THE PLANK OCTOBER 1, 2009
I didn't comment on Post columnist Anne Applebaum's first short web piece in defense of Roman Polanski. Among its many flaws, it claimed that there was "evidence" that Polanski believed the girl he statutorily raped was older (in fact, he stated under oath that he knew she was 13), and it failed to disclose that Applebaum's husband, Radoslaw Sikorski, is a Polish minister who, in his official role, was appealing to U.S. authorities to drop the proceedings against Polanski. But Applebaum's followup is really too much to ignore. She begins [her words indented, the commenter's in italics]:
Of all the many and unexpected responses I received to my four-paragraph blog post on Roman Polanski, two struck me as worthy of reaction. Here is the first, from an online comment:
Hey Ann Applebaum do you have a young daughter? How about I rape her??? Please, I just love raping little girls.
The comment, obviously, is repellent. But what's most striking is that this ugly idiocy is one of just two comments, out of several hundred, that Applebaum considers worthy of response. Many even-toned commenters made persuasive arguments against Applebaum's position. But instead of replying to any of them, she instead chose to address the most cretinous thug she could find, in what I can only read as an effort to make herself look reasonable by comparison.
The second comment she prints is a comparable example of defensive sifting, more subtle but arguably more disingenuous:
Here is the second, from a blogger:
Well, well. It turns out that Applebaum’s husband is a Polish politician who is currently actively lobbying for Polanski’s freedom. Seems that Applebaum did not mention that. Details here.
Well, well, it turns out that the person who wrote that works for the Los Angeles County district attorney, as he points out in an "update." Does that matter? No, of course not. One likes to assume that people who bother to write about a wide variety of things are sophisticated, that their views derive from many sources, and that they are not simply a mouthpiece for their organizations or their spouses.
I'll come to Applebaum's astonishing claim that clear, immediate conflicts of interest don't "matter" in a moment. But first, I'd like to note the care with which Applebaum chose this comment to respond to. The commenter in question is Patrick Frey, who blogs under the name Patterico, and does indeed work for the L.A. County District Attorney's office. As such, he offers the perfect foil: See, everyone has serious conflicts of interest they can't be bothered to disclose--even the very person criticizing Applebaum for failing to disclose a conflict of interest!
The problem is that Patterico was not the only commenter who noted Applebaum's conflict of interest, nor the first. Indeed, the comment immediately above Patterico's, which it is awfully difficult to imagine Applebaum did not see, took her to task for exactly the same conflict of interest. Instead of replying to this commenter (one "dhorton1", for those keeping track), Applebaum cherry-picked Patterico, whose argument she could undercut by accusing him of the same offense.
As for the offense itself, I find Applebaum's assertion that "of course" such conflicts of interest don't "matter" to be rather shocking. Do the editors at the Op Ed page take this view? Are they aware that Applebaum does? Obviously, writers' views "derive from many sources" and they are not merely "mouthpieces," but the idea that readers need not be made aware of the obvious biases they might have as a result of their jobs and/or familial connections is a remarkable one.
Applebaum goes on to claim that she didn't know of her husband's role in pushing for Polanski's release, which may well be true. (Though at the very least it seems it ought to have occurred to her that his eventual involvement would be a strong possibility.) She also declares "offensive" the notion that she is a "spokesman for my husband," which is no one's notion but her own, and a shameless attempt to suggest her critics must be motivated by sexism.
Applebaum concludes her item thus
[T]o all who imagine that the original incident at the heart of this story was a straightforward and simple criminal case, I recommend reading the transcript of the victim's testimony (here in two parts) -- including her descriptions of the telephone conversation she had with her mother from Polanski's house, asking permission to be photographed in Jack Nicholson's jacuzzi -- and not just the salacious bits.
I heartily concur with Applebaum's recommendation that readers take a look at the testimony themselves, though I doubt it will earn her many converts. Even the specific passage she cites (on page 17 of the first half of the testimony) does not say what she says it does: Yes, they call the girl's mother before Polanski ushers her into the jacuzzi (pausing to give her a quaalude first). But the testimony provides no evidence that the jacuzzi--or Polanski's intention to photograph her in it--were ever mentioned during the call. Rather it seems merely to have been to let the mother know that she would be home late. If anything, the fact that Polanski took the phone from the girl to speak to the mother himself suggests--to me, at least--just how clearly he was operating in loco parentis.
In any case, read the whole thing and, as Applebaum suggests, "not just the salacious bits": Note the way the girl is, according to her testimony, constantly trying to cover herself and Polanski is constantly telling her to undress further; the way she tries to put distance between them--in the jacuzzi, from room to room in the house--and he pursues her; the way she tells him "no" at every step, and repeatedly asks to go home, and he ignores her. Then decide for yourself if this was less than a "straightforward and simple criminal case."