When Ronan Farrow walks into the private lunch celebrating his latest book, “War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence,” the 30-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner is genuinely shocked that everyone is there to see little ol’ him. “I’m always surprised when people show up to these things,” says Farrow, as he works the upstairs room at Cafe Milano on a recent Thursday afternoon. Journalist Greta Van Susteren is there, as is philanthropist Adrienne Arsht. On his way to his seat, Farrow, who famously broke the Harvey Weinstein story that helped spark the #MeToo movement, discusses a potential meeting with a confidential source, telling an intermediary, “I think my track record speaks for itself.” We caught up with him to discuss that record.
During your sit-down with Tammy Haddad, you said that journalists are not activists. I think some of your fans would be surprised to hear that from you.
I’m just honored that people associate me with the activism that’s happening. That said, when I’m reporting out a story my job is not to move the needle or change the outcome of an election or start a movement, it’s to put a spotlight on a hard truth. Good journalism and good activism can be two sides of a coin in a way.
There’s currently a climate of mistrust between the media and the public. Do you think that’s fair?
It’s a classic authoritarian tactic to try to turn the public against the free press. But that’s not to say that the media is without fault. I think some of the worst facets of the media environment — the partisanship and repetitiveness — have allowed those toxic and inaccurate narratives about fake news to thrive. So it doesn’t come from nowhere, but it is grotesque how it’s being weaponized against good reporters today, and I hope the American public continues to see through that.
Speaking of the public’s view of journalism, let’s talk about the White House correspondents’ dinner.
So honoring the work of White House correspondents is a really important and noble goal. There are fantastic reporters doing really important work, and right now we need them more than ever. But the utility of the White House correspondents’ dinner and the kind of slightly questionable enterprise of schmoozing with a lot of celebrities at fancy parties, um, you know, is less apparent to me. It can be fun, and that’s cool. I just don’t think the dinner and all the noise expended on the comedian of the year is worth a lot of focus.
What drives you?
I was very fortunate at a very early age to have a strong sense of public service inculcated in me and to grow up in a family with a lot of adopted siblings from all over the world with some very severe disabilities who made it impossible to ignore the world’s problems. To be raised by a single mom [Farrow’s mother is actress Mia Farrow, and his father is filmmaker Woody Allen] who had an incredible sense of principles and is a real fighter, it was always very clear to me that a powerful way to effect change for the better is to elevate voices that aren’t being heard.
What gives you hope?
Every single brave source that spoke in the course of the Weinstein reporting I did. Those people and their courage give me hope every day. As long as [they’re] around, it’s hard to feel pessimistic about our species and the future of our planet.