Ro­nan Far­row shared a Pulitzer Prize for his re­port­ing of the Har­vey We­in­stein scan­dal. Ahead of his first Aus­tralian speak­ing ap­pear­ances, Far­row dis­cusses the power of in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism with New Yorker edi­tor David Rem­nick.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

Ro­nan Far­row, who shared a Pulitzer Prize for his re­port­ing of the Har­vey We­in­stein scan­dal, dis­cusses the power of in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism with New Yorker edi­tor David Rem­nick.

DAVID REM­NICK: “Ro­nan, I’m so happy to say, you’ve won the Pulitzer Prize for public ser­vice for your re­port­ing on the Har­vey We­in­stein story of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and what be­came the MeToo move­ment. We [Far­row and the New Yorker] share this, be­cause it’s an in­sti­tu­tional award as well, with the New York Times, and I won­der if, when you started re­port­ing this, did you have any sense of where it would all go?”

RO­NAN FAR­ROW: “I think it was clear to all of us from the be­gin­ning how sig­nif­i­cant this was, what a deep vein of un­told sto­ries we were tap­ping into, and the breadth of this, that very rapidly it be­came ap­par­ent this was not just a story about Har­vey We­in­stein, or a story about Hol­ly­wood. This was about a set of sys­tems used to si­lence sur­vivors of sex­ual abuse.”

DR: “Why did it hap­pen now? As, you know bet­ter than any­body, more than decade ago, Ken Auletta tried to write about Har­vey We­in­stein specif­i­cally, and he wrote a pretty tough piece, but we couldn’t get to the core of it, where women are con­cerned, be­cause, quite frankly, sources weren’t ready to come for­ward. I’m sure many, many re­porters tried to get at what they ei­ther knew or sus­pected was the case out­side of Hol­ly­wood as well, on the fac­tory floor. Why did this hap­pen in 2017/2018?”

RF: “You’re ab­so­lutely right. Ken Auletta did won­der­ful work, David Carr did won­der­ful work. Jan­ice Min, the long-time edi­tor of the Hol­ly­wood Re­porter, de­scribed this as a ‘white whale’ of jour­nal­ism. Peo­ple were cir­cling this. I do think the land­scape changed. Much as I would love to take credit for this, I think it was over-de­ter­mined, in a way. [Bill] Cosby’s ac­cusers com­ing for­ward. Hon­estly, my sis­ter [Dy­lan Far­row] com­ing for­ward at a time when that mes­sage was not well re­ceived, with an al­le­ga­tion of abuse against a pow­er­ful guy. These were blows to the sys­tem.”

DR: “Now, it’s no se­cret that there’s a lot of dis­cus­sion about the MeToo move­ment on a lot of lev­els, and in­di­vid­ual cases. In pol­i­tics, for ex­am­ple, what hap­pened with Al Franken and the des­tiny he met is still pretty con­tro­ver­sial.”

RF: “You know, peo­ple have been re­ally pil­lo­ried for try­ing to talk about the fact that there are shades of grey in these al­le­ga­tions. And that there have been a num­ber of dif­fer­ent types of al­le­ga­tions, with dif­fer­ent lev­els of sever­ity.”

DR: “It’s un­der­stand­able that they’re pil­lo­ried for it.”

RF: “I think that this is a set of truths that was buried for so long, that we’re just grap­pling with the ini­tial wave of: ‘Okay, we’re telling the truth for the first time.’

And I ac­tu­ally think that our pro­fes­sion has been pretty good at self-reg­u­lat­ing.

You look at some­thing like the Aziz

An­sari blog post that went vi­ral and very rapidly was dis­sected and de­ter­mined to be some­thing quite dif­fer­ent from the

Har­vey We­in­stein al­le­ga­tions. I think peo­ple are pretty so­phis­ti­cated and they are draw­ing those dis­tinc­tions …”

“Over and over again, when I read about you, which is, since we work to­gether, it’s an odd feel­ing …”

RF: “You’re so tired of read­ing about me, I know.”

DR: “But read­ing about you, [there’s this] no­tion … that the fact you were in a show-busi­ness fam­ily, that some­how gave you an ad­van­tage in terms of sources and sourc­ing. Is that true?”

RF: “I think when you call some­one up and you say: ‘Hey, re­live the worst ex­pe­ri­ence of your life in clin­i­cal de­tail and re-trau­ma­tise your­self and take a huge risk talk­ing to a re­porter about it’, say­ing I’ve got fam­ily mem­bers who work in your in­dus­try is not a huge source of com­fort. It was not some­thing that en­tered into a lot of the con­ver­sa­tions early on.”

DR: “I don’t mean to em­bar­rass you, but I would see you on the phone with sources and your ca­pac­ity for em­pa­thy was re­mark­able, your pa­tience and all the rest. And I get the sense that this comes to you in a way that’s, I would say, nat­u­ral, but be­gan early on with you, in po­lit­i­cal terms and in re­port­ing terms. When you were a kid, I think you used to go on trips with your mother to places like Su­dan, ob­vi­ously not beach va­ca­tions, but places that had real po­lit­i­cal im­port.”

