Today’s Washington Post editorial on the Roman Polanski case is a classic illustration of the utter lack of understanding that seems to fuel a mainstream media caught up in sensationalizing trivialities while simultaneously displaying a monumental ignorance of fact.
Let’s start with the headline:
Director Roman Polanski escapes accountability for raping a 13-year-old.
Roman Polanski reached a plea agreement with the judge and the prosecution and fulfilled every part of it. He plead guilty to statutory rape and surrendered himself at state prison — the Orwellian-named California Institution for Men at Chino — where he served the agreed-on incarceration spelled out in the plea agreement.
Polanski did precisely what he and all the parties to the prosecution agreed he must do in order to fulfill the terms of the agreement. He did not “escape accountability.”
The headline of the editorial is therefore a lie, a statement consciously made in exact opposition to the truth it pretends to describe.
Now let’s consider the rest of the editorial:
SWISS OFFICIALS who refused to extradite director Roman Polanski to the United States to face punishment for a long-ago sex crime said they didn’t have enough information. Maybe they neglected to read the undisputed testimony of a 13-year-old detailing how Mr. Polanski drugged, raped and sodomized her. Maybe they overlooked the transcript of Mr. Polanski’s court hearing in which, pleading guilty to a lesser charge, he acknowledged knowing his victim had yet to turn 14. Or perhaps they missed his unsettling explanation to probation officers of how sex with the girl “was very spontaneous.” Maybe in Switzerland the law is not offended when a criminal flees before sentencing.
Another concatenation of falsehood. The Swiss ministry said they did not receive information on a critical meeting between the prosecutor, his superiors, and the judge in which the prosecutor had sought to have the judge removed from the case because of his official misconduct.
The Swiss had the details of the case itself; what they wanted was the official record of a meeting where the prosecutor himself had alleged judicial misconduct.
The Swiss Justice Ministry announced Monday that it was denying the U.S. request for extradition and that Mr. Polanski, who had been under house arrest, was free. As part of a plea agreement with Los Angeles prosecutors, Mr. Polanski pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl to satisfy far more serious charges of rape and sodomy; he fled the country in 1978 when he feared the sentencing judge might send him to jail. The director, acclaimed for his filmmaking skills, lived with impunity abroad until he flew to Switzerland to pick up an award in September and California authorities seized the opportunity to seek his extradition. His native France, where he lives, does not extradite its citizens.
The Swiss rejection of the U.S. request, which cannot be appealed, was a surprise. The government grants the vast majority of extradition petitions, and even Mr. Polanski’s lawyer said the decision was “not expected.” Switzerland Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf blamed U.S. authorities for failing to provide confidential testimony about sentencing procedures used at the time of the case. This technicality essentially proved a convenient excuse for a Swiss government caught up in a wave of protest from European intellectual and political figures sympathetic to Mr. Polanski. French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterand said that Mr. Polanski was being “thrown to the lions for an old story that doesn’t really many any sense.” He’s made terrific movies, in other words; he’s one of us; why can’t the Americans get past this obsession with holding child rapists accountable?
Mitterand was right. The case didn’t make any sense. A judge who had made an agreement then breached it unilaterally and without legal cause after the defendant had carried out every part of the agreement. There is no disputing this point.
But the Post’s editors presumably wanted to stage what an old friend has described as an ornamental rage, to fire a few hypocritical shots across the bow of a target they had created out of either ignorance or willful deceit.
All of which has nothing to say about the appropriateness of the settlement, something law students and celebrity hounds can debate ad infinitum. But all the argument won’t change the simple truth: Roman Polanski did not escape responsibility. His victim didn’t think so, his prosecutor didn’t think so, and even the judge didn’t think so at the time the deal was made.
Let’s hope the Post’s editors don’t escape responsibility either.