Ronan Farrow leads a charmed life. Progeny of famous parents, Farrow is good-looking, rich, and successful. For his work exposing Harvey Weinstein’s abuse of women, in 2018, the New Yorker writer became one of the youngest journalists to capture the heralded Pulitzer Prize.
But the further one ascends the ranks of fame and fortune, the more they attract critics eager for their demise. Rivals are often first in line to light the pyre.
Over the weekend, Farrow found himself in the crosshairs of the New Yorker‘s chief rival, the New York Times.
The Times published an article called “Is Ronan Farrow too good to be true?” The piece detailed what it described as “weaknesses in what may be called an era of resistance journalism.”
Farrow and the New Yorker both gave the Times statements standing by his work.
The Times alleges multiple deficiencies in Farrow’s reporting, including failing to sufficiently corroborate damaging stories, a conspiratorial mindset, and a tendency to misconstrue or gloss over information that doesn’t support his premises.
For example, a 2018 article Farrow wrote claiming Michael Cohen’s records had disappeared from a government database has since been debunked, Times’ reporter Ben Smith writes.
Also debunked was some of his first story about Weinstein, Smith adds. In his haste to get the goods, Farrow allegedly neglected to sufficiently corroborate the victim’s story—an essential tenet of reporting on sexual assault.
Farrow also didn’t disclose this important detail. Smith writes that instead he made it sound as if the fact that he couldn’t corroborate the allegation was evidence that it happened. Farrow wrote, “[The victim] told friends some of what had happened, but felt largely unable to talk about it.”
For evidence of Farrow’s conspiratorial mindset, Smith says that in Farrow’s book, Catch and Kill, he didn’t present any proof that NBC refused to air his Weinstein story because the producer was blackmailing them, a suggestion at the heart of the book.
Smith also says that Farrow’s claim that Hillary Clinton tried to kill his Weinstein reporting rests largely on his subjective impression of the tone of a single phone call—when in fact evidence Smith reviewed more accurately proves the opposite.
The damning piece does give Farrow some extremely limited praise.
Smith says two of Farrow’s former colleagues at NBC described him as “a talented young reporter with big ambitions but little experience, who didn’t realize how high the standards of proof were, particularly at slow-moving, super-cautious news networks.”
He later writes, “The best reporting tries to capture the most attainable version of the truth, with clarity and humility about what we don’t know. Instead, Mr. Farrow told us what we wanted to believe about the way power works, and now, it seems, he and his publicity team are not even pretending to know if it’s true.”
Reactions to the story were largely negative. Questions about whether the Times would be better off analyzing its own reporting were common.
A few did cautiously concede to harboring similar opinions of Farrow’s work.
As reactions to the piece poured in, Farrow and his editor Michael Luo both weighed in.
In a 16-tweet thread, Luo accused Smith of doing the same thing he accuses Farrow of: “sanding the inconvenient edges off of facts in order to suit the narrative he wants to deliver.”
Luo goes into extremely great detail to argue that Farrow’s reporting on the Cohen files held up.
He also claims that the first Weinstein story was properly reported and vetted, arguing that it’s not their fault that the friend who corroborated the story later told prosecutors something entirely different.
Farrow subsequently penned a similar, though shorter, thread defending himself. He says that his book merely details a “pressure campaign” on NBC over the Weinstein story, not, as Smith alleges, blackmail.
Farrow further claims that other instances of journalistic malfeasance that Smith claims were anything but. “The book doesn’t go beyond what the reporting revealed,” he says.
Farrow concludes: “I stand by my reporting.”