Post editors should read their own columnists

A righteous attack on "Polanski apologists" ignores that two of its leading members are at the Washington Post.

Published October 1, 2009 10:02AM (EDT)

The Washington Post Editorial Page today lashes out at "Roman Polanski's apologists," a group it says is "typified by the comments of Swiss filmmaker Otto Weisser, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, film and TV celebrity Whoopi Goldberg" and includes "a number of Hollywood luminaries -- Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, David Lynch, to name but a few" as well as "European political and cultural authorities."   This hodgepodge of Limbaughian Demons -- Hollywood celebrities and decadent Europeans -- "don't let basic facts, or even simple decency for that matter, get in the way of their defense of this notorious director."

What a righteous stance.  For some reason, though, Fred Hiatt's brave editorial crusaders overlooked two of the most wretched defenders of Polanski:   their very own columnists.   The Post's Richard Cohen announced that "it’s alright with me if Roman Polanski is freed by the Swiss authorities" and disgustingly used the word "seduced" to minimize Polanski's act of child rape.  The Post's Anne Applebaum called Polanski's arrest "outrageous" and invoked virtually every defense scorned today by The Post Editors, and thereafter, when responding to critics, spouted outright falsehoods to suggest that the 13-year-old girl consented (while arguing that the real victim was Applebaum herself, who had to endure mean emails in response to her column).

How strange to watch Post editors stand tall in opposition to the easy targets of vapid celebrities and "the French" while steadfastly ignoring the equally twisted (at least) Polanski defenses coming right from their own Op-Ed backyard.  But the last thing that ought to be surprising is to find defenses of morally depraved acts on the Op-Ed page of the Post; that is, after all, its essence.

Notably, Cohen's opposition to Polanski's punishment ("it’s alright with me if Roman Polanski is freed") matches almost verbatim his similar defense of Casper Weinberger ("Cap, my Safeway buddy, walks, and that’s all right with me").  That, in turn, is entirely consistent with Cohen's outrage over Lewis Libby's prosecution for obstruction of justice ("As with sex or real estate, it is often best to keep the lights off") and his demand that Bush torturers and war criminals be similarly protected from consequences.  The opposition to Polanski's arrest by these Post columnists is, in one sense, merely a natural extension of their general view that criminal prosecution and prison is for the dirty masses but not for elites like themselves.

But more broadly, just look at the sort of things that are routinely defended by the Post Op-Ed team -- everything from torture, illegal eavesdropping and imprisonment with no trials to brutal Latin American dictators and unprovoked, devastating American military attacks on countries that haven't attacked us and aren't close to doing so.  As Scott Lemieux put it this week when noting that, until Applebaum's second Polanski posting, the competition for most repugnant Polanski defense had been a close call:  "Never count Fred Hiatt's crew out of any competition for the most immoral and fact-challenged argument!" 

For every brutal, lawless and amoral act, there is a defense of it to be found on the Washington Post Op-Ed page.  That's what makes it so unsurprising that two of Polanski's most ardent defenders are employed there.  It's nonetheless bizarre to watch their bosses pretend that such views are found only among easily demonized Hollywood celebrities and the European pseudo-intellectual class.  The Post Op-Ed page is Ground Zero for defending every corrupt and destructive act that plagues the country.  No defense of "basic facts, or even simple decency for that matter" is possible without targeting them first.  Washington has the hometown newspaper that perfectly reflects what it is.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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