Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The best question on Roman Polanski

I hadn't had much time to think much about Roman Polanski and whether or not he should be extradited. It had seemed to me that, if our laws were to mean anything, we shouldn't waive extradition and justice just because someone skipped out of the country decades ago. And the fact that he was a talented director and has many celebrity friends and fans shouldn't matter at all. But this column by David Gibson really clarified the matter. Gibson comes at the subject from a different perspective - as someone who covered the child abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. And so he asks a pertinent question.
There is the obvious parallel to the cases in the Catholic Church, which have rightly scandalized the public and the media. Prosecutors and plaintiffs' attorneys have been dogged in pursuing these cases -- whether out of concern for their careers or for justice -- and the outrage was so widespread that the State of California created a one-year window in 2003 during which the statute of limitations on abuse crimes by Catholic priests was lifted. That meant the victims of men who were often long dead could finally get their day in court, or find some sense of justice and closure -- and for cases that were no more egregious than Polanski's abuse of Geimer. Polanski is alive, at least.

Comparisons are by their nature invidious. But what if Roman Polanksi were wearing a Roman collar? Would "Monsignor Polanksi" receive the same considerations? As Father Thomas Reese, a Jesuit, writes at the Post's "On Faith" site, "Imagine if the Knights of Columbus decided to give an award to a pedophile priest who had fled the country to avoid prison. The outcry would be universal." And rightly so, as Reese says. But Polanski gets an Oscar in absentia in 2003 and earns sympathy because he can't receive it in person.
You know what all those Hollywood glitterati would have said if he were a priest. The man is accused of giving liquor and quaaludes to a 13 year old girl and then raping her.

Let him stand for the hearing on his sentencing and give him perhaps a reduced sentence based on the victim's stated wish for leniency for him. And let's stop hearing all about how sad this has all been for the poor child rapist. You wouldn't hear that sympathy if he were Father Roman, so let's not hear it for the celebrity.

UPDATE: Patterico quotes some of the testimony from the 13-year old girl about what Polanski did to her. See how much sympathy you have for him after reading that. And Patterico also links to this review of the highly biased documentary made about Polanski.
I think it's true to say that there are many people who survived the Holocaust who don't drug and rape children, for example. More apposite and logical questions, in turn, aren't explored. For example: Polanski was photographing the girl for a photo spread for a European edition of Vogue. Someone could have asked him, or his lawyer -- just for the record -- if he had drugged and raped any other of his photo subjects.

The girl in the case is now in her 40s; she has said the case is behind her and that she has forgiven Polanski. (The documentary waits until the end to note that this came only after she settled a civil case against the director.) But the issue here isn't Polanski being left alone; he's the one trying to get his case dismissed.

The movie tries to drum up sympathy for Polanski by playing up the media firestorm he was at the center of; but that's Polanski's fault, too. (Before they rape children, celebrities should consider how the media attention sure to result will have adverse consequences for their victims, as well as themselves.) Celebrities complain about "the dishonesty of the media," as Polanski does repeatedly in the film, only when the dishonesty doesn't suit them. If the coverage helps you -- a portrayal as devoted husband, say -- then it's fine, true or not. But when it doesn't, they scream.
Celebrities want special treatment that they wouldn't grant to any other man convicted of drugging and raping a teenage girl and then skipping out on his sentencing. Just ask yourself how much sympathy would be aroused for a priest who had done something similar. Would people be focused on all the good works that the priest had done over his lifetime or would they be thinking about the teenager abused so long ago?