RF: “Yeah, no-one was on hol­i­day in Su­dan at the time that I was there. It started even ear­lier than that, in one sense, be­cause I was raised in this fam­ily with all of these adopted sib­lings from ev­ery cor­ner of the earth, with tremen­dous ad­ver­sity in their back­grounds. Men and women who had been abused ter­ri­bly and had lived without lan­guage or love in the most ab­ject kind of poverty imag­in­able.”

DR: “And with dis­abil­i­ties of all kinds.”

RF: “Se­vere phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties, psy­cho­log­i­cal hand­i­caps and con­di­tions that last a life­time.”

DR: “How many kids?”

RF: “I’m one of 14. And the end re­sult of a fam­ily like that doesn’t look per­fect. It’s not the nu­clear fam­ily. Those prob­lems don’t go away.” DR: “And it’s not a quiet fam­ily.”

RF: “It’s not a quiet fam­ily. But I’m so im­mensely proud of the fact we all banded to­gether and we have each other, and we are truly a fam­ily. And the world’s prob­lems, be­cause of that, were at my doorstep from a very early point. And then from the ear­li­est point at which I was look­ing at what to do pro­fes­sion­ally, I had in­cul­cated in me my Mom’s Catholic school­girl al­tru­ism. And I was af­forded won­der­ful op­por­tu­ni­ties, be­cause she was do­ing ad­vo­cacy, in­ter­na­tion­ally, to watch that.” DR: “Where was she go­ing? What was she do­ing?”

RF: “She was go­ing to refugee camps across Africa. And do­ing re­ally sub­stan­tive work, you know, here’s the lack of ac­cess UNICEF has to a refugee camp in what­ever African coun­try, can I use my celebrity to bro­ker greater ac­cess for them? I mean, more than just a photo op. I was pretty young, in my teens. My tra­jec­tory was odd, be­cause, this is very an­noy­ing, I had this Doo­gie Howser thing of I started col­lege at 11, and then I …”

DR: “Why did you start col­lege at 11?”

RF: “Be­cause I’m a nerd, David.”

DR: “You were a nerd, but were you in a hurry to get out of a noisy and com­pli­cated house, too?”

“Peo­ple have been pil­lo­ried for try­ing to talk about the fact there are shades of grey in these al­le­ga­tions”

“No, I mean there was tur­moil and trauma and pain in my child­hood, but I don’t think that’s what I was out­run­ning. I think if there was an in­se­cu­rity that fu­elled that, it was hav­ing a chip on my shoul­der about these im­mense, high-pro­file fig­ures around me. And want­ing des­per­ately to make my own mark on some level. It was all very ego­driven. But the com­mit­ment to public ser­vice was sin­cere and was a through-line right from that early point and, also, was the ori­gin point of my print jour­nal­ism. Be­cause I started writ­ing op-eds when I was in Su­dan and a num­ber of other African coun­tries. And I would just sub­mit them to the Wall Street Jour­nal. And for a while I was do­ing a col­umn a month for dif­fer­ent pa­pers.”

DR: “What did you think you were go­ing to be and do? You men­tioned that you went to col­lege at 11. You were at law school by, how old?”

RF: “I got in at 15, 16, then I de­ferred for two years to do more UN work and to start work­ing for Richard Hol­brooke, my men­tor of many years, this great diplo­mat.”

DR: “So, your new book – you have a new book out – called War on Peace, which is all about diplo­macy, the fail­ure of diplo­macy, your ex­pe­ri­ence with Richard Hol­brooke, your ex­pe­ri­ence with diplo­mats that you por­tray in al­most tragic terms, as kind of the last of their breed. Tell me about how you started see­ing that diplo­matic world at its best and its worst.”

RF: “Be­cause of the public ser­vice-minded back­ground that we just talked about, I went off to Afghanistan to work for Hol­brooke, who had then taken on this job as the Pres­i­dent’s diplo­mat-in-chief try­ing to end that war. He had been fa­mous for end­ing the war in Bos­nia and des­per­ately wanted to do it again. And he was an im­mensely com­pli­cated fig­ure, mas­sive ego, fights with ev­ery­one all the time, alien­ated ev­ery­one …”

DR: “Talk to me about get­ting hired by Richard Hol­brooke. There’s a great scene in the book, I think there’s a shower in­volved.”

RF: “Ev­ery­one who dealt with him over the years had some kind of a bath­room story re­lated to him. Hil­lary Clin­ton glee­fully, for all the years af­ter, re­counted this story of him fol­low­ing her into a women’s room in Pak­istan.”

DR: “We should say this was when Richard Hol­brooke is run­ning the Afghanistan-Pak­istan port­fo­lio for Hil­lary Clin­ton when she was Sec­re­tary of State, un­der Obama. He would ex­cit­edly con­tinue pol­icy brief­ings into bath­rooms the world over, even women’s rooms … and you’re 20 at the time?”

