NEAL CONAN, host:
Thirty-one years ago, film director Roman Polanski fled the United States. He faced the possibility of a long prison sentence after he pled guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl. Since then, the 76-year-old has lived in France, which does not extradite its citizens. He continued to work and direct. He even won an Oscar for "The Pianist." Then last week, Swiss authorities arrested him when he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award.
Following the arrest, supporters say it's an outrage to arrest a great artist so long after the fact. Others remind us that he confessed to a heinous crime and that no one should be above the law.
The Opinion Pages are overflowing. With that in mind, we'll read a range of opinions on the Polanski matter, and we want to hear from you. Between the anger at either end of the spectrum, is there room for nuance?
Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. And you can join the conversation at our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And here's an email we received from Sheryl(ph). Can we please agree to call what Roman Polanski did what it is? He's a child rapist. As a society, we appropriately do not believe that 13-year-olds can give consent. That time has passed and Polanski's art do not weigh anywhere near as heavily as the offense he committed and to which he pled guilty.
And this is - I have to say, that Steve Lopez over at The Los Angeles Times, after rereading the victim's testimony to the grand jury in the case, agrees with her. Question: Did you resist at that time? Answer: A little bit, but not really because - question: Because what? Answer: Because I was afraid of him. That's Roman Polanski's 13-year-old victim testifying before a grand jury about how the famous director forced himself on her at Jack Nicholson's Mulholland Drive home in March of 1977.
I'm reading this in the district attorney's office at the Los Angeles County Criminal Courts Building, digging through the Polanski file to refresh my memory of the infamous case and my blood pressure is rising. Is it because I'm the parent of a girl? Maybe that's part of it. But I wish the renowned legal scholars Harvey Weinstein and Debra Winger - to name just two of Polanski's defenders - were with me here now.
I'd like to invite Martin Scorsese as well, as long as - along with David Lynch, who put their names on the petition calling for Polanski to be freed immediately. What? Because he won an Oscar? Would they speak up for a sex offender who hadn't? To hear these people tell it, you'd think Polanski was the victim rather than a teenager. That again, Steve Lopez in the Los Angeles Times.
800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. Let's go first to Keith, Keith calling us from Tallahassee.
KEITH (Caller): Yeah. Thanks for taking my call. I watched a great documentary called "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired." And they really highlighted the corruption that the judge in the original case was just - seemed very corrupt and offered, from what I understand, a plea bargain, to which he reneged on it.
And in my opinion, Polanski just got caught up in a corrupt American legal justice system and just fled the country because - I mean, he just didn't have many options. I mean, he was seeing this, you know, judge, you know, go back and forth on him. And I just think that, you know, that it starts there. You know, that that's where the facts are. That's all we know about the case is what the facts are and…
CONAN: I just wanted to add, Keith. So you see Roman Polanski as the victim here, not the 13-year-old girl he raped?
KEITH: Well, I don't see - I don't - no. I think she's a victim too, but I think the victim is the justice system because we don't know what all the facts are. It was mishandled. I mean, they ought to go after the judge who was head of the case, who was in charge of making the plea bargain…
CONAN: The judge in the matter is - since died.
KEITH: Right. Right. But, I mean, you got to go back and you got to -give the guy a fair trial. It's obvious the facts in the case - if everybody looked at the facts in the case, the case would be like a hung jury and we would have to have a mistrial and we would have to get the facts out in public over again. And I think if you do that, the 13-year-old in the matter wouldn't press charges. She's already said that she wants the case drop.
KEITH: And so you don't have any case anymore.
CONAN: Well, a couple of issues. In fact, first of all, he's already pleaded guilty to a crime. He would also have to face trial for fleeing justice, for bolting out of the country to avoid being sentenced.
KEITH: Well, he - it's my understanding that he pleaded guilty because he was offered some sort of immunity, which was…
CONAN: That's up to the discretion of the court.
KEITH: …taken away from him. In my understanding, the judge offered him a plea bargain, and then at the last minute took it away from him. And Polanski is sitting there, you know, he's already given his plea, but yet, we - the justice system haven't done what we told him we'd do for him in exchange for that plea. So, in my opinion, the plea is irrelevant. You know, it's like the contract's broke if he doesn't get the immunity or whatever was offered in the original deal. (unintelligible)…
CONAN: All right, Keith. We're going to give another caller a chance, Keith.
CONAN: Thanks very much. Appreciate it. We'll also read this from Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post, who - she is married to the Polish foreign minister, a Polanski supporter. She called the arrest outrageous in the Washington Post online section. He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways, she wrote, in notoriety, in lawyer's fees, in professional stigma.
