Modern-day Renaissance man

Ronan Farrow is the only biological child of actress-activist Mia Farrow (both left) and film director Woody Allen.
Ronan Farrow is the only biological child of actress-activist Mia Farrow (both above) and film director Woody Allen.PHOTO: REUTERS

Pulitzer Prize winner Ronan Farrow continues to fly high with an expose that brought down New York's state attorney-general and a new book

NEW YORK • Two Saturdays ago, Ronan Farrow told graduates at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles that his career was on the rocks before his Harvey Weinstein reporting went public.

"I wish I could tell you I was confident... or that I said 'to hell with it'," he said of the challenges of putting out a harrowing story of women who had shared with him details of alleged sexual assault by the producer. But the real version of this was that I was heartbroken and I was scared and I had no idea if I was doing the right thing."

It turned out instead to be a watershed moment, with his reporting helping to birth America's #MeToo sexual harassment campaign.

While his career has had wobbles, the Weinstein expose is another feather in the cap for Farrow, 30, the only biological child of actress-activist Mia Farrow and famed film director Woody Allen.

He has seemingly put aside the acidic break-up of his parents' relationship - over allegations that Allen molested his seven-year-old sister - to become a 21st-century Renaissance man, seemingly able to turn his hand to anything.

As a 17-year-old, he was already a spokesman for youth at Unicef and worked for the State Department in Afghanistan and Pakistan, before fronting a television show.

His explosive reporting for The New Yorker - after months of meticulous research and painstakingly persuading women to speak out - not only helped bring down Weinstein, but also bagged the Pulitzer public service medal for his first outing for The New Yorker, shared last month with The New York Times.

Last Tuesday, he was again on wall-to-wall television, speaking from London, about his latest scalp - the resignation of New York's state attorney-general Eric Schneiderman - just hours after Farrow co-authored an article in which four women accused him of abusive behaviour.

Farrow was calm and articulate, quietly savaging Mr Schneiderman's defence that he engaged in role-play.

"This was not 'Fifty Shades Of Grey'. It wasn't in a grey area at all," Farrow told CNN.

"They describe really horrific and serious allegations of abuse."

His reporting, bombshell article after bombshell article, has sparked blowback against former employer NBC for failing to spot his talents.

Just weeks ago, he published War On Peace: The End Of Diplomacy And The Decline Of American Influence, exploring a banner issue at a time of massive budget cuts by the Donald Trump administration.

Farrow, who interviewed every single living former secretary of state from Henry Kissinger to Rex Tillerson, argues that the decline has been decades in the making, and spans the Balkans to Afghanistan, China and North Korea.

Born on Dec 19, 1987, in New York, Farrow graduated from Bard College at 15 and Yale Law School at 21, before going to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship.

He worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan for late United States diplomat Richard Holbrooke during the Barack Obama presidency, before becoming an adviser to then secretary of state Hillary Clinton on global youth issues in 2011.

In 2014, he joined MSNBC as a host, fronting an hour-long programme that sought to dive behind the headlines, educate viewers and campaign on issues. But he came across as stiff and the programme bombed.

Now, he is flying high again.

At a recent private lunch celebrating his War On Peace book, he was asked what drives him on.

He traced his purpose to his younger days, growing up in a family with "adopted siblings from all over the world with some very severe disabilities who made it impossible to ignore the world's problems".

He also credited his mother "who had an incredible sense of principles and is a real fighter... it was always clear to me that a powerful way to affect change for the better is to elevate voices that aren't being heard".

Every "single brave source" that propelled the Weinstein reporting also gives him " hope every day". "As long as they're around, it's hard to feel pessimistic about our species and the future of our planet."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2018, with the headline 'Modern-day Renaissance man'. Print Edition | Subscribe