Roman Polanski's tumultuous life has been tabloid fodder for decades--the lurid details of sex and murder, his rise to prominence and fall from grace, and now his arrest in Switzerland for feeling 32-year-old conviction for unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. The director of such Hollywood classics as Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby, Polanski was originally indicted for raping 13-year-old Samantha Gailey in Jack Nicholson's L.A. house in 1977, but pled guilty to a lesser charge, and then fled to France after the judge in the case changed his mind about the plea bargain. Even as a fugitive Polanski maintained a successful directing career, winning a Best Director Oscar for The Pianist in 2002. Now facing a possible extradition to the United States, columnists are split on what should be done with Polanski.
Let Him Go
- Hasn't He Suffered Enough? Several pundits argue that the severe tragedies Polanski endured--his wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by followers of Charles Manson in 1969--are a mitigating factor. They also point out that when Polanski was a young child, his parents were forced into concentration camps by the Nazis after the 1939 invasion of Poland; only his father survived. Patrick Goldstein empathizes in the Los Angeles Times, "Polanski... was a fugitive as a boy [in Nazi-occupied Poland] and is now a fugitive as an old man. Whether the L.A. County district attorney office has its way or not, it is not a story that can have a happy ending. I think Polanski has already paid a horrible, soul-wrenching price for the infamy surrounding his actions. The real tragedy is that he will always, till his death, be snubbed and stalked and confronted by people who think the price he has already paid isn't enough." Labeling the arrest "outrageous" without disclosing her husband's role in the case (see below), Anne Applebaum declares her support of Polanski in the Washington Post: "He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers' fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film."
- Why Now? Noting that the victim has forgiven Polanski, dropped her claims against him and even called for the U.S. to stop pursuing him, The Wall Street Journal's Marcin Sobczyk wonders why the arrest occurred: "Is putting a man in prison after 31 years from his sexual intercourse with a minor in California and fleeing justice going to do justice? What good does it do to imprison anyone, whatever their lifetime achievement, after the deed ceased to matter for the parties involved?" Corrente blogger MsExPat agrees: "Why now, after 32 years? Presumably Polanski, who's been living in France all this time, has been to Switzerland many times before this. I'm not saying that Polanski deserves to get a pass on his bad behavior. But there are far bigger scoundrels and criminals loose in the world (hello Dick! Donald! Wolfie!)."
- Switzerland's Nuts Amidst the various defenses of Polanski, a surprising anti-Swiss theme has emerged. At the Huffington Post, Joan Z. Shore rants that the director's arrest is just the latest example of historically misguided policy maneuvers by the Swiss government, including everything from "blithely allow[ing] German military trains to transit their country during the Second World War, while claiming Swiss 'neutrality'" to only finally extending suffrage to women in 1971. Her half-mocking advice to American readers who share her view: "I suggest, in the finest American tradition, we protest this absurd and deplorable act by smashing our cuckoo clocks, pawning our Swiss watches, and banning Swiss cheese and chocolate. And let them yodel all they like." Blogger David D. Layden is more shocked than outraged: "I'm just stunned that the Swiss would involve themselves in this complicated issue, after letting Polanski in their country dozens of times over the past 30 years. They seemed so averse to controversy!"
Lock Him Away
- Applebaum Exposed Patterico was quick to link Anne Applebaum's defense of Polanski to her husband's own interest in the case--Applebaum is married to Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who is appealing to the U.S. on behalf of the Polish government to end the proceedings against the Polish director--setting off a firestorm of criticism over the Applebaum's lack of disclosure. By contrast, Patterico reveals his own interest in the case: "I work for the L.A. County District Attorney’s office, which is seeking Polanski’s extradition; that is no secret to anyone who reads this blog (nor is it a secret that I do not speak on behalf of my office on this blog)."
- No Excuse Even bloggers who approve of the arrest acknowledge and sympathize with Polanski's suffering. But they argue that that doesn't exempt him from obeying the law: "Nothing mitigates director Roman Polanski’s unspeakable crime. Certainly Polanski has dealt with personal tragedy on a scale few of us can understand, but that’s not a license to drug, rape and sodomize a 13-year-old girl. Nor is perceived misconduct on the part of the trial judge, nor is the forgiveness of the victim (who reached an out-of-court settlement with Polanski)," lectures John Nolte at Newsbusters. Jeffery Scott Shapiro boils it down at Fox: "Although Polanski has suffered great tragedies throughout his life and after 32 years the alleged victim’s feelings have changed, there is one thing that has not changed and that is the truth." Salon's Kate Harding provides an especially eloquent critique of Polanski's apologists.
- Disgusting Preferential Treatment Writers around the web have attacked Polanski's defenders for privileging the director on the basis of his profession. Criticizing the Patrick Goldstein's plea on behalf of Polanski, Reason's Nick Gillespie accuses the Los Angeles Times of having a blatant double-standard: "I'm curious as to whether the LA Times would be similarly disposed if the guilty party had been, say, a Catholic priest? Or whether, as Patterico notes, the Times would describe a priest who had pleaded guilty merely as 'accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl,' as the Times just did in a headline?" Scott Lemieux of Lawyers, Guns and Money is similarly unequivocal in his assessment: "I've said before that evaluations of Polanski's art should be kept distinct from from his crimes, but this cuts both ways -- the fact that he's produced great art shouldn't give him immunity for a severe violent crime." Freedom Eden blogger Mary effectively summarizes the sentiment: "Sex with a 13-year-old is sex with a 13-year-old, unless you're Roman Polanski."
- Forgiveness Isn't Justice The Moderate Voice's Jazz Shaw vehemently opposes attempts to let Polanski off easy just because his victim did: "This was a thirteen year old girl… somebody’s daughter. Yes, she now says she has forgiven him, but I seem to recall the Pope forgiving the guy who shot him some time ago. That doesn’t mean we let the perpetrator walk. Polanski was convicted and fled the country in a successful bid to evade our legal system. He should have been in jail decades ago when it would have really mattered."