He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He still cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film. He can be blamed, that's true, for his original panicky decision to flee. But for this decision, I see mitigating circumstances, at least an understandable fear of irrational punishment.
Polanski's mother died in Auschwitz. His father survived Mauthausen. He himself survived the Krakow Ghetto and later emigrated from Communist Poland. His pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 by the followers of Charles Manson, though for a time Polanski himself was a suspect. Again, that from Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post.
And let's go next to Melanie, Melanie with us from Pawhuska in Oklahoma.
MELANIE (Caller): Hi there, Neal.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
MELANIE: Well, I'm a survivor of being molested as a child by my stepfather. And my brother and sister and I all lived through it and have survived fairly well. We are successful in our lives. We've all had successful relationships. One of the things that we each did as a young adult at different points was to come to the realization that this horrible thing happened to us, but it does not define who we are.
And I feel that if my stepfather could be prosecuted and put in jail for what he did to us, that I would say, absolutely, put him in jail. But I don't have the media looking at me all these years, like this 13-year-old and now grownup victim has.
And even though this happened to me during the late '60s, into the '70s, I still feel very strongly that if Roman Polanski got a 13-year-old girl drunk and had sex with her and then confessed to it, I don't see what the debate here is. I really don't. The man should be put in jail.
CONAN: Though many people say this is a great artist who has done magnificent work in the 30 years since this happened. It's a long time. Can we forgive and forget?
MELANIE: Well, you know, once a pedophile, always a pedophile. And yes, a 13-year-old girl might, to some, look like an adult woman - her genitalia has formed, her breasts are formed, she can have babies in a lot of instances. But that does not mean that it did not happen. And just because he's a successful artist - hey, I'm a successful artist. Does that mean that I don't get a speeding ticket if I'm cruising down the highway?
CONAN: Melanie, thanks for the call.
CONAN: In a dissenting opinion at the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson notes that though much has been made at the fact that Polanski's victim, now 45, says she no longer feels any anger toward him, those feelings now are irrelevant. What's important, Eugene Robinson wrote, is what she thought and felt at age 13 when the crime was committed. Those who argue that there's something unjust about Polanski's arrest are essentially accepting his argument that it's possible for a 13-year-old girl under the influence of alcohol and drugs to consent to sex with a man in his 40s. Or maybe his defenders are saying that drugging and raping a child is simply not such a big deal.
As far as I'm concerned, it's a huge deal. Even in France, it should be a big deal. This isn't about a genius who's being hounded for flouting society's high-bound conventions. It's about a rich and powerful man who used his fame and position to assault - in every sense, to violate - an innocent child, and it's about man who ran away rather than face the consequences of his actions before any sentence could be imposed. He absconded like a weasel to live a princely life in France. Again, that Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post. Let's go next to Elizabeth, Elizabeth calling from Fort Myers.
ELIZABETH (Caller): Yes. The reason I was calling - we have prisoners waiting to be cleared for DNA that served for 20 or 30 years in jail for a single rape, and what about them? And they say this guy suffered, what about the people that recently released, you know, they cleared through DNA, through those projects like Barry Scheck?
CONAN: Yeah, the Innocence Project, I think it's called.
ELIZABETH: What about them that are in jail for 20 years and then they don't even get any restitution when they come out? So it's just is very upsetting, all this support for this guy. When you think about people rotting away in prison, and this guy left the country, and it's okay…
CONAN: All right, Elizabeth…
ELIZABETH: …because he's an artist. Well, it's like when doctors protect other doctors when there's malpractice. That's how I look at it.
CONAN: Okay. Thank you very much for the call Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH: Okay, thanks.
CONAN: Let's go next - this is Bruce, Bruce with us from Fitchburg in Massachusetts.
BRUCE (Caller): Hi. Yeah. I do some, you know, online messaging and whatever on political message boards. And the tenor of what's on there is just, you know, outrageous. You know, they're making it out that, you know, he, I mean, it was like, he violently beat her, and, you know - it's just outrageous. And you can't even suggest, well, look, let's stick with the facts because - and I'm not a Polanski supporter, you know? I have two daughters of my own. And, you know, if something like that happen to my kids, I, you know, I probably want to take, you know, take the law on my own hands. But…
CONAN: Did you read the transcripts of the grand jury testimony in Steve Lopez's piece today?
