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Margaret Wente

Roman Polanski, freedom fighter Add to ...

Thank God for Whoopi Goldberg. She stands up for artists who are persecuted by the state. When Roman Polanski was arrested this week - for fleeing sentencing after being convicted of having sex with a 13-year-old back in 1977 - Ms. Goldberg protested, "I know it wasn't rape-rape. It was something else but I don't believe it was rape-rape."

Mr. Polanski evidently used Quaaludes and champagne to drug an adolescent girl who wanted to be a movie star. He took photos of her topless, then had anal sex with her against her will. Ms. Goldberg did not explain the difference between that and rape-rape. Would it be rape-rape if the girl were 12? Would it be rape-rape if the man had been Mr. Polanski's plumber, instead of a rich and famous Hollywood director with a tragic past? Would it be rape-rape if the girl were Whoopi's daughter? Oh, never mind.

Thanks to Mr. Polanski's legions of defenders, we now know the real crime here is the rape-rape of artists' human rights. A hundred Hollywood big shots, including Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Pedro Almodovar and Woody Allen (insert sarcastic remark here) have struck a blow for those rights by signing a petition that demands the immediate release of the great man, who was arrested on his way to a film festival in Zurich. "By their extraterritorial nature, film festivals the world over have always permitted works to be shown and for filmmakers to present them freely and safely, even when certain states opposed this," it declares, as if filmmakers were Red Cross workers in war zones. Ominously, they warned that the arrest "opens the way for actions of which no one can know the effects."

In Zurich, the festival jury donned red badges reading "Free Polanski" and accused Switzerland of "philistine collusion." In France, the affair merely confirmed the intelligentsia's view of Americans as puritanical, intolerant rubes with a violent dislike of culture, sophistication and normal human sensuality.

Philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, a self-anointed expert on America, opined that at worst, Mr. Polanski may have "committed a youthful error." (After all, he was only 44 at the time.) Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand said, "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face." Jack Lang, a former culture minister, called it another example of the American justice system run amok. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said, "A man of such talent, recognized in the entire world, recognized especially in the country that arrested him - all this just isn't nice."

He can say that again! For 31 years, Mr. Polanski has been a fugitive from justice, forced to hide out at lovely homes in Gstaad and France. He fled after pleading guilty to having sex with a minor, part of a plea bargain that allowed him to avoid the more serious charges of rape and sodomy. The film world has treated him like a martyr, and points out that there were plenty of irregularities in the case's prosecution. Unfortunately for his apologists, there is also the sworn testimony of 13-year-old Samantha Geimer, just made public. It is harrowing. Perhaps they should read it.

Perhaps they also ought to read a revealing interview that Mr. Polanski gave to Martin Amis in 1979. It was unearthed this week by the Telegraph's Michael Deacon. "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!"

In other words, she is not the victim. He is.

Ms. Geimer has forgiven Mr. Polanski, and wants the case dropped because she's sick of being in the news. Anyone can sympathize with that. The reason not to drop the case is that what happened to her still happens to girls every day. And nobody, not even martyred film directors, should be above the law.

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