Roman History

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."

The LAT attempts to provide an answer:

"Roman Polanski's attorneys may have helped provoke his arrest by complaining to an appellate court this summer that Los Angeles prosecutors had never made any real effort to arrest the filmmaker in his three decades as a fugitive, two sources familiar with the case told The Times.

"The accusation that the Los Angeles County district attorney's office was not serious about extraditing Polanski was a small part of two July court filings by the director's attorneys. But it caught the attention of prosecutors and led to his capture in Switzerland on Saturday, the sources said."

In Salon, Kate Harding reminds us of the central fact:

"Roman Polanski raped a child. Let's just start right there, because that's the detail that tends to get neglected when we start discussing whether it was fair for the bail-jumping director to be arrested at age 76, after 32 years in 'exile' (which in this case means owning multiple homes in Europe, continuing to work as a director, marrying and fathering two children, even winning an Oscar, but never -- poor baby -- being able to return to the U.S.). Let's keep in mind that Roman Polanski gave a 13-year-old girl a Quaalude and champagne, then raped her, before we start discussing whether the victim looked older than her 13 years, or that she now says she'd rather not see him prosecuted because she can't stand the media attention. . . .

"Can we do that? Can we take a moment to think about all that, and about the fact that Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, before we start talking about what a victim he is?"

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum is among those who'd give the filmmaker a break:

"I am certain there are many who will harrumph that, following this arrest, justice was done at last. But Polanski is 76. To put him on trial or keep him in jail does not serve society in general or his victim in particular. Nor does it prove the doggedness and earnestness of the American legal system. If he weren't famous, I bet no one would bother with him at all."

Her column draws this rebuke from Patterico's Pontifications:

"Applebaum failed to mention that her husband is a Polish foreign minister who is lobbying for Polanski's case to be dismissed:

"In Polanski's native Poland, President Lech Kaczynski and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said they would appeal to US authorities to drop proceedings against Polanski. The PAP news agency said Sikorski was consideri[ng] a direct appeal to US President Barack Obama to end 'once and for all' the proceedings against the filmmaker. Radoslaw Sikorski is married to Anne Applebaum . . .

"So at the same time that she was giving readers a fact-challenged screed in support of Polanski, she was failing to disclose that her husband was a Polish official who was lobbying for Polanski's freedom.

"I work for the L.A. County District Attorney's office, which is seeking Polanski's extradition; that is no secret to anyone who reads this blog."

Fair point. And Ann Althouse seconds the objection:

"Incredible! We're talking about a Washington Post columnist here, who used the corporate pages to write a piece decrying 'The Outrageous Arrest of Roman Polanski.'

"But is that any more absurd than saying he's suffered enough because of all the burdens on his career? Think what this means, generalizing the opinion into an abstract rule. It means that those with high professional standing do not need the usual criminal punishments given to individuals who have very little in this world. Ordinary people must be punished in prison, but big shots are already punished heavily by the mere revelation of their crimes and therefore should be relieved of much or all of the usual prison sentence. Care to sign on to that rule?"

At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey sees Polanski as the latest liberal cause:

"Hollywood has tried to sell the statutory rape as some sort of misunderstood love story. They tried again last year in the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. The reality is that Polanski drugged, raped, and sodomized a 13-year-old girl . . .

"The victim would now prefer to see the charges dropped, but that doesn't account for 32 years of fleeing justice. Polanski still needs to be held accountable for his crimes, at the very least by getting hauled back to an American court to face the process of justice. He's no hero; he's a rapist, and it's about time that someone make it clear that being a fabulous Hollywood director does not give one a license to commit violent crimes."

Hidden Agenda?

Betsy McCaughey, the former New York lieutenant governor who helped sink Hillarycare in the 1990s, is back attacking Obama's health-care plan. But in an important revelation, Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson finds that McCaughey had some help with an infamous New Republic article she wrote in 1994:

"What has not been reported until now is that McCaughey's writing was influenced by Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, as part of a secret campaign to scuttle Clinton's health care reform. (The measure would have been funded by a huge increase in tobacco taxes.) In an internal company memo from March 1994, the tobacco giant detailed its strategy to derail Hillarycare through an alliance with conservative think tanks, front groups and media outlets. Integral to the company's strategy, the memo observed, was an effort to 'work on the development of favorable pieces' with 'friendly contacts in the media.' The memo, prepared by a Philip Morris executive, mentions only one author by name:

" 'Worked off-the-record with Manhattan and writer Betsy McCaughey as part of the input to the three-part expos? in The New Republic on what the Clinton plan means to you. The first part detailed specifics of the plan.' "

Of course, authors gather information from diverse sources, but this sounds disconcertingly hush-hush. James Fallows sees it as the smoking gun:

"As I argued back in 1995 in 'A Triumph of Misinformation,' everything about McCaughey's role in the debate depended on her pose as a scrupulous, impartial, independent scholar who, after leafing through the endless pages of the Clinton health proposals, had been shocked by what she found. If it had been known at the time that she was secretly collaborating with one of the main interest-group enemies of the plan, perhaps the article would never had been published; at a minimum, her standing to speak would have been different."