BRUCE: Yes, I did. And, you know, I'm not saying what he did was okay. You know, like I said, I'm not supporting him. But, you know, I mean, you know, a 13-year-old can't give informed consent. But at the same time, you got to - talk rationally about it, anyway. And you can't even do that. If you try to say anything like that, then you're automatically supporting him, you know, you're in favor of pedophiles.
BRUCE: And it's just ridiculous.
CONAN: All right, Bruce. Thanks very much for the phone call.
CONAN: Bye-bye. By the way, we have links to all of the opinion piece we're citing today. You can find that roundup at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.
We're reading from opinion pieces and taking your phone calls and emails on the Roman Polanski controversy. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And this is Michael Wolff at Newser. He says there's only one motivation for the arrest of Roman Polanski: revenge. Prosecutors ignored Polanski for 30 years because it was a terrible case in which the prosecutor's office and the sitting judge, in the interest of getting publicity for themselves, had conducted themselves in all variety of dubious ways. But then, last year, a documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," came out detailing all this dubiousness. So the first motivation for going after Polanski now, as it so often is with prosecutors, is revenge. Polanski and this film makes the DA look bad.
The second is that the documentary reminded everybody that the L.A. prosecutor must be turning a blind eye to Polanski, wandering freely in Europe, hence the arrest now is the prosecutor covering his ass. The third is - and it's curiously the success of the documentary that made the L.A. prosecutors realize that the brand name significance of the case - press. The headlines now sweeping the world are the prosecutor's ultimate benefit. Many careers are suddenly advanced.
Let's go next to Scott, Scott calling from Sacramento.
SCOTT (Caller): Yeah. I just have a quick comment to make. I find it interesting that a guy like Michael Jackson, who was, you know, accused of molesting children twice once never went to trial and twice was acquitted, but people still were just outraged because they thought this pedophile was running around, you know, free. But yet Polanski actually confesses to raping a 13-year-old girl and people are saying it's been 30 years, let bygones be bygones. I just - I think that's absolutely outrageous.
CONAN: All right, Scott. Thank you.
SCOTT: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Paul, Paul with us from Saint Louis.
PAUL (Caller): Hi. My comment is that when he fled prosecution, he - the state became the victim. And he's had 30 years to either clean this mess up or game the system, and he's been just gaming the system, and now it's caught up with him. And that's my comment.
CONAN: And that's your comment. All right, Paul. Thanks very much.
This from Richard Cohen, also in The Washington Post, comes out in the middle, here. There are two extenuating circumstances in Polanski's case, he writes. The first is time. It has, after all, been over 30 years. Polanski, now 76, has been clean all that time - no crimes alleged, no crimes convicted. More importantly, his victim pleads his case. Geimer says, more or less, enough is enough. She does not excuse what Polanski did and does not forgive him for what he's done, but it is time for us all to move on. He made a terrible mistake, but he's paid for it, she said, some years back.
Time does not minimize the crime, which in its details is creepy, but jail would no longer serve a purpose. The victim and his victimizer are united. They both want clemency. The girl is now a woman, the man is now old, spending his dotage making fools of his champions, who cannot distinguish between sexual freedom and sexual assault. Let Polanski go, but first let me at him.
Again, that was Richard Cohen writing in The Washington Post.
Let's go next to Matt, Matt with us from Lebanon, Connecticut.
MATT (Caller): Hi. Good afternoon. Thank you for taking my phone call.
I just have to say, you know, besides the breakdown, the rhetoric at the end of the day - whether we're listening to, you know, an educated reporter or just a person, an average, everyday person on the street -at the end of the day, Mr. Polanski has to answer for what it is that he did. He has to pay society back in some way for the crime that he did. And at the end of the day, what he did was ply a 13-year-old girl with drugs and alcohol and had sex with her. And now it's time for him to answer for what it is that he did. That's number one.
But number two, let's not forget that the directors and the producers that have signed a document calling, you know, for all of this absurdity to end - yes, one of them was Martin Scorsese. But the other person that signed the document was one Mr. Woody Allen. And let's not forget what Mr. Allen did in having sex with his adopted daughter. So I don't think Mr. Polanski's case and the people that advocate for him as a genius really holds much water here.
CONAN: All right, Matt. Thank you very much for the call. Appreciate it. And we thank everybody who called and emailed. We apologize we did not have time to get all of you on.
At last word, the film director Roman Polanski's being held in a prison cell in Zurich. Legal experts in Switzerland say it's unlikely he will be released until his case is adjudicated and they make decisions on whether he will be extradited to the United States, partly because he's not a Swiss citizen and partly because, well, in the past, he fled jurisdiction once before to avoid serving a sentence.
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.