There are many illiberal and disturbing things about the urge to condemn and publicly denounce Woody Allen. Here are a few:
- It’s not based on fact
As many have noted, Allen is being tried in the court of public opinion, rather than a court of law. And this trial by opinion-page and Twitter has none of the standards of evidence-gathering and justice we would expect in a true court. As Dahlia Lithwick in Slate writes: ‘In the court of public opinion there are no rules of evidence, no burdens of proof, no cross-examinations, and no standards of admissibility. There are no questions and also no answers. Also, please be aware that in the court of public opinion, choosing silence or doubt is itself a prosecutable offence.’
It’s clear that, in the court of public opinion, evidence and facts are not required. Noah Berlatsky, writing in The Atlantic, says: ‘If I were on a jury, knowing what I know now, I would convict.’ And what is his evidence? ‘Maureen Orth’s recent piece in Vanity Fair, Jon Lovett’s discussion, and Jessica Winter’s article.’ That’s enough, apparently.
- Accusers claim they don’t need to be right
What’s even worse is how many commentators are not that bothered whether their condemnations are based on the truth or not. Another Allen-denouncer, Aaron Brady, says, ‘I think Woody Allen probably did it, though, of course, I could be wrong. But it’s okay if I’m wrong.’ According to this view, it’s perfectly fine to denounce someone in public, even if you are not sure that you are correct. Unlike in a courtroom, in the public sphere we don’t have to uphold standards. ‘Because I have not been empowered by jails and electric chairs and states of exception to destroy people’s lives’, says Brady, ‘it isn’t necessary for me to err heavily on the side of “we need to be really fucking sure that the accused did it”’. Public humiliation, ostracism, loss of livelihood, among other things, can be devastating to people who are falsely accused, but some just don’t care that they are not ‘really fucking sure’, and so they’ll just let it fly.
- The campaign against Allen is trashing the idea of ‘presumed innocent’
New York Times columnist Nick Kristof published Dylan Farrow’s letter, and in his opinion piece accompanying that letter, he references a supposed ‘standard to honour’ that trumps legal-based standards of truth: ‘Look, none of us can be certain what happened. The standard to send someone to prison is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but shouldn’t the standard to honour someone be that they are unimpeachably, well, honourable?’ Later, he writes: ‘When evidence is ambiguous, do we really need to leap to our feet and lionise an alleged molester?’ In other words, in the public sphere, we should drop the notion of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Essentially, Kristof’s argument is: don’t let anyone who is accused participate in society – we must act as if they are guilty.