Polanski, Paterno, and the Press
If any one lesson was learned these past weeks from the Penn State scandal, it is that our progressive friends have not quite figured out what is right and what is wrong.
On November 5 of this year, for instance, the Huffington Post broke the news to its readers of former coach Jerry Sandusky's arrest for sexually assaulting minors. Appropriately, there was no irony in the article, no mirth.
"This is a case about a sexual predator who used his position within the university and community to repeatedly prey on young boys," Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly was quoted as saying.
A month earlier, however, the Huffington Post ran a piece by Regina Weinreich on the American premiere of the new Roman Polanski movie Carnage. Wrote Weinreich approvingly, "At Alice Tully Hall Friday night, where the movie opened the New York Film Festival, audiences cheered Polanski's credit, knowing that this master Academy Award-winning filmmaker would not attend."
At the Zurich Film Festival a few weeks earlier, which Polanski did attend, he received a ten-minute standing ovation and the lifetime achievement award. Although every sentient person in the film world knows why Polanski missed the New York event, pre-Penn State, they were clearly untroubled.
For the record, more than thirty years earlier, the diminutive director drove his Mercedes to LAX and left it in long-term parking -- very long-term. He had good reason for fleeing the country. He was going to prison if he didn't.
According to the grand jury testimony of Samantha Geimer, Polanski had approached her and her mom about taking photos of Samantha for a fashion magazine. Impressed and reassured by his celebrity, the mom agreed. After a couple of outdoor shoots, Polanski and the girl ended up alone at Jack Nicholson's house.
Wrote Polanski in his memoir, Roman, "I could sense a certain erotic tension between the two of us." At the time, Polanski was a worldly 43. Geimer was a thirteen-year-old seventh-grader.
At Nicholson's otherwise empty house, Polanski plied Geimer with champagne and had her take her blouse off for a shot in the jacuzzi. He then gave her a Quaalude. "Why did you take it?" asked the prosecutor. "I think I must have been pretty drunk, or else I wouldn't have," Geimer answered.
Now "kind of dizzy," Geimer still managed to resist Polanski's increasing demands. "I want to go home," she told him repeatedly. He would have none of it. Finally, he cornered her on a couch, put his head in her lap, and started performing "cuddliness" on her -- her word.
"I was going, 'No come on, stop it,' but I was afraid," Geimer continued. Lacking protection, Polanski sodomized the girl and climaxed therein. The testimony rings entirely true. Polanski pled guilty before fleeing and tells much the same story in Roman, though he remains shocked that "I should be sent to prison, my life and career ruined, for making love."
Given this attitude, the film world's Polanski fans have no reason to believe that he has stopped preying on young girls. Indeed, two years before the Geimer incident, he had an affair, such as it was, with 15-year-old Nastassja Kinski.
In 2003, 25 years to the month after fleeing the country, Polanski received a standing ovation in absentia for winning an Oscar for his Holocaust drama, The Pianist. At the time, Patrick Goldstein of The Los Angeles Times posed the question of whether "an artist's accomplishments should be judged against his misdeeds."
Goldstein used the word "misdeed" more than once to describe the child rape that had caused Polanski to flee the country. In the same article, actor Warren Beatty called the crime a "mistake."
Goldstein concluded that "we" always "forgive [artists] their transgressions" because, in the end, good art trumps bad behavior. Weinrich came to much the same conclusion in 2011. "At what point do we say, enough is enough?" she protested of Polanski's seeming persecution.
Weinrich was hardly alone in her indifference to Polanski's crimes. Two days before the premiere, Manohla Dargis reviewed Carnage for the New York Times. She observed, without irony, that Polanski "has a feel for domestic horror" but offered not a word of criticism about the horror he himself had wrought.
A month later, the Times editorialized in regard to Penn State, "No one connected to the university should feel anything but shame that the institutional leaders did so little to protect the children involved."
On October 3 of this year, the Wall Street Journal ran a celebratory article about the Carnage premiere. "Mr. Polanski, of course, isn't allowed in the States," wrote the Journal before citing a joke by Polanski's fellow director Paul Feig, "though maybe he's somewhere here disguised as an old woman."
A month later, the joking was over. Editorialized the Journal about Joe Paterno, " ... the coach fulfilled his legal obligation, but not his moral duty, to look after the well-being of that child and others who may have been victimized later."
The phrase "double standard" does not do justice to a media that can write approvingly of a slimy predator like Polanski and harshly of an otherwise decent man like Paterno who failed to react to a predator in his midst.
"Double standard," after all, implies that the media have any standards to begin with.