Writer of Soon-Yi Profile Accused of Bias, Has Long History With Woody Allen
Daphne Merkin has been friends with the filmmaker for more than 40 years.
The writer of a profile on Soon-Yi Previn, wife of filmmaker Woody Allen, is being accused of bias due to her decades-long friendship with the filmmaker.
Daphne Merkin wrote the story, published online Sunday on New York Magazine's website Vulture, in which Previn breaks her silence on the controversy surrounding her husband and his adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow and ex-partner Mia Farrow. She also alleges years of abuse by her adopted mom, Mia.
While Merkin notes in the piece that she's been friends with Allen for more than 40 years, many on Twitter — including several journalists and at least one of her New York colleagues — was quick to condemn her and the publication for allowing a sympathetic figure to write the profile.
For example, an online search yields several stories detailing her close relationship with the filmmaker over the years, noting on her website that her first fan letter was from Allen, telling the New York Times that he once offered her his therapist and telling the New York Post that they "share our Holocaust books." She also gushes over Allen in her book The Fame Lunches, noting that she wrote him a letter in her early 20s and that "I had fixed on [Allen] as my alter ego" and that "he was the perfect non-celebrity for a non-groupie like me."
Dylan's brother Ronan, one of her strongest supporters, issued the following statement in response to the story: "I owe everything I am to Mia Farrow. She is a devoted mom who went through hell for her family all while creating a loving home for us. But that has never stopped Woody Allen and his allies from planting stories that attack and vilify my mother to deflect from my sister’s credible allegation of abuse. As a brother and a son, I’m angry that New York Magazine would participate in this kind of a hit job, written by a longtime admirer and friend of Woody Allen’s. As a journalist, I’m shocked by the lack of care for the facts, the refusal to include eyewitness testimony that would contradict falsehoods in this piece, and the failure to include my sister’s complete responses. Survivors of abuse deserve better."
Dylan also tweeted out a lengthy statement in response to the story, saying in part that: "The idea of letting a friend of an alleged predator write a one-sided piece attacking the credibility of his victim is disgusting."
My statement on New York Magazine: pic.twitter.com/xml6pdaZqb— Dylan Farrow (@RealDylanFarrow) September 17, 2018
New York Magazine spokesperson Lauren Starke defended the story before it was published, saying: "Soon-Yi Previn is telling her story for the first time, and we hope people will withhold judgment until they have read the feature. Daphne Merkin’s relationship to Woody Allen is disclosed and is a part of the story, as is Soon-Yi’s reason for speaking out now. I would add that Daphne approached Soon-Yi about doing this piece, not vice-versa. We reached out to both Mia and Dylan Farrow for comment; Dylan chose to speak through her representative. The story is transparent about being told from Soon-Yi’s point of view."
Later Sunday, Starke added: "This is a story about Soon-Yi Previn, and puts forward her perspective on what happened in her family. We believe she is entitled to be heard. Daphne Merkin’s relationship to Woody Allen is disclosed and is a part of the story, as is Soon-Yi’s reason for speaking out now. We hope people will read it for themselves."
Merkin doesn't go into her history with Allen beyond writing: "I myself have been friends with Allen for over four decades and have always been somewhat mystified by him, in part because of the almost Aspergian aloneness of the man and in part because of the genuine diffidence — the lack of a discernible ego — that lies just beneath both a lifetime’s worth of ambitious productivity and his nebbishy film persona."
Many on social media were quick to criticize.
1. The decision by NY Mag (disclosure: I write for NY Mag) to have @DaphneMerkin write the Soon-Yi Previn profile is quite disappointing. First, my experience with Daphne...about 9 years ago she attended a dinner party in the Hamptons that I was a guest at https://t.co/bQ78jlgbB8— Yashar Ali (@yashar) September 17, 2018
3. After some back and forth about this friends work, Daphne chimed in, she was nasty, angry, and mean-spirited. Her attitude was so awful that it filled the room with tension...people were scared to say anything.— Yashar Ali (@yashar) September 17, 2018
5. So I wasn't surprised to see Daphne write this piece in the NYT about the #MeToo movement. It was classic Daphne...she loves to "we" things...because she's ok, everyone else must be. Because her privileged friends are ok, everyone else must be. https://t.co/OnEPw6GHM7— Yashar Ali (@yashar) September 17, 2018
7. But to have one of the biggest #MeToo stories (Woody Allen/@RealDylanFarrow) covered by a woman who has seen little use for feminism/#MeToo movement is disappointing to say the least. If Soon-Yi was unwilling to speak to anyone else, NY Mag didn't need to commission the piece— Yashar Ali (@yashar) September 17, 2018
8. Also to have a Woody Allen sycophant (read Daphne's previous writings on Woody) profile Soon-Yi isn't journalistically sound. The also piece brings us nowhere close to understanding Soon-Yi, it's just a slew of attacks on @MiaFarrow.— Yashar Ali (@yashar) September 17, 2018
Merkin's previous encounters with Allen ("he supported her while she was suffering from depression and encouraged her as a writer") fundamentally creates a conflict of interest.— Nina Metz (@Nina_Metz) September 16, 2018
At the very least ~an appearance~ of a conflict of interest. So she shouldn't be the writers on this.
I don't understand the journalistic value of having someone with an obvious conflict of interest defend an accused child molester with no response from the accuser--in a piece written by someone who admits to being friends with the accused, no less. https://t.co/hZf6YbrF0U— Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) September 17, 2018
written by his longtime and definitely completely neutral friend Daphne Merkin— andi zeisler (@andizeisler) September 17, 2018
Oh, Soon-Yi Previn profile writer—and Woody Allen fangirl–Daphne Merkin is the woman who wrote this op-ed?— Lily Herman (@lkherman) September 17, 2018
Mkay, yeah, explains a lot. pic.twitter.com/4i2dGTPgnE
In response to the backlash, Merkin spoke to the New York Post, via email, days after the story published.
Merkin said she emailed Previn directly to ask her to do the piece, which she pitched to New York magazine as “what Soon-Yi feels and thinks.” She said Allen tried "more than once" to kill the story: "I think his view was, ‘Ignore this; don’t get involved.'"
She said magazine editors were aware of her friendship with Allen and that she only met Previn "a handful of times" before working on the story. Since the story was a "human interest" one, she didn't see her relationship with Allen as being a problem.
“I felt I was opening the door on their townhouse and showing us an odd but affecting couple," said Merkin. "It’s strange how critics don’t think Soon-Yi deserves to be heard, that the abuse she suffered, because it was at the hands of a woman and not a man, is somehow less valid. My intention was to let a silenced woman’s voice be heard. Far from seeing the piece as anti-feminist, I think the attacks on it are sexist (even — or especially — when made by women) and more than a tad racist."
A rep for the magazine added to the Post: "This was always meant to be told as Soon-Yi’s account. We knew from the time that we got the first draft that other people involved would dramatically disagree; we worked carefully to represent their perspective in the story."
Sept 21, 6:30 a.m. This story has been updated with Merkin's Post interview.