not write about what I said in there,” she said.
Maslin, who serves as the President of the Jacob Burns Film Center, supplied her commentary during an on-stage conversation about the Academy Awards with the writer Mark Harris, who covers the Oscars for Grantland. The event’s description promised ticket-holders “plenty of clips, history, gossip, and inside info.”
The two were discussing the chances of Cate Blanchett winning Best Actress for her role in Woody Allen’s film, Blue Jasmine, when Maslin abruptly referred to “Woody Allen’s private life” as a potential factor. She went on:
The fact that our newspaper allowed it to appear in an op-ed column, I mean the Public Editor took issue with this, but I think that was an outrageous use of an op-ed column. This letter was sent to the newspaper, and the newspaper decided not to print it, and so did the L.A. Times, and then all of a sudden —
HARRIS: By the letter, you mean the Dylan Farrow piece that became an op-ed was originally sent as a letter.
MASLIN: And the Times rejected, and then a columnist who is a friend of the family, decided to run it in his column, and those columnists have a lot of freedom in what they can put into columns, but I think that was a really questionable use of that space. Anyway. Does that have anything to do with this movie? I don’t think it really does.
A few minutes later, Maslin argued that Allen “managed to rehabilitate himself through his work” and that “he went through a very dark period creatively.” She then touched on Maureen Orth’s recent Vanity Fair article about Mia Farrow:
One odd thing about that Vanity Fair piece, that one that ran a few months ago, was that the big news in the piece was supposed to be ‘Dylan Farrow Speaks Out’ and what happened, just purely by chance, was that the news became, 'Ronan Farrow May Be Frank Sinatra’s Son.’ And Dylan Farrow, I happen to know this through a friend very close to the story, was very unhappy that this suddenly wasn’t about her. And I think that’s that part of why she decided to start calling attention to herself.
“Of all the things that have been parsed by total strangers about what went on in that family,” Maslin added a few minutes later, “no one has ever dared to consider the sibling rivalry issues in there. It’s just too much to think about.”
Dylan Farrow's allegations against her father, Maslin and Harris agreed, shouldn’t weigh on Blanchett’s Oscar chances.
“Whatever black marks there are on his conscience, I don’t think affect what his actress did on-screen,” Maslin said. “If she wins, it will be a deserving win.”
“Nor can you penalize her,” Harris added, “for taking a role without having read an op-ed that hadn’t been written yet. What will be a shame is that if she loses, there always be this question mark about why she lost.”
In an email to Gawker regarding her comments about Dylan Farrow, Maslin wrote: “Those comments were speculative. But I stand by what I said.”
A spokeswoman for the Times added, “This is a topic on which there is no shortage of opinion.”
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