HER SIDE OF THE STORY: Daphne Merkin longs for more nuanced conversation.
The longtime writer — of essays, criticism for The New York Times and occasional fiction — knew that publishing a piece on Soon Yi Previn, the wife of Woody Allen and the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow, would cause a stir, but it’s hard to predict these days what exactly will set people off. For her piece on Previn, published this week in New York Magazine, it seems to be mainly Merkin’s purported bias in favor of Allen, whom she admitted in the article to having a friendship with over the years.
Dozens of takedowns of the article have been published in the last few days and tens of thousands of tweets have been sent off, including from Ronan Farrow, whose journalistic career took off in the last year based on reporting on high-profile claims of abuse against women, primarily in The New Yorker. He called Merkin’s article a “hit job” on his mother and said New York had “done something shameful” in publishing it, citing Merkin’s friendship with Allen, an alleged lack of “eyewitness testimony,” as well as the inclusion of apparently truncated responses of Dylan Farrow, another adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Allen’s, who alleges the director sexually abused her as a child on one occasion during the couple’s separation. The allegations have been investigated by the authorities but Allen has never been charged.
While Merkin isn’t a big user of social media, she said her 28-year-old daughter has shown her “a couple” of tweets reacting to her article on Previn, but has no intention of reading any more or engaging. “I thought, ‘God, this isn’t a conversation, it’s a tragic, shrill monologue,'” she told WWD.
That’s all Merkin wanted to say about Twitter, specifically, but she has taken in the reaction and thinks that what the piece actually is — the first time Previn has spoken, at any length, about her affair with and subsequent 20-year marriage to her adoptive mother’s former partner; the accusations against Allen, and her early childhood and upbringing, as she remembers it — is being lost in one of the Internet’s “master narratives.”
“The inconvenient truths aren’t given much mileage because it takes a nuanced response and nuance has gone woefully out the window,” Merkin said, speaking from her home in Manhattan. “I tried to make it a nuanced story, in which I disclosed my connection, and I was very conscious of my own bias. I think [the lack of nuance online] is a pity because it makes the conversation too blunt and too primitive — it’s either ‘I hate the journalist’ or ‘I hate the subject.’”
She said the piece is meant to be “another side of the story,” a story written about at length over the years, and a presentation of “[Previn’s] narrative.”
“That was its intention,” Merkin explained. “Instead, now it’s an issue of, frankly, me and the friendship [with Allen], which is an enormous red herring, to my way of thinking, which has been grabbed onto.”
As for that friendship, Merkin said she’s not extremely close with Allen, noting “there have been years when I haven’t even seen him” and that any friendship with Previn “didn’t exist.” She’d only met her three or four times before suggesting she write something about Previn’s view of things related to her husband, the accusations against him and her adoptive family.
“I’m not an investigative journalist,” Merkin said plainly. “I was interested in the story very much out of the human interest. Stories about mothering or anti-motherness have always interested me and I’ve written extensively about my own mother. My interest was piqued because of that and I was interested because, after all these years, no one thought to ask Soon Yi anything [about Allen and the abuse allegations]… She’s treated like the circumference of the story, when she’s the center.”
As for working a friendship into an entry point for an article, Merkin pointed out that journalists regularly “have access” to subjects, in one way or another. “They don’t write out of nowhere.” And she said the article itself includes “plenty of places where I’m scrupulously trying to keep a fair and balanced outlook,” places where she even pushes back on some of Previn’s unhappy memories of her mother.
“That was important to me and somehow that gets washed away in the tsunami of hysterical, vindictive, somewhat uninformed or, like I said before, primitive reactions,” Merkin said.
But again, she was aware, to an extent, that her article would stir the Allen-Farrow pot. Merkin gave pursuing it and its publication “a lot of thought” — friends warned her of the inevitable blowback — but she did it anyway. Merkin admires New York for running it, even if it wasn’t the cover story.
“I’ll say this cautiously: There is a powerful machinery that is working on behalf of the Mia-Dylan narrative,” she said, “And, you know, Ronan is to be contended with.”
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