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Author Robert Harris was given some space on the New York Times op-ed page to write this:

So when, just before lunch on Sunday, the news broke that Mr. Polanski had been arrested overnight at the Zurich airport on an outstanding warrant relating to a conviction for sex with a minor back in the 1970s, my first response was to feel almost physically sick. Mr. Polanski has become a good friend. Our families have spent time together. His daughter and mine keep in regular touch. His past did not bother me, any more (presumably) than it did the three French presidents with whom he has had private dinners, or the hundreds of actors and technicians who have worked with him since 1977, or the fans who come up to him in the streets of Paris for his autograph.

That's an interesting legal standard: If you can get your past cleared by a) three French presidents, b) hundreds of actors and technicians, or c) fans, then you are hereby absolved of culpability for your crime. Unfortunately, Harris isn't clear on whether all three conditions must be met to trigger absolution, or if you only need one. Inquiring minds want to know, I'm sure.

Harris left something else out of his defense of Polanski: the crime. Which is strange, as the grand jury testimony is online. Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl. He gave her champagne and Quaaludes. He refused to take her home when she asked to leave. He had oral, vagina and anal intercourse after she said no and begged him to stop.

It was a monstrous and awful offense. In a later interview with Martin Amis, Polanski averred that pedophilia is a universal urge, and the media's sympathy for, and fascination with, his crime came because they fundamentally envied his experience. "“If I had killed somebody," he explained, "it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press."

This is actually damning testimony. If Polanski is right, and yet we still believe in laws against both rape and adults having sex with minors, then it strengthens the need for an ironclad system of punishment that will act as a deterrent against these universal urges. And that means Polanski should go to jail.

Also, read Amanda Hesser's comprehensive refutation of common Polanski defenses.

Photo credit: By Francois Mori – Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  September 30, 2009; 5:27 PM ET
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Spot on, Ezra.

Posted by: FrBill1 | September 30, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Who cares?

Posted by: sernanperez | September 30, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Polanski should go to jail.

But, by the same logic, Google should be made to stand trial for its action of scanning copyrighted works, even though the company is supported by numerous academics, authors, and fans.

It's all too easy to allow popularity to cloud judgment and to seek revenge for some crimes while letting others slide by without notice: some use Polanski's fame and philanthropy to excuse his crime, others use Google's fame and philanthropy to excuse it from trial. Some have even called for "empathetic judges" to extend such cloudy judgment throughout the legal system.

Posted by: rmgregory | September 30, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, love you, and it also behooves me to report that Amanda Hess (sex and gender blogger) is slightly different from Amanda Hesser (foodie)!

Posted by: bibliotx | September 30, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

You make a nice ethical point at the end. That kind of clarity is not so common.

It is such a relief to see the sane liberal press and bloggers putting this idiocy to the torch. Maybe sane conservatives will take note.

Posted by: CorkExaminer | September 30, 2009 6:27 PM | Report abuse

It's not just the Village that doesn't think that laws apply to certain members of society (Politicans, Wall Street, The Rich, etc.). Robert Harris pulls back the curtain that artists don't think the rules apply to themselves.

The crime was appalling. Polanski ran from it, and has never returned to face it. And to people like Harris it's a white wash. One wonders what Harris would think if it were his daughter who was the victim.


Posted by: toshiaki | September 30, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Apparently Robert Harris' latest novel "The Ghost" is pretty critical of the detention of people at Guantanamo Bay. That doesn't make me agree with his views on Polanski, but I do find his objections to imprisoning a guilty man a bit more palatable now that I've discovered that he also objects to imprisoning innocent people.

Posted by: KennethAlmquist | September 30, 2009 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes there is a huge discrepancy between what is fair and what can be done by the US justice system.

An apt example is the youth charged and convicted for statutory rape even though it was consensual and he and the girl were very close in age. That's a 'crime' committed in incredibly huge numbers every year.


And sometimes the facts are very much in issue.

But that's not this case. There's nothing in the slightest unfair with convicting a man aged 44 who rapes a 13 year old when the facts are not in dispute.

I've no doubt that Polanski has charisma. I'm also sure that Hitler had charisma. That doesn't mean they both weren't monsters.

Posted by: shelgreen | September 30, 2009 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, you're right. Nothing on the face of this planet can absolve Polanski from his crimes. He drugged and raped someone. And she was 13!

