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Ronan Farrow Discusses Latest Reporting On Boylan, Cuomo

Ronan Farrow
Wikimedia Commons: Fuzheado, CC BY-SA 4.0

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ignored widespread calls to resign this week over a raft of sexual harassment allegations. The governor denies inappropriately touching anyone, but earlier this week the third-term Democrat refused to answer press questions about his interactions with aides — which are now subject to two investigations. A new accuser come forward Friday in a New York Times report.

One of the first to publicly accuse Cuomo of misconduct was former Empire State Development staffer Lindsey Boylan, who is now running for Manhattan Borough President. Boylan accused the governor of harassment in an online essay, but hadn’t given any press interviews until she spoke with New Yorker journalist Ronan Farrow. Farrow’s article, posted Thursday night, shares new details about Boylan’s claims, the administration’s efforts to discredit her, and what is described as a hostile workplace under Gov. Cuomo and his top aides.

Farrow spoke with WAMC’s Ian Pickus on Friday.

Lindsey Boylan put out accusations against Governor Cuomo late last year and then expanded in an essay. She hadn't done interviews before speaking with you. What did you find out by speaking with her about her interactions with the governor?

Lindsey Boylan talked to me directly about deciding not to talk to journalists when she first came forward. And there were several complicated explanations. And some of them were very personal. She talks about feeling re-traumatized by these discussions. But ultimately, she did feel, as I tend to feel in these stories myself, that journalistic scrutiny of her claims would add something meaningful to the conversation. You know, Lindsey Boylan's claims have now catalyzed a huge shift. I don't need to tell you, in Albany politics, they are the subject of multiple serious probes. And there's been a void in terms of publicly available information about whether there's evidence to back up those claims. And what I learned digging into that very question is that Lindsey Boylan, at the very least, is someone who was telling loved ones family members, friends, confidants that she was being sexually harassed, that the governor was making her feel uncomfortable, going back to 2016. So, you know, these are claims with some basis. And she also, of course, revealed some new details, which I think we'll figure in some of those probes.

Such as what?

She described, first and foremost, a context for her claims that we now know from other public reports, and from additional reporting that I include in this story, mirrors the accounts of a whole lot of Cuomo employees in which bullying was commonplace and hostility and reprisal was commonplace. And for a number of women, allegedly, harassment was commonplace.

And against that backdrop about which she provides some new details, she talks about specific staffers who were allegedly bullied, weight-shamed, insulted in various ways that, you know, some staffers I talked to confirmed and they said they found devastating. She talked about encountering a dartboard with Bill de Blasio’s face on it. You know, some of these are large examples. Some of them are small examples that nevertheless have significance against the context of that wider pattern of an allegedly hostile workplace.

She also talked about the harassment in more detail than she has before. You know, she described an incident, for instance, in which Captain, the governor's dog jumped up and down near her and the governor made a lewd remark, she said, about wanting to mount her. And there again, I think an important point, Ian, is, you can look at these incidents in isolation, and come away with one interpretation, and look at them in the context of what she's alleging, which is a really significant and serial pattern of harassment and objectification and come away with another conclusion. So I think the full consideration of the facts and context you know, which we’re able to advance a bit in this story, is important when you look at this stuff.

Now, Governor Cuomo says he's never touched anybody inappropriately. He apologized if he made people feel uncomfortable through what he characterized as, you know, workplace joking around, but denies sexually harassing anybody. Part of your story centers on a concerted effort by the governor's top staffers to discredit Lindsey Boylan’s claims. What did you find out about that process?

That's right. And of course, that's subject of serious scrutiny in some of these formal probes as well at this point. You know, did this office retaliate against people with claims? And what we can say for sure at this point, because of this reporting, is that there was a coordinated and rapid effort to leak personnel files related to Lindsay Boylan. And, you know, documents that reflected complaints about her conduct in the office.

And, you know, she discusses and I grilled her about in a very head-on way, the nature of those complaints. You know, there were colleagues who said they were bullied by her, there was a suggestion that there was a racial component to that. So, you know, that is all discussed in this story. But I think it's important to note that, from the very beginning of the coverage of Lindsey Boylan's claims, almost equal space was given not just to her harassment allegations, but to these complaints about her. And, you know, that is a significant thing and how the story evolved.

And what I'm able to walk through because of this reporting, and sources who were directly knowledgeable about how this happens, is, you know, the tick-tock of that day, when she first tweeted about these claims, and how rapidly Cuomo’s loyalists and advisors mobilized and came to a decision, we're gonna leak these files. And it was actually before the end of the day, that very first day, that stories with information questioning Boylan's credibility and reputation began to appear.

Now, remarkably, or maybe not that remarkably around these parts, the administration says it was appropriate to leak those documents. Because personnel files, as the governor's acting counsel told you for this story, may be relevant to the public discourse.

It's always an interesting thing as a reporter to document scenes like that, and then, you know, engage with the governor's office or the subject of your reporting, whatever the story may be, and hear back, you know, not a denial, but a defense of the practice. And, you know, we carried their defense that practice in full. You know, I'm an attorney, but obviously not acting as an attorney around this; I'm a reporter here. So I'm not going to engage in detailed legal analysis about the ramifications of retaliatory leaking and different standards around that. But I can say, out of purely factual basis, that this is a matter and a set of legal questions being considered in these ongoing probes.

We know that there are at least six women who have accused the governor of misconduct. Several of them have publicly said they've already spoken to the investigators working for the attorney general about their claims. Based on your reporting, are you aware of other claims against the governor that have not been made public?

You know, I do not talk about reporting that I haven't published. And, you know, if there is reportable evidence of additional claims, then you know, you'll see that if and when that is in a reportable state. But you know, what I what I will say is that those investigations are accelerating. We include new information about how Boylan has been engaging with the investigators and the kinds of questions they were asking and evidence they were seeking. You know, I think that there is a desire on the part of those investigators to keep this moving expeditiously. They worked, for instance, through last weekend, doing extensive interviews. I think this is a very much an all hands on deck efforts to try to get some answers out there to the public.

And then lastly, I know these are all separate stories with their own dynamics, but given your history of reporting on several high-profile Me Too cases, do you see similarities between what's allegedly gone on in the governor's administration and other stories you've covered along these lines?

I would point first and foremost to differences. You know, every story is profoundly different. Details matter. Conflating different types of allegations and misconduct is not something that I do. And you know, in this case, a lot of what Lindsey Boylan is alleging and some of the other accusers who have come forward about Governor Cuomo and his aides are alleging exists in a space that deserves its own separate consideration. They're talking about a range of types of behavior, some of which are quite serious, there's been at least one groping allegation that could be a misdemeanor. But also some of which are in a space where you have to consider the full context to determine whether something is over the line. I have now talked to dozens of current and former Cuomo staffers, who, frankly, in private conversations grapple with that very question. I've had people say to me, I was possibly bullied while I worked for the governor, where is the line in terms of my deciding that crossed into inappropriateness? I think that's a question playing out in the mind privately of a lot of the sources that I've spoken to around that.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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