Ronan Farrow is grateful to David Remnick. He shouldn’t be alone. All who believe that traditional journalism must continue in its role as society’s guardian, holding the powerful accountable, should share Farrow’s gratitude to The New Yorker editor in chief.
This is not to downplay Farrow’s remarkable fortitude, guts and journalistic audacity in sticking to, and finding an outlet for, his brilliantly reported, real-life Harvey Weinstein horror story after it was passed on by NBC. (On Tuesday, Farrow got at least one write-in vote at the polls, for Manhattan district attorney, from yours truly, galled at the notion of Cyrus Vance Jr.’s unopposed candidacy. In his initial piece, Farrow reported that Vance could have charged Weinstein and didn’t, to the chagrin of some NYPD types.)
That Farrow jumped into the story and refused to let it die testifies to his belief in his profession and his own mettle. “To not run this story would be a dereliction of my ethical duties,” he told CNN in one of his many television appearances since his original story broke. That, in a series of tweets on Tuesday, he addressed the reality — that he couldn’t have done it alone — speaks to his professional character. Of Remnick, he wrote, “David Remnick of @NewYorker saved the story, championed it & protected me in face of opposition. A rare bastion of journalistic integrity.”
Farrow also praised his story editors, the New Yorker web and fact-checking teams, and the New Yorker lawyer, Fabio Bertoni, (worth noting, since media lawyers have a tendency to run scared), and Rich McHugh at NBC, his “wonderful producer [who] refused to bow to pressure to stop, through numerous shoots, even when it meant risking his job.”
Intentionally or otherwise, Farrow thus articulated anecdotally the case for a thriving, intrepid press. For his story to come to fruition, he needed a stalwart, respected journalistic outlet, one that would give voice to his voice, and through his, to the voices of so many of the women violated by Weinstein.
While kudos go to those nonjournalists — Seth Rogan, Courtney Love — who tried in their ways to expose Weinstein, it took the reputations, standards and intensely honed skills of journalists at The New Yorker and also, The New York Times, which broke the story, to finally nail the guy.
Though engaged in the ongoing development of their forays into new media, those outlets are resolute in adhering to their traditional journalistic missions. The New Yorker remains dedicated to long-form investigative journalism in which real reporting — fact-finding, fact-checking, contextualization based on those facts, delivery of fact and context in compelling writing shaped by serious editing — matter more than click bait and cursory likes.
The result of that dedication? A story that rocked the world, shocking millions while leaving an apparently all-too-large subset (disgusting Neanderthal men) quaking in fear of similar outing.
Shut down by NBC and threatened by Weinstein, Farrow can now claim the world as his proverbial oyster. Every network wants to sign him — a contest based neither on his looks nor his lineage, but on his work. Yet despite Weinstein’s threat of a lawsuit, Farrow had little to lose. Both lawyer and journalist, he knew that a lawsuit must have some basis for being, just as he knew the veracity of his reporting.
Like all editors in chief in charge at the advent of the digital age, Remnick, an all-time great, found himself tasked with taking the hallowed New Yorker into that age (not to mention the age of celebrity intrusion) without surrendering its journalistic soul. Maybe he struggled with the decision to take on Farrow as a contributor for the Weinstein piece; maybe he knew immediately that Farrow could deliver. Whichever, together, the two made history.
Coupled with the Times piece, Remnick’s decision now looks genius, the stories together pulsing with almost unimaginable historical resonance. Not to go all Margaret Mead, but this story has shaken to the core a pathology of male power domination thousands of years in the making. While the power male ditched his deerskin tunic millennia ago, the Weinstein saga is forcing his corrupted descendants to ditch its psychological parallel as well.
This story pulled the curtain irrevocably on an egregious, widespread cultural wrong. It’s not hyperbole to say that it will change the culture — it already has. Now, powerful men — men who prey on less powerful women and girls, and men who prey on less powerful men and boys — are on notice: harass, intimidate, assault, rape or otherwise injure the “less powerful” at your own risk. Because those only recently perceived as less powerful now have the power of voice. Weinstein’s fall didn’t create that power; it has been there, but latent, all along. The cultural moment — aided immeasurably by the sense of community created by social media — facilitated its eruption from dormancy. But that absolutely would not have happened without the dogged investigative work of intrepid journalists who had the unfailing support of world-class organizations through harrowing reporting processes. Yes, collectively, the media are often quick to mount the communal high horse, and its participants, their individual steeds. But the Weinstein saga reminds that by and large, traditional media provide an essential and noble service to society — exposing overt wrongdoing (that sometimes crosses over to evil) and keeping significant societal issues in the forefront of public awareness.
As reported by Farrow and The New Yorker and Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and The New York Times, the Weinstein expose was grounded 100 percent in traditional journalistic practices and standards. (That’s not a license for stodginess or rejecting the new. Real journalists tweet, Instagram and host podcasts — but not as substitutes for reporting.) That level of engagement only starts with the green light to pursue a story, and continues through reporting, editing and fact-checking, and sometimes through threats of the powerful subjects accustomed to buying or bullying their challengers into submission. (Weinstein employed ex-Mossad operatives, for God’s sake.) It’s the kind of story that could not have been done in a web-farm afternoon, the kind that, especially at a time when the press is under constant assault, takes courage as well as tenacity and time.
Teetering atop that rare convergence of power, celebrity, violence and sex, this particular story has captivated the world. Not all equally important stories will reside at that pinnacle of fascination. Here’s hoping that, through its notoriety, the Weinstein coverage will serve as a reminder — at least to those interested beyond its resonant sordidness — that the world still needs real, old-school journalism, serious, self-questioning and unafraid.
For more from WWD on the Harvey Weinstein scandal, see: