This article from the New York Times seeks to explain some of the support that Polanski has received, particularly from the French "intelligentsia" who have been prominent in calling for his release. The writer situates Polanski in a tradition almost of intellectuals who have committed terrible crimes and have been "forgiven" by polite society, including the philosopher Louis Althusser who murdered his wife in 1980.
France is a nation that worships aesthetes and philosophers, and some moral tension arises from this. Art and philosophy test boundaries. Artists demand their own social compass. Taken to its extreme, the argument implies that simply being an exceptional artist or intellectual can mitigate even criminal behavior.The writer is most definitely not seeking to defend Polanski and goes on to make the point that newspaper polls in Poland and France have found that "ordinary people" overwhelmingly say that Polanski should not be released.
The article finishes with a depressing story about a rock star who murdered his girlfriend in 2003 and whose supporters referred to his good politics (he apparently opposed the Iraq war) when defending him.
More than 70 percent of 30,000 respondents to an online poll by the right-leaning newspaper Le Figaro said Mr. Polanski should face justice. Hundreds of letters poured in to the magazine Le Point condemning the director’s defenders. One of them lambasted “the crypto-intelligentsia of our country,” which in France is something like the ultimate insult. The letters sounded like the bloggers and right-wing commentators in America who heaped scorn on Hollywood figures like Mr. Weinstein and Ms. Goldberg, who was parodied on “Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update Thursday,” just as Mr. Mitterrand had been on the French show. It was almost possible, from their comments, to think France and America were alike, after all.
I don't know much about France so I find it difficult to imagine how widespread and influential these views might be. I find it incomprehensible that a moral climate exists in parts of both the US and France in which people believe that such terrible crimes can be shrugged off as the forgivable transgressions of great men.