RF: “Around 20. And I ac­tu­ally had been in a wheel­chair for a while, and was just re­cov­er­ing. And he knew this, but he was …”

DR: “You’d had an in­fec­tion from a trip to Africa.”

RF: “It was left un­treated while I was do­ing a lot of that trav­el­ling, and I had many surg­eries, and he knew that I was just off crutches. And yet he handed me all of his lug­gage and said: ‘We’re go­ing to my place in Ge­orge­town’, and I’m hob­bling af­ter him. And we get to his place. He’s ask­ing me: ‘How would you over­haul as­sis­tance to Afghanistan? How would you ne­go­ti­ate with the Tal­iban?’ He had this sort of visionary qual­ity where he be­lieved: ‘If I bring in out­side voices who are non­con­formist and don’t have the govern­ment ex­pe­ri­ence, I can shake things up.’ And he had tremen­dous con­fi­dence in good ideas. And so, it was a sin­cere ex­change we were hav­ing and it con­tin­ued … up­stairs in his town­house, and he goes into a bath­room, leaves the door ajar … pees, turns on the shower, is un­but­ton­ing his shirt and pokes his head out and says: ‘Uh, I’m just gonna keep go­ing with this.’

“And we’re then do­ing a job in­ter­view over the hiss of the shower. And I thought: ‘Wow, well, now I have my Richard Hol­brooke bath­room story.’

“So this is one rea­son why I think I tell this whole story of this whole trans­for­ma­tion of Amer­ica’s place in the world. That we are in­creas­ingly a na­tion without ne­go­tia­tors, without peace­mak­ers, that shoots first and asks ques­tions later, or not at all. I tell it through the lens of these very colour­ful char­ac­ters. And they re­ally are the last stan­dard-bear­ers of what they say is an en­dan­gered pro­fes­sion. And Hol­brooke’s story is par­tic­u­larly in­struc­tive, be­cause of the par­al­lels of his­tory you just talked about.”

DR: “One of the newsier as­pects of this book is you had a very good in­ter­view with Rex Tiller­son, late of the State Depart­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Trump. And what’s amaz­ing about it is that no-one has tried to slash the diplo­matic bud­get or the em­pha­sis on diplo­macy or the for­eign ser­vice more than the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. What’s the ra­tio­nale there?”

RF: “Since the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, to an ex­tent, and es­pe­cially since 9/11, we have been chip­ping away at diplo­macy. It gives us clear lessons. When we do this, it is a dis­as­ter. We closed em­bassies, we closed agen­cies even, dur­ing the Clin­ton era, [those] that have re­spon­si­bil­ity for huge swaths of Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy. What Trump has done is taken these failed trends and dou­bled down on them. He has turned a slow glide down into a nose­dive.”

DR: “Toward what end? What’s the ra­tio­nale? What does Rex Tiller­son say to you to ra­tio­nalise that?”

RF: “So, what’s in­ter­est­ing about this con­ver­sa­tion with Rex Tiller­son, which is one of his last and most can­did in­ter­views be­fore his fir­ing, is that he does a lit­tle bit of a mea culpa. He says that he was in­ex­pe­ri­enced and didn’t know he was sup­posed to ad­vo­cate for his own in­sti­tu­tion’s bud­get. He also says, for the first time, that be­hind closed doors he pushed back and tried to fight the bud­get. He lays a lot of blame on the White House. He says that the State Depart­ment is empty and there are am­bas­sador­ships around the world un­filled be­cause the White House.”

DR: “So what is the so­lu­tion to all of this, if you don’t mind spec­u­lat­ing? And what, in an ideal world and with a dif­fer­ent Pres­i­dent and a dif­fer­ent mind­set, has to hap­pen for diplo­macy to im­prove and for the value of diplo­macy as such to be raised up in Amer­i­can govern­ment?”

RF: “A big chunk of the book is de­voted to these purges of the State Depart­ment right now, that the flow of tal­ent into the diplo­matic pro­fes­sion is dry­ing up. That em­bassies are empty ev­ery­where. Of­fices are empty in the State Depart­ment. There is no-one at home to make peace or make deals. And ev­ery­thing is be­ing run through the mil­i­tary. But it also talks about how easy it is to re­verse course on this once you have lead­er­ship com­mit­ted to large-scale diplo­matic en­deav­our.” DR: “Right, thank you, and con­grat­u­la­tions again on the Pulitzer Prize.” RF: “Thank you, David.”

To watch this con­ver­sa­tion, part of the New Yorker In­ter­view video se­ries, go to video.newyorker.com/se­ries/the-new-yorker-in­ter­view.

Ro­nan Far­row will speak at the Mel­bourne Writ­ers Fes­ti­val on Au­gust 30, and the An­ti­dote Fes­ti­val at the Syd­ney Opera House on Septem­ber 1.

“Amer­ica is in­creas­ingly a na­tion without ne­go­tia­tors, that shoots first and asks ques­tions later, or not at all”

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