That said, he was screwed over by the justice system. And this never gets mentioned. He plead guilty to his crime and as part of his plea agreement he served time in prison. But the judge reneged on the plea bargain. Only after it became clear that he was getting railroaded by the justice system did he decide to flee. If Polanski can get arrested and tried for a crime he plead guilty to, and served time for, 31 years ago, what good is anything?

Yes, he's a morally reprehensible creep. But a justice system only works if it works for everyone, even the people that disgust you.

Posted by: dannymears | September 30, 2009 8:40 PM | Report abuse

well i never thought i'd hear on here someone defending Polanski but looks like we have a winner for idiot of the year.


the only one screwed in this was the 13 year old girl who was drugged, raped, sodomized by a 40 something year old man, LITERALLY. He never served time in prison. He spent 42 days in a psych evaluation that didn't start until his project he was working on was allowed to finish. Do you really think that would happen today? Would a director today be allowed to complete a movie after raping a child? I would expect you don't have children and much less daughters because if you did you'd have a clue. I'm sorry no one that drugs, rapes a child should get probation. It never should have gotten that far and that I would expect is why the judge chose to throw out the probation plea bargain.

And if we are to allow him to get away with it where do we draw the line? That creep in Austria from a year or two ago? If he was an award winning director should he be let free? Philip Garrido? If he was say an actor would we absolve him from his sins? What some in Europe are saying just absolutely disgust me. And the fact that you come on here, throw on some line that he can't be absolved for his actions and then turn around and try to blame the justice system for his fleeing is cowardly at best.

Posted by: visionbrkr | September 30, 2009 10:50 PM | Report abuse


Judges are not parties to plea agreements, and they cannot renege on them, therefore. Polanski's plea colloquy demonstrates that he was well aware the judge was not part of the agreement, and was not bound by it. Might the judge (who is not alive to defend himself) have given an unfair sentence, if Polanski had not fled? I suppose so. That could have been appealed by Polanski's doubtless able lawyers. The idea that he was ill-served by a system that, to that point, had shown extraordinary lenience given the underlying facts, is hard to defend. In any event, this meme that the judge "reneged" has no basis in fact and is wrong as a matter of law, actually.

Posted by: FrBill1 | September 30, 2009 11:28 PM | Report abuse

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of Americans and conservatives know child rape can never be excused. A pretty sizable majority of liberals agree, too. But what about--among others--Whoopi, Woody Allen, and the NY Times, which gave valuable space to the abominable sentiments we read above. Can the majority of liberals please clean house?

Posted by: yourstruly1991 | October 1, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Klein and I agree on something.

The Apocalypse is here.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | October 1, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Right on, Ezra.

The grand jury testimony is utterly horrifying. And what's more, Polanski admitted he knew she was 13 when he raped her. This is open and shut.

I think it's just really, really sad that the New York Times and Washington Post are giving forums to people who simply can't accept the reality that they're friends with or enjoy the art of a child rapist, and who choose to deal with it by mis-representing the facts, by crafting excuses, and by blaming the victim.

I think Chris Clarke's op-ed tackled the "I have fond feelings for a horrible criminal" issue far more honestly and far more beautifully than these people who insist that Roman Polanski doesn't deserve to be punished for raping a child.

(As an aside, there are some people using this case to make important procedural legal points, which I think is extremely worthy of discussion.

I mean, if the jist of this conversation were that we had to crack down on prison rape, even for child rapists, I'd be endorsing it 100%.

Sadly, the jist of this conversation is "Roman should be a special case and I don't much care what happens to the other people I don't know in jail, except to opportunistically point to their suffering to justify letting Roman off the hook.")

Posted by: theorajones1 | October 1, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

i also think some of the conservative fears can be tied to topics like this. If you look at Europe their morals on average seem to be so lax on things like this that we sometimes (rightly or wrongly) tie many of their policies to that same philosophy. For examples look at Netherlands and their legalization of drugs as well as socialized medicine in other countries. Whether right or wrong I think many of the conservative wing feel its a slippery slope to allowing things like legalization of drugs to slipping moral values that eventually lead to what many in Europe are now looking to forgive, raping a child.

Posted by: visionbrkr | October 1, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

and again before i rightfully get called on it its not universal coverage that most conservatives fear, its the socialized medicine aspect of it and perceived rationing that comes from it that conservatives fear. also the fear of doing it too quickly and shocking the system that's on life support as it is it could easily kill the patient (American healthcare system) entirely. Also i know that right now we're rationing on ability to pay and that's wrong too. We need to find a viable balance between the two.

Posted by: visionbrkr | October 1, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse


Only they can defend a child rape

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | October 1, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

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