NEW YORK — Perhaps the least surprising aspect of The New Yorker magazine’s story on abuse allegations against New York’s attorney general last week was Ronan Farrow’s name on it as one of the authors.
Farrow has been on a head-spinning run that started in October with an expose on movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, for which he shared a Pulitzer Prize with Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The New York Times.
The 30-year-old journalist has since written about Israeli operatives collecting information on former Obama aides, the National Enquirer buying stories to keep them quiet, a Playboy model’s story of an affair with President Donald Trump and Weinstein’s intricate efforts to conceal his behaviour.
He also just released a book on international diplomacy and Rex Tillerson’s tenure at the State Department. On Friday, Little, Brown and Co. announced it would publish “Catch and Kill,” about efforts to silence women who accuse powerful men of sexual misconduct.
Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general accused of physically and verbally abusing former girlfriends, announced his resignation less than four hours after The New Yorker posted the story, which Farrow co-wrote with investigative reporter Jane Mayer.
“You could say he has a bright future in journalism,” deadpanned Bill Grueskin, a veteran editor and Columbia University professor.
Appropriately, the son of actress Mia Farrow and his estranged father, Woody Allen, has a story Hollywood would love, complete with rising from a point where he questioned his career and the investigation that earned him a Pulitzer. (Farrow has not reported on his sister Dylan’s allegations that Allen molested her — which he has denied — but said he’s proud of her for making them).
Farrow was a boy wonder even before getting into journalism. The future Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law School graduate finished Bard College at age 15. He worked for the U.S. state department in the Obama administration and in Nigeria for UNICEF.
“I wound up in situations through my work in advocacy and government where I was seeing stories play out that I thought needed telling, sometimes in tough places where press access was constrained, like Darfur,” Farrow explained his turn to journalism, in an email interview with The Associated Press while travelling in Europe last week. “Writing about it was just about the only thing I could do.”
Print stories led to television work, where Farrow’s articulateness and good looks didn’t hurt. MSNBC gave him a daytime show, torpedoed by low ratings after a year. Farrow remained at NBC News as a reporter and began working on the Weinstein story.
The story matched his skills and persistence, said New Yorker Editor David Remnick.
“The heroic figures in these stories are not Ronan Farrow or Jane Mayer or Jodi Kantor or Megan Twohey,” he said. “It’s the people who put themselves on the line to speak truthfully about what has been so hidden and secretive, and that takes immense courage on their part and, on the part of the reporters, real patience and empathy of the kind that you don’t really need when you’re doing crime reporting or political reporting.”
How the Weinstein story wound up at The New Yorker and not on NBC is a well-publicized, if not fully understood story. NBC said that after much work, Farrow’s story still wasn’t ready for air.
What’s murky is why he didn’t continue working on it for NBC. NBC noted that he did not have an exclusive contract. Farrow hasn’t discussed this in detail, although he plans to in his new book.
Farrow was introduced to Remnick by Ken Auletta, the veteran New Yorker writer who previously tried to crack the Weinstein story and had talked to Farrow about that experience. Remnick said he initially was skeptical, but saw Farrow had the makings of a good piece. He kept him working on it; the magazine was fueled by competition with the Times, which he also knew was on to the story.
Farrow talked in a commencement address at Loyola Marymount University earlier this month of a low point where “I had spent a year in rooms with executives telling me it wasn’t a story.”
He recalled a phone conversation with “my poor, long-suffering partner.
“I remember saying, ‘I swung too wide, I gambled too much, I lost everything and no one will even know,’” he told the college graduates.
Remnick’s interest provided a much-needed boost in confidence. He said he remembers as a young reporter how getting encouraging words from some veteran, legendary journalists indicated he was on the right track and that they had his back.
“That means a lot to a reporter,” Remnick said. “If you don’t have it, you feel at sea.”
Although NBC has defended itself, and declined to further discuss it for this story, the damaging impression that it missed a big story has stuck.
Farrow’s work on Weinstein has clearly helped him with other stories. He told the AP he hopes “other people with difficult stories to tell see that and understand they can trust me to respect them and treat them with care.”
Farrow has signed with HBO to make a series of documentaries. He credited freedom given by MSNBC to tell in-depth stories for inspiring the HBO deal.
Is there anywhere else to go when you’re on the top of the mountain at age 30?
“In my experience, that scale of a story doesn’t come along very often,” Remnick said, “and the only way for the next one to come along is to work very, very hard. That’s something that I have no doubt that he’ll do.”
David Bauder, The Associated Press