Ron Radosh

Can We Still Trust Anne Applebaum? Her Irrational Defense of Polanski

By now, there have been scores of terrific comments on the Polanski controversy. But perhaps the best single line was offered on it by Jay Leno. “It’s not as if he committed a real crime,” Leno said, “like colorizing a black and white movie.”  That comment reveals the mindset of the Hollywood elite, for whom anal rape of a 13-year-old drugged with Quaaludes is something to be forgiven. This is especially true  when committed by a celebrated director whose status as a Holocaust survivor offers him lifetime protection from having to pay for his own criminal behavior.


The usually astute Anne Applebaum, whose columns on political matters and the crimes of Communism are second to none, also joined in on behalf of Polanski’s defense. Writing in a Washington Post blog, Applebaum offered the following unique set of defenses: First, there “is evidence of judicial misconduct.” Since she wrote that line, however, new information has been released that indicates the testimony offered in last year’s documentary about Polanski, which for many people proved judicial misconduct, has been withdrawn by the talking head, the L.A. prosecutor in charge of the Polanski judicial misconduct allegations.

An article by attorney Marcia Clark (of the O.J. prosecution) on The Daily Beast reveals that the former prosecutor, David Wells, lied on camera when he said he had advised the judge on what course to take in order to send Polanski back to prison. “It never happened,” Wells said, and that statement undermines the heart of Polanski’s legal appeal. Wells said the director told him to make that statement, that the film would never air in the United States, and that “it made a better story if I said I’d told the judge what to do.”

Second, Applebaum argues that Polanski has already paid for his crime in many ways. He did not know the girl’s real age (a great excuse that reveals only the stupidity of those who repeat it). He has legal fees. He has suffered “professional stigma” and cannot return to the United States. What great suffering! The man jet sets around the world, is lionized by his own community of film world acolytes — who hardly show that he has suffered any stigma at all — earns a fortune for widely acclaimed films, and we are supposed to now see him as a victim.

As for the fact that Polanski fled rather than return to court, Applebaum sees “mitigating circumstances.”  After all, the man feared “irrational punishment.”  Irrational punishment? A jail sentence for forced sodomy and rape? How horrible. This from the resident of a government — Poland — which just last week passed a law requiring forced chemical castration of all sex offenders who raped children under the age of 15! And yet that same government — including Applebaum’s husband, the Foreign Minister of Poland — is working on behalf of the campaign to free Polanski.


So what are the mitigating circumstances? She lists them: His mother died in Auschwitz, his father survived Mauthausen, he was orphaned in the Krakow ghetto and then lived in Communist Poland. All true. Her argument reminds me of those African Americans who applauded the jury nullification in the O.J. Simpson case, arguing that African Americans were oppressed for a century and many were lynched, and this was payback and proof that even if guilty, the accused had a right to go free because of the past history of oppression. Did Applebaum see “mitigating circumstances” in the O.J. trial outcome?

Third, she notes Polanski’s age: 76. Evidently the persecutors of the Gulag or the Nazi death camps, if still alive and caught living free for crimes they committed half a century ago, should also go free because of their age. Did she chastise the Israelis for catching Eichmann in Argentina and putting him on trial in Jerusalem? Does she believe that Germany should now release Ivan Demianiuk because the man claims he was wrongly identified, that he was only a guard forced to do what he was asked, and that he is now in his 80’s?

Finally, Applebaum says nothing about the horrible rape and mental and physical injury sustained by an innocent 13-year-old girl. She has young children who, I believe, are now close in age to the victim decades ago.  If her daughter were at a party and a famous film director appeared, drugged her, and raped her in a similar fashion, would Applebaum rush to his defense because he had suffered in the Holocaust and made good films? To ask the question is to answer it.


Yet, in a more recent blog, the columnist stands firm. She did not know when she wrote it that the Polish government her husband represents would be lobbying for Polanski’s release, and of course, she does not write on behalf of her husband or his government’s position. But she still maintains that the original rape was not “a straightforward and simple criminal case.” Evidently, she cites the known fact that the girl spoke to her mother on the phone, and her mother approved some of her behavior. This may be called the “bad mother” defense; she should have told her daughter to leave. Instead, she evidently was glad that the girl had achieved a welcome at the home of such major Hollywood luminaries including Jack Nicholson.

So, I am more upset that a columnist like Anne Applebaum has somehow lost her senses and her moral compass than that the Hollywood elite — whom we all expect to rally around one of their own — has joined in the ruckus to free Polanski. Does she not realize that these columns hurt her own calls for justice to those who suffered in the Gulag, and her understanding that for certain crimes, there is no statute of limitations?  Does she want her readers to take her seriously in the future?

We have come a long way from both morality and seriousness when an intellectual columnist like Anne Applebaum can write in defense of the indefensible. Now if only Polanski had agreed to colorizing his early black and white films. Then, perhaps, the auteurs would not have sprung so readily to his defense.


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