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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 2009; 9:11 AM

The conflict has dragged on for years, but now, finally, a serious debate is erupting in the press over how to win the thing once and for all.

Afghanistan? Nah. Roman Polanski.

The forgotten war is getting some overdue media attention, but it's being briefly overshadowed by the film director's arrest.

To prove that we can argue about anything in America, there is now a raging argument over whether to prosecute a man who drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl.

Because the crime occurred so long ago -- 1977, to be exact -- everyone can pop off about the abstract arguments in a way that would be impossible to imagine if it had happened, say, last week.

I understand there are serious questions about the judge's conduct and the way the case was handled. I also get that the victim has moved on and no longer wants Polanski jailed.

But seriously: Some folks are saying that an adult can do this to a child, flee the country before sentencing and pay no price?

Or that he's somehow suffered enough because he's had to live outside the United States?

I will say this: If Polanski was an ordinary Roman, and not an award-winning film director, we wouldn't be having this debate. There is sympathy for him because he's considered a great artiste. The Hollywood elite wouldn't give Polanski the plumber the time of day if he had sexually assaulted an underage girl. And that suggests to me a stunning double standard.

This "why now?" headline in the NYT shows how Polanski advocates have gotten their spin into the mainstream news coverage:

"The sudden move by Swiss authorities to arrest Roman Polanski for possible extradition to the United States after 31 years as a fugitive -- and countless visits to Switzerland in the interim -- has roused diplomats, offended supporters of the filmmaker and left more than a few onlookers asking themselves the same question: Why now?

"Law enforcement officials here have said it was a simple matter of opportunity."


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