Day Two of ABC’s Polanski Coverage: ‘Hunted’ Director Subject to ‘Prosecutorial Obsession?’

ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday America continued to raise questions about the arrest of Roman Polanski in Europe, spinning the case as a "31 year-old prosecutorial obsession." According to reporter Nick Watt, the film director has "been hunted since 1978."

The network correspondent observed that Polanski, who is wanted for child rape and was detained in Switzerland, "has some powerful friends." He explained, "Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has released this statement. ‘We're calling on every filmmaker we can to help fix this terrible situation.’" Watt also featured a snippet of ex-child star Melissa Gilbert on The View: "I think [Polanski’s] tried to atone. I think the punishment at this point may be excessive." Actress Debra Winger fawned, "We stand by, awaiting his release and his next masterwork.

Now, ABC did include one clip of a critic of the filmmaker. Professor and child advocate Wendy Murphy asserted that the director should face justice and that "no matter how much you like the guy's movies, he did something really bad." Co-host Robin Roberts also asked Polanski’s agent, "What do you say to his critics, who say even though it's been three decades, that justice hasn't fully been served yet?"

At another point, however, she empathized, "I know you had a chance to talk Mr. Polanski's wife and his lawyers. What's his state of mind right now? How's he doing?" On Monday’s GMA, Sawyer deemed the arrest an "international incident." Roberts called it a an "international chess game" and Watts labeled it an "international row."

Certainly, the hosts and reporters of the ABC morning program seem to be finding more complexity and vagueness in this case of child rape than in many others. It’s odd that Sawyer would subjectively refer to the arrest as a "prosecutorial obsession." First off, Polanski was convicted of his crime. Secondly, a number of criminals have been apprehended long after their offenses. Many would call that justice.

A transcript of the September 29 segment, which aired at 7:13am EDT, follows:

7am tease

DIANE SAWYER: A 31 year-old prosecutorial obsession. How an ad on the internet led to Oscar winner Roman Polanski’s surprise arrest. As his lawyers have just filed a motion for his release. And his Hollywood agent joins us live.

7:13

SAWYER: And now, we go to the growing international debate over the arrest of Oscar-winning Director Roman Polanski. His attorneys say they will file a motion today asking for his release from a Swiss prison. And many of his Hollywood colleagues are coming to his defense as he fights extradition to California. ABC’s Nick Watt is in Zurich with the latest. Nick?

NICK WATT: Good morning, Diane. Well, Polanski's lawyers have just filed that petition demanding his release. But the judge said his decision could take a few weeks. Also this morning, we know a lot more about how this arrest went down. The Zurich Film Festival website was, in the end, Roman Polanski's downfall. Investigators in Los Angeles, noticed they were selling tickets to a Roman Polanski appearance, Sunday night. He was being given an award. Through diplomatic channels, the Swiss were asked to arrest him on arrival. And Polanski walked into the trap. He's been hunted since 1978 during visits to Canada, Germany, Brazil, Thailand and Israel. Twice, investigators thought he was headed for Britain. Twice, British cops were asked to arrest him. Twice, for whatever reason, he just didn't show up. Polanski, who admitted to having sex with a minor in 1977 before fleeing to France, has some powerful supporters. Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has released this statement. "We're calling on every filmmaker we can, to help fix this terrible situation." Debra Winger is on the judging panel of the Zurich Film Festival.

DEBRA WINGER: We stand by, awaiting his release and his next masterwork.

WATT: And, on The View.

MELISSA GILBERT: I think he’s tried to atone. I think the punishment at this point may be excessive.

WENDY MURPHY (Child advocate): It's really hard to understand why anyone wouldn't appreciate the need for a man who has basically admitted to raping a child, shouldn't be returned to this country to face justice. No matter how much time has passed. No matter how much you like the guy's movies, he did something really bad.

WATT: Now, last year, Polanski's lawyers applied to have all of the charges against him dropped. And suggested the D.A wasn’t really trying to track him down anyway. But that might have spurred investigators into action. And might have led them to Polanski's arrest. Robin?

ROBERTS: All right, Nick. Thank you. Going to try to get more answers now. We're joined by Roman Polanski's agent, Jeff Burr who joins us live from L.A. Jeff, thank you so much for getting up and joining us.

JEFF BERG (Roman Polanski’s agent): Good morning.

ROBERTS: Good morning to you. I know you had a chance to talk Mr. Polanski's wife and his lawyers. What's his state of mind right now? How's he doing?

BERG: Well, Roman, reportedly, is in a good state of mind. He's confident. I spoke to his defense lawyer in Zurich, and also to his wife, Emmanuelle, who said that his voice was strong. And he just is looking forward to moving this forward.

ROBERTS: Mr. Polanski has never tried to hide his travels. It's well-documented, moving around Europe and other places. Has a home there in Switzerland, where he's now being held. How surprised were you at the timing o this arrest?

BERG: Well, the timing is one of many cruel ironys that Roman has experienced in his life. He was invited by the Zurich festival to receive their life achievement award. There was going to be a retrospective for the past week. He was looking forward to this event. Roman was in Switzerland all summer. His comings and goings are easily trackable. He does not live in the shadows. He travels freely throughout most of Europe and has for the last 30 years. So, the fact that he was picked up seemed to have no real prior justification behind it because the district attorney's office, according to Roman's lawyers in Los Angeles, has indicated earlier on, that they had no desire to have him extradited.

ROBERTS: You heard at the end of Nick Watt's report, that he, in essence, kind of brought this on himself. His defense asking a lot of questions. And L.A. authorities, when they were said they were really trying to get him, and bring him to justice, that they took this kind of action. You think there's any truth to that?

BERG: No, I don't. The entire narrative surrounding this situation over the last 32 years has been wrought with complications, inconsistencies, including a violation of Roman's constitutional rights 32 years ago. This case has been plagued with prosecutorial and judicial misconduct. Even in an adversary situation, the prosecutor has a right to preserve and protect Roman's rights. That didn't occur. There were ex-parte communications between the district attorney's office and the judge. The judge is no longer alive. But the situation is well-documented in a movie that came out earlier this year, about Roman, called Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. And that's the topic of concern for all of us right now.

ROBERTS: Jeff, all that being said, and you've even said this, it was a serious crime. Even though it was 30-some years ago. What do you say to his critics, who say even though it's been three decades, that justice hasn't fully been served yet?

BERG: Roman and his attorneys, and I believe it has- Roman was incarcerated. Roman did time in a state prison. Was released. And there was an arrangement that would allow him to be freed. And the case was going to be dropped. And then, things suddenly changed. Roman got wind of that and left. But my feeling to his critics is, you have to look at a much more complex situation, surrounding this case. And that has to do with his fundamental rights.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org