Filmmaker Woody Allen's integrity -- really, his decency and humanity -- was called into question on Feb. 1 when Nicholas Kristof, a prominent columnist for The New York Times, published on his blog an open letter from Dylan Farrow, Allen's 28-year-old adoptive daughter, accusing him of sexually assaulting her when she was 7.
On the same day, Kristof produced a column for the Times questioning whether it's appropriate to honor with a Golden Globe lifetime achievement award someone who was accused of child molestation, even 21 years ago. He quotes Dylan Farrow's open letter at length and describes the psychological trauma and pain with which she says she lives.
Kristof suggests that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt might be the proper standard for sending someone to prison in our judicial system, but that the Golden Globes should apply a higher standard, honoring only those who are "unimpeachably, well, honorable." Which, he implies, Woody Allen is not.
But, he says, the Golden Globes sided with Allen, "in effect accusing Dylan either of lying or not mattering." But are those the only two choices?
A recent Time magazine article cites a Canadian study that finds that in the context of divorce or custody battles, unfounded allegations of sexual abuse, whether fabrications or in mistaken good faith, occur at "a relatively high rate," perhaps as much as 50 percent. Even Kristof acknowledges that the evidence is "ambiguous."
A week after Kristof's column Allen defended himself in the Times, noting that the charges of molestation emerged during the bitter dissolution of his 12-year relationship with Mia Farrow. He points to various pieces of exculpatory evidence, most of which are ignored or dismissed by Kristof.
In fact, in his column Kristof discloses his friendship with Mia Farrow and Dylan's access to him through Farrow, and while he admits that "none of us can be certain what happened," he suggests that the Golden Globes treat Allen as if we are.
Surely this is a significant journalistic lapse by Kristof and the Times, which on March 26, 1993, during the vicious child custody battle between Farrow and Allen, reported that "Farrow conceded that the girl would not tell a doctor of the abuse, and that a medical examination a few days later showed no signs of it." Further, the story reports on an investigation by the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic at the Yale-New Haven hospital that "concluded that Dylan had not been molested." Clearly, sympathy for Dylan Farrow is in order. Whatever happened, she is a victim. Her earliest bad fortune was probably the dubious honor of having been adopted into the tempestuous, semi-functional Farrow/Allen household and subsequently becoming a pawn in an ugly custody battle.
Furthermore, it's difficult to imagine a crime more despicable than child molestation; I wouldn't want to come near the circle in Hell reserved for those who prey on children.
But the flip side of our disgust with child molestation is the shame and embarrassment connected with a mistaken or false accusation of sexual misbehavior with a child, a charge almost impossible to eradicate.
My admiration for Allen's films and writing is no more relevant than Kristof's friendship with Farrow. It's the presumption of innocence that must remain paramount.
If sufficient evidence indicates Mr. Allen's guilt, he should be prosecuted. If the statute of limitations has expired, he should be denounced and shunned.
But his reputation and dignity shouldn't be collateral damage to a well-intended effort to encourage victims of child molestation to speak out. Are we sufficiently certain about Allen's guilt to continue to subject him to these unseemly suspicions? At the end of his column in the Times, Allen says, "This piece will be my final word on this entire matter and no one will be responding on my behalf to any further comments on it by any party. Enough people have been hurt." Perhaps the rest of us should put it behind us, as well.
(John Crisp, an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune, teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. )