Quagmire Watch

Now for that Afghanistan debate. Frank Rich lays the intellectual groundwork for a pullback by comparing the president's decision with that of JFK with Vietnam:

"Obama finds himself at that same lonely decision point now. Though he came to the presidency declaring Afghanistan a 'war of necessity,' circumstances have since changed. While the Taliban thrives there, Al Qaeda's ground zero is next-door in nuclear-armed Pakistan. Last month's blatantly corrupt, and arguably stolen, Afghanistan election ended any pretense that Hamid Karzai is a credible counter to the Taliban or a legitimate partner for America in a counterinsurgency project of enormous risk and cost. Indeed, Karzai, whose brother is a reputed narcotics trafficker, is a double for Ngo Dinh Diem, the corrupt South Vietnamese president whose brother also presided over a vast, government-sanctioned criminal enterprise in the early 1960s. And unlike Kennedy, whose C.I.A. helped take out the Diem brothers, Obama doesn't have a coup in his toolbox. . . .

"How can American forces protect the population, let alone help build a functioning nation, in a tribal narco-state consisting of some 40,000 mostly rural villages over an area larger than California and New York combined?

"Even if we routed the Taliban in another decade or two, after countless casualties and billions of dollars, how would that stop Al Qaeda from coalescing in Somalia or some other criminal host state? How would a Taliban-free Afghanistan stop a jihadist trained in Pakistan's Qaeda camps from mounting a terrorist plot in Denver and Queens?"

That draws a forceful rebuttal from National Review's Rich Lowry:

"We are experiencing a festival of liberal hypocrisy on the Afghan war, as all the left-wing doves who touted the war as absolutely essential for years back off now that it's no longer a politically convenient war . . .

"So when did circumstances change? When did al Qaeda basically leave Afghanistan so the Taliban is the real worry there and the chief home of the terror group is Pakistan? If you read Rich literally, it must have been sometime between August and today, because Obama didn't just come to the presidency saying Afghanistan is a necessary war, he said it at the VFW last month. But circumstances changed? Again, when?

"As of May, according to Rich, al Qaeda was still a threat in Afghanistan. It hadn't been 'vanquished' there: In truth, the Bush administration had lost Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, not least because it started diverting huge assets to Iraq before accomplishing the mission of vanquishing Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. That decision makes us less safe to this very minute.

"Back in July last year, supporting more troops in Afghanistan was a sign of Barack Obama's strategic genius."

Maybe, but circumstances change, not least an election that may be fraudulent, undermining Karzai as a credible partner for the administration.

On a broader stage, Andrew Sullivan takes on the conservative view that "Obama -- or Obambi -- is, in their eyes, an arugula-eating surrender monkey. . . .

"Look at the moves of the first eight months. First off, Obama makes it clear that America is ready to talk if Iran is ready to deal. The Bush-era polarisation is defused, revealing to global opinion that it is Tehran, not Washington, that is the problem here. The Bush-style warnings are instead given by Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy, further underlining the fact that this is a global problem, not just an American one.

"Obama then goes to Cairo to deliver a speech rebranding the United States with the Muslim world. The following month the green revolution breaks out on the streets of Iran and, despite brutal suppression, the spell of theocracy is for ever smashed. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, and Ayatollah Khamenei, its supreme leader, are opposed now not only by the massive majority of Iranians, but by part of their own elite as well. . . .

"On Friday he reveals the existence of a second uranium enrichment site -- near the religious centre of Qom -- and proves that Tehran is a dishonest negotiator. And this time the storyline is not America versus Iran, but the world versus a deceptive dictator, clinging to power via a coup."

At the same time, U.S. officials knew about this plant for years and refrained from confronting Iran.

The overarching question, of course: Is Obama prepared to double down? Ross Douthat has his doubts:

"This kind of war may well be worth fighting. But it can only be prosecuted by a president who believes in it wholeheartedly.

"It will have to be sold to an American public battered by recession and weary of seven years of conflict.

"It will require rallying a Democratic Party whose support for sending more troops to Afghanistan -- the better to outhawk the Republicans -- has vanished with the Bush presidency. And it will need to be conducted with a constant eye not only on Iran, but on the fragile situation in Iraq, which has fallen out of the headlines but remains, even now, our most important military theater.

"In other words, fighting to win in Afghanistan will require that Obama become as much of a war president as his predecessor. And that's a role for which he has shown little appetite to date."

Missing the Chatter

Having argued that the MSM were slow on both Van Jones and ACORN, I noted with interest this column by NYT ombudsman Clark Hoyt:

"For days, as more videos were posted and government authorities rushed to distance themselves from Acorn, The Times stood still. Its slow reflexes -- closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser -- suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs. Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like The Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself."

Bill Keller has now named an opinion editor to monitor cable and online chatter. Great, but I'd argue that all reporters should plug in to that world.

Moore Cries Foul

There are two things that any author wants: to get booked on network shows, or, failing that, to get bumped from a network show and reap the resulting publicity. Mediaite is on the latest case:

"Michael Moore took to Twitter early Monday morning to report his first network cancellation in his tour to promote his controversial new film, Capitalism: A Love Story:

"Michael Moore on Twitter: 'Backlash Begins: CBS has cancelled (sic) me on its Mon. morning show. After I criticized ABC/Disney on GMA, they didn't want me to do same to CBS.' CBS, however, says he was never booked on the show.

"Background: Moore was on ABC's Good Morning America last week and called out ABC's practice of hiring 'permalancers' -- permanent freelancers who are essentially full-time workers but are on contract rather than salary, which means they don't get any of the benefits normally extended to employees. . . .

"Here's the statement from a CBS spokesperson: 'Michael Moore was never booked on The Early Show.' Full stop. So why did Moore tweet that then?"

Something about whether the "Early Show" did or didn't want to follow "GMA" -- a more benign explanation than Michael Moore's.

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