"The Swiss got it right," Cohen began his July 13 column. "Their refusal to extradite Roman Polanski to the United States on a 33-year-old sex charge is the proper denouement for this mess of a case." Washington Post political columnist Richard Cohen is so often wrong in his own area of expertise, and so clumsy at expressing himself (the satirical website Wonkette recognized him last year as "World's Worst Writer"), that one cringes to think what he might produce if he ventured into another realm -- say, celebrity justice. But venture he did this week in writing a "Thank you" column for Switzerland's decision not to extradite fugitive pedophile Roman Polanski.
"The Swiss got it right," Cohen began his July 13 column. "Their refusal to extradite Roman Polanski to the United States on a 33-year-old sex charge is the proper denouement for this mess of a case."
The twisted logic employed by Cohen is typical of people behind the informal Free Polanski Movement. They cannot help but acknowledge that what he did 33 years ago -- dope and sodomize a 13-year-old girl -- was wrong, but also claim that 33 years on the run is punishment enough, and that he himself was a victim of judicial malfeasance. Cohen's column denounces one of those arguments while promoting the other. It's the kind of tortured balancing act that earns dubious achievement awards.
Let's begin with Cohen's proclamation of a denouement. The word implies the completion of something. All that has been completed here is the Swiss government's months-long consideration of the U.S.'s extradition request and Polanski's confinement to his Swiss chalet. The 76-year-old filmmaker is free to return to his safe haven in France, but he remains a wanted man with an outstanding warrant. Los Angeles prosecutors say they aren't giving up on bringing him back to adjudicate his case.
In the first paragraph of Cohen's kiss-to-the-Swiss column, he repeats the non-sequitur excuse that Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer, has long since publicly forgiven him, which is true. But she did so after receiving a settlement from her successful civil suit against Polanski (no, the filmmaker didn't pay up on time, but Geimer's attorney told Larry King in an on-air interview that she'd finally received her money). I'm not saying the settlement is the reason for Geimer's statement of forgiveness; I am saying it shouldn't matter whether she forgives him or not. He jumped the lovely bones of a child and for the general sake of children, a predator's fate needs to be determined by law.
Cohen spends a good deal of his column agreeing with those of us who don't believe punishment for crimes should be mitigated by the achievements of those who commit them. After watching 'The Pianist,' which won Polanski a Best Director Oscar in 2002, Cohen "salutes" his genius and then compares him to another great artist, Ezra Pound, a pro-Fascist American "traitor and anti-Semite" who was given a poetry prize by the U.S. Library of Congress while imprisoned by Americans in post-World War II Italy.
As fellow filmmakers have done with Polanski, artists and intellectuals in Pound's day minimized his moral lapses on account of his great artistic accomplishments. But Pound spent the rest of his life in a mental institution where he used his long hours of solitude to write some of his most critically acclaimed poetry. Polanski has had to live in relative luxury in a shrunken world map. No more Hollywood lunches. No more photo shoots with underage girls. Poor guy.
Contrary to some Polanski supporters, Cohen says he doesn't cut the filmmaker any slack because of his experiences as a Jewish child fleeing the Holocaust, or for the suffering he endured because of the hideous murder his wife Sharon Tate by the Manson Family. That fact is that in 1977, Cohen says, Polanski was "not a successful human being."
It is at this point in his column when Cohen confirms the wisdom behind his Wonkette award. He repeats the unproven allegation that Polanski's judge was about to promote himself by reneging on a plea deal and sending the felon to jail "for a very long time." Cohen goes on: "It was this alleged -- but virtually proven -- miscarriage of justice that impressed the Swiss authorities and why they rejected the American request for extradition."
But that assumed virtually proven allegation is what leads Cohen to conclude that Polanski was a victim of a publicity-seeking judge and to declare that under the same circumstances he -- Cohen -- would have done the same thing. Really? Really? You're able to imagine being in the same circumstances as Polanski was?
After praising the Swiss and damning Polanski's judge, Cohen regains his moral footing in the last graph, saying that while what the Swiss did was good, the outcome -- dare I say, the denouement -- would have been better if at the same time they were rejecting the extradition request, the Swiss authorities had "denounced the many artists and intellectuals who haughtily dismissed what Polanski had done on the basis of his talent and achievements. They thought of his films; they should have thought of their daughters."
It took Cohen his entire column to get to the salient point of the Polanski saga, but he did get there. The persistence of the Los Angeles prosecutors is not about punishing a famous person who gave them the slip; it's about protecting children from sexual predators. Samantha Geimer has acknowledged being starstruck when she went with the then-43-year-old Polanski on a supposed photo shoot that ended up in Jack Nicholson's bed (Jack was away, so Roman could play). Her mother, who recklessly allowed her to go alone with Polanski, was also starstruck.
The argument could be made that, if anything, the punishment for celebrities committing crimes against children should be even stronger than those for run-of-the-mill perverts. The crimes are easier for them to commit and, as we have seen with Polanski, they're also more readily forgiven. At least by people who admire their genius and are offered convenient excuses.
I don't know what the judge in Polanski's case actually intended for him, but sending him to jail for "a very long time" seems about right to me.