Defending Polanski Badly

In a  story this morning in “The Los Angeles Times,” Patrick Goldstein defends Roman Polanski on some empty specious grounds.  Basically he thinks that since it’s been so long, the victim has forgiven him, prisons are over-crowded, CA is having financial trouble, and Mr. Polanski has experienced tragedy in his life that he should be released.  He seeks to deflect anticipated criticism by saying ” In the coming weeks, the Polanski affair will no doubt become a tabloid sensation, with op-ed moralists, excitable bloggers and the Glenn Becks of the world noisily weighing in on the propriety of his possible prosecution.”

His own piece is exactly that, an excitable, noisy instance of op-ed moralism.  Comparing Polanski to Jean Valjean, Mr. Goldstein seeks to make a moral equivalence between stealing bread to feed one’s family and drugging a 13 year old with Champagne and Quaaludes before raping her. He offers only non sequiturs in Mr. Polanski’s defense. To take each in turn:

The tragic events that befall a person have no bearing on the disposition of the unrelated crimes he commits (e.g. his childhood and the murder of his wife). A victim’s forgiveness is a pure and wondrous thing, but for the public interest the state has an obligation to ensure that certain laws are enforced. Image a mother shot by her son. Her last words, said to a police office who arrives at the scene and said in the presence of multiple witnesses, are: “Please do not put my son in jail. I forgive him.” The state must still prosecute. Prison overcrowding is a real public policy and societal problem in need of a solution, but that solution must come primarily from legislation and it must be broad in scope as it addresses classes of crimes. One can not use it to argue for the non-prosecution of one specific case.

He considers the “real tragedy” in all of this to be that Polanski “will always, till his death, be snubbed and stalked and confronted by people who think the price he has already paid isn’t enough.” I do not think one can consider the consequences of fleeing from justice a “price” at all. Being snubbed and confronted isn’t even close to being a “real tragedy,” and I find it reprehensible that anyone can consider that not only comparable but somehow more substantial than the tragedy of being drugged and raped, even if the “real” victim is fortunate enough to be able to forgive and move on. But can we really expect more from someone who makes a moral comparison between a fictional petty thief and a real pederast and rapist?

If there is another tragedy involved in this at all, it is that a celebrity who drugs and rapes a minor can flee justice and have the media argue that this is not, now, worthy of prosecution when one of those poor people the media treats as rhetorical arguments rather than persons would have long, long ago been justly consigned to one of those over-crowded prisons, and not an inch of newsprint would have been wasted defending him. Is this what being a “watchdog” has come down to? Breathlessly lashing out at a DA in righteous indignation for prosecuting a rapist? Arguing that fleeing prosecution and staying free for years is payment enough because of snubbing?

Mr. Goldstein laments the fact that the DA doesn’t seem to have better things to do with his time. One might wish that reporters had better things to do with theirs.

Related Stories: Dodgy Old Men, Amy Davidson, “The New Yorker”

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