Eugene Robinson on Roman Polanski, Chicago's Olympic Bid and Marion Barry

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, September 29, 2009; 1:00 PM

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, Sept. 29 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.

The transcript follows.


Eugene Robinson: Hello, everyone. Busy day today -- health care reform is reaching something of a showdown on the Hill, it appears. Today's column, though, was about something else -- Roman Polanski and the apologists who think he has suffered enough. I realize the overall quality of French food may not be what it was, and I know the winters in Paris can be gray and triste, but I'm glad they nabbed him and I hope he finally has to answer for his crime. The girl was 13, people. Not excusable, and not a close call. For me, at least. Let's get started.


Arlington, Va.: I'm no lawyer, nor am I am apologist for Roman Polanski, nor am I condoning his crime in any way whatsoever. But the one thing I wonder is, if the victim--the VICTIM!--is saying that his 30-year exile is punishment enough for her, then who are we to say otherwise?

Eugene Robinson: The victim is 45 years old, and if Polanski had sex with her today she would be capable of giving her consent. Her views now are irrelevant. When she was plied with alcohol and drugs by Polanski, and then raped, she was 13 -- and unable to give consent. I'm glad she overcame the trauma of the assault, but it was indeed traumatic -- and Polanski should have to answer for it.


Milwaukee: I encourage everyone to read the Polanski documents at The Smoking Gun. Before I looked at them, I thought that perhaps Polanski had simply been mistaken about the girl's age. But the documents make it clear that he was a predator, feeding a girl booze and quaaludes so he could rape her. Yuck.

Eugene Robinson: Yuck, indeed.


Baltimore: Hasn't he been punished enough?

Living in exile is no fun even in the South of France. Don't forget about the trauma he suffered losing his pregnant beautiful wife to a brutal murder. And what about the fact that the victim no longer wishes to prosecute? If Polanski hadn't pled guilty, there would be no case. I say he should revoke his guilty plea and see whether their prosecutor wishes to move forward.

Eugene Robinson: If anyone wants to send me to exile in the South of France, bring it on. The fact that Polanski himself had suffered a trauma gave him no right to traumatize -- to drug and rape -- a child. He has been convicted of the crime and I am confident that no judge will allow him to "revoke" or withdraw a guilty plea. His guilt has been established.


Columbia, S.C.: This is the only time I have agreed with you or found substantial merit in your opinion on an issue.

Eugene Robinson: Glad you were patient enough to wait until we found common ground.


Washington: Please understand that, as the Post itself has reported, Polanski was told by the prosecution that if he pled guilty they would recommend a sentence equal to the time he had already been in jail -- in other words that he could walk out free after sentencing. He agreed to plead guilty on that basis, did so, and then after the plea the judge, whom the Post itself described as a demon for publicity, indicated that he would ignore the prosecution's recommendation and sentence Polanski to a lot more time. That is not a pretty picture.

Eugene Robinson: This is not a unique occurrence. It happens. Judges are not bound to accept plea bargains. Usually they do, because it's a way to dispose of a case and clear the docket, but sometimes they don't. I know the judge has been described as a publicity hound, but if I were on the bench, and prosecutors brought me a deal in which a child rapist would be sentenced to just 42 days (already served) in prison, I'd ignore it too. If you don't intend to admit guilt, don't plead guilty.


Richmond, Va.: Whoopi Goldberg was apparently on "The View" (a paragon of hard-hitting news reporting to be sure) this morning and defended Polanski by claiming what he did does not constitute "rape-rape."

My question is, can we get a diagram explaining which types of rape are okay and which ones are "rape-rape" and thus illegal? I think it would go a long way towards clearing things up.

Eugene Robinson: I didn't see The View, so I don't know what Whoopi Goldberg said. But this was rape-rape by any standard, in my view. And I don't know what the other varieties of rape might be.


Lyon, France.: Hi guys,

I just wanna say that even if I'm French (and proud to be), I don't agree with the majority of my fellow citizens. According to me, Polanski is just a criminal. He has to get what he deserves. I'm not shocked at all.


Eugene Robinson: Merci.


Havre, Montana: What politics are being played with the timing of this event now? Polanski has a home in Switzerland and has been there off and on for years. Whose decision was it and why now after 3 decades?

Eugene Robinson: I'm not really sure, but I do know that Switzerland has been under enormous pressure over banking secrecy.


Washington, DC: I disagree with you on most issues, but am an avid reader of your columns and just want to say you're exactly right on the Polanski arrest. Keep up the good work, but hopefully we won't agree so much on the next column!

Eugene Robinson: I'll do my best to tick you off next time. Thanks for reading anyway.


McLean Va.: My question is: Are You Nuts? Everything you said about John Edwards is right on target. But the gratuitous benign characterization of Marion Barry as just a "rogue" or a good cad rather than a bad cad is a mind bender. Excuse me, but I don't find that a recidivist tax cheating junkie who uses my tax dollars to pay his whores is any less of a full slimebag than John Edwards. This may be the first time that I have ever disagreed with you, but, believe me, the disagreement is BIG TIME.

