Alex Massie

Roman Polanski’s Friends Should Probably Shut Up

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Director Roman Polanski attends Che Tempo Che Fa TV Show held at RAI Studios on November 23, 2008 in MIlan. Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images.

So, what about Roman Polanski, eh? Let me suggest that you can a) acknowledge that his arrest is scarcely an urgent priority, that b) there are questions to be asked about the original handling of the case, c) that the victim's desire to see the matter dropped is noteworthy, though not of great legal import and that d) Polanski is probably not a threat to the public.

Nonetheless, the rush to defend the film-maker has been nauseating. Consider Robert Harris's piece in the New York Times today:

I make no apology for feeling desperately sorry for him. The almost pornographic relish with which his critics are retelling the lurid details of the assault (strange behavior, one might think, for those who profess concern for the victim) makes it hard to consider the case rationally. Of course what happened cannot be excused, either legally or ethically.

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If Mr Polanski had fled the United States before negotiating his plea bargain the case, presumably, would remain open and his victim's desire that it be dropped after all this time would hold greater weight. That is, if the case had not begun there'd be some point, even if this too might be distasteful, in letting it lapse thirty years later. But it did begin and a guilty plea was entered and so all this is a question of completing unfinished business. That's all.

But apparently not. Mr Harris, for instance, says it is unfair to arrest Mr Polanski now because the authorities have not tried very hard to arrest him before. It would be interesting to know how many other cases, presumably not involving his friends, Mr Harris thinks should be dropped on account of police indigence or incompetence. Doubtless there are many.

Note too, Mr Harris's delicate use of the term "assault". If you must defend Mr Polanski, that defence would surely be more convincing if you at least acknowledged that he is guilty of drugging and then raping a thirteen year old girl.

Can you be friends with someone who's done something like that? Of course you can, but surely even Mr Polanski's friends can admit that, despite everything, there's still a reckoning to be made and that, even if one might be saddened by the prospect of seeing him finally serve his sentence, there's a sense in which justice demands that he do precisely that. And that justice delayed is still, in the end, justice.

Then again, Mr Harris is hardly the only one of the film-makers' friends who has embarrassed himself. Consider Whoopi Goldberg:

"I know it wasn't rape-rape. It was something else but I don't believe it was rape-rape. He went to jail and and when they let him out he was like, 'You know what, this guy's going to give me a hundred years in jail. I'm not staying.' So that's why he left."

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“If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But… f—ing, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to f— young girls. Juries want to f— young girls. Everyone wants to f— young girls!”

Which in turn means that, actually, no, one does not feel any great sorrow for him at all. And frankly, his friends should be big and brave enough to take this on the chin too, rather than flap around making excuses for conduct that, deep down, they must know was pretty much indefensible. For that matter, they might also consider the fact that the more they talk, the more damage they do their friend.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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