Eugene Robinson: You're referring to my recent column about John Edwards. My first job at The Post was covering Marion Barry. This was during his first term, and while he was no saint, he hadn't begun his full disintegration. I'm under no illusions about Barry's record, though I would argue that he did a lot to open doors for minority developers and foster Washington's real-estate boom (yes, often in a fiscally irresponsible way). He was one of the most charismatic politicians I've ever met, at any level. I know that people stole from the public till under his watch, but whatever he did, it wasn't for personal gain. He is a deeply, deeply flawed man who has a big heart.


Boston: Other arguments aside, what do you think is the social value of throwing this guy in jail after all these years? Deterrence? Warm-fuzzy feeling after taking revenge?

Eugene Robinson: We uphold the principle that raping a child is wrong and deserves punishment.


Dallas, Tex.: Mr. Robinson, Do you think President Obama should attempt to influence the Olympic site? I have great admiration for the president, however as one who thinks sports has become an obsession to many, and am happy to ignore the sports business, I wish he would focus on all the other issues.

Eugene Robinson: It is traditional for leaders -- of other countries -- to make the pitch in person for the Olympics. It is not traditional for our president to do so, and while I understand why President Obama would want to support his home town, I wonder if the gesture will prove counterproductive. I wonder how the IOC members will react. My guess is that Rio will get the games anyway.


Baltimore, Md.: Does the Washington Post restrict what you can and cannot say on the internet? I read that they imposed new limits on employees' Twitter and Facebook use recently. It seems just plain stupid to me to restrict something that potentially widens the company's internet presence like that. Omblog: Post Editor Ends Tweets as New Guidelines Are Issued

Eugene Robinson: We're just trying to find our way in the brave new world of social networking. It's a space in which dialog has to be more freewheeling and personal. At the same time, The Post needs to adhere to its core principles, and one of these is that news reporters and editors should basically keep their opinions -- especially about public issues -- to themselves. We expect our journalists not to participate actively in partisan politics, for example. That could be seen as a restriction on speech, but it comes with the job.


Stewartstown, Pa.: You seem to be confusing the U.S. justice system with "justice." They're not the same thing. Justice is a philosophical and moral concept, not a legal one. Just because a punishment is imposed by the legal system--whether in the U.S. or any other country--doesn't necessarily mean that the punishment reflects real justice. If Polanski should have automatically have submitted himself to the justice system here, even if he perceived the judge to be acting in bad faith, does that mean that a shoplifter in, say, Saudi Arabia should turn themselves in even if it means getting their hands cut off, just because that's the punishment for what they did in the country they did it in?

Eugene Robinson: If you want to take the debate to the philosophical plane, I would argue strenuously that shoplifting in Saudi Arabia is not equivalent to raping a child in Hollywood.


Sewickley, Pa: My husband and I donated, worked, and voted for change. So far this Congress doesn't seem to have gotten the memo. Solicitations from the DCCC go straight in the trash. It's not that we'll vote Republican but why give money to enable folks like Max Baucus? How do you see health care and the mid-terms playing out? If the economy is substantially better will that be enough for Dems to hold the House? If you can't govern with both houses and the executive branch what's the use? Call me depressed.

Eugene Robinson: Don't be depressed. I wish the Democrats were more organized and unified on health care, but to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to war with the Democratic Party you have, not the Democratic Party you wish you had. I believe a health-care reform bill will pass, though it won't satisfy everyone. Many people, like me, will probably feel it doesn't go nearly far enough. But passing something is infinitely better for the Democrats than passing nothing, and the eventual bill is likely to include some important reforms that we've been waiting decades to see. The economy is improving, we are told by the experts, and if the employment situation begins to look brighter, I think the Democrats will hold the House.


She forgave him...: But every crime is an offense against two interests: the victim and society. Living in a civilized society is a contract with your fellow citizens. We agree to follow the law in exchange for security and liberty.

Polanski raped a 13 year old, a horrid affront to that little girl. She has apparently forgiven him. He also broke his contract with his fellow citizens, and his debt to society is not paid. I hope it will be.

Eugene Robinson: Well said.


Rockville, Md.: "I know that people stole from the public till under his watch, but whatever he did, it wasn't for personal gain." Could you explain this, please? Are you saying that everything shady that Barry did was for the greater good and he was just a flawed man who made mistakes?

Eugene Robinson: I'm saying that in his early years as mayor, at least, Barry thought what he did was for the greater good. He also helped his political allies and punished his political opponents. He was a great politician, but ultimately he had little interest in the prosaic task of governing. He was more interested in feeding his own narcissism, and while he was off chasing women and drinking and doing drugs, others took advantage of their access to the public till. Barry ended up with no villa in the Dominican Republic, no bank account in the Caymans, no $90,000 in the freezer. He is, I think, a clinical narcissist -- he did it all for love, in the sense that he desperately needs to be loved. That's why I say he is deeply, deeply flawed.


Eugene Robinson: My time is up for today, folks. Thanks, and see you next week.


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