Mel Gibson and the Speed of Scandal

The Mel Gibson incident over the weekend demonstrates the incredibly fast pace of the news cycle in the Internet age.

Almost as stunning as Mel Gibson’s anti-Jewish tirade when arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in the early hours of last Friday was the speed at which the scandal unfolded, doing serious damage to one of Hollywood’s most valuable careers along the way.

In a little over 24 hours, Mr. Gibson’s arrest and subsequent behavior in Malibu had already prompted talk of a claimed cover-up, an exposé, worldwide news coverage, an apology and then a full-blown push for alcohol rehabilitation, even as his representatives and executives at the Walt Disney Company rushed to catch up with the event’s effect on the filmmaker’s movie and television projects with the company.

And this is a story that broke on a blog (albeit one owned by TimeWarner) on a Friday night. It is indeed breathtaking. And not entirely in a good way. While I’m pretty sure we’ve got the facts right in this case–Gibson’s camp isn’t really disputing the reports, merely the conclusions–the old saw that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on” has never been more true.

While Gibson’s anti-Semitic leanings have been suspected since the lead-up to his film “The Passion of the Christ,” with this incident lending instant credence to those preconceptions, the man has been a public figure for decades and generally well liked. Yet, within a couple of days we’re already getting major figures making statements about the incident more idiotic than those uttered by Gibson that night, all without the assistance of alcohol. We’ve had the Anti-Defamation League calling for criminal charges to be brought for “hate crimes” and now this:

“I don’t think he should be doing a film on the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who had previously criticized what he saw as anti-Semitic overtones in Mr. Gibson’s hit, “The Passion of the Christ.” “It would be like asking someone associated with the K.K.K. to do a movie on the African-American experience.”

So far as I’m aware, Gibson’s only offense is to get drunk and say some mean-spirited things. He has not terrorized a single person, let alone participated in lychings. To equate him with the Ku Klux Klan is outrageous.

UPDATE: In a side discussion in the comments below, I replied, “Frankly, lots of entertainers believe some repugnant, idiotic nonsense. For the most part, that doesn’t impact my ability to enjoy their work if I were predisposed to like it. Indeed, aside from Jane Fonda and Woody Allen, I can’t think of any off the top of my head that I essentially won’t see because of their off-screen behavior.”

Ann Althouse disagrees. In a post yesterday evening, with the plainspoken title ” Mel Gibson, you are discredited forever,” she wrote, “What artist has ever crashed like this? Not Michael Jackson. Not Woody Allen. Not O.J. Simpson. You’ve shown an evil heart and it changes the meaning of all of your artistic work. How horrible! How painful!”

Likewise, Christopher Hitchens believes, “[T]here was another touch of in vino veritas when he tearfully told the cops that “my life is f—ed,” and this inadvertent truth ought to be remembered in all charity as the last words we ever want to hear from him.” In fairness, Hitchens previously thought Gibson a “bad actor and worse director,” a view I don’t share.

Have we reached the point where adherence to a warped religious mindset and some spewed words of idiocy are more vile than double homicide, pedophilia, and incest? That seems so bizarre to me. I find Tom Cruise’s views borderline insane but have no trouble enjoying his movies. I find things Alec Baldwin has said while stone cold sober knowing he was on national television as offensive as anything Gibson said at that police station, yet I’m not going to burn my DVD of “Hunt for Red October.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Blogniscient says:

    Little Green Footballs | 7/31/2006 20:50:4 EU Referendum has an update on the Hizballah “rescue worker” in the green helmet, the guy who paraded around with children’s bodies f… [IMG Right] Mel Gibson and the Speed of Scandal

  2. legion says:

    While he’s certainly not as corrosive as the KKK, etc., I’m sick of people trying to let him off because

  3. James,

    Agreed. Even though the ADL has done some fine work, it’s worth remembering that they are a professional grievance organization. Given the dearth of escaped Nazis these days, every incident will likely be blown out of proportion.

  4. James, I agree with your larger point that equating him with the KKK is outrageous. But remember, Gibson was NOT drunk when he went on his tirade. His BAC was only .12. Three drinks in an hour or so – maybe?

  5. legion says:

    Um, James? I think there’s still some issues with the comment code. Lemme try again.

    Being drunk doesn’t make you say things you don’t believe – it makes you say things you ordinarily know you shouldn’t say out loud. It’s no excuse – instead of a bigot, he’s apparently an alcoholic bigot. How is that better? Actually, since he was being arrested for DUI, he’s an overtly dangerous alcoholic bigot. These are not mitigating factors.

    Let’s just do the worst possible thing we can do to a Hollywood star who’s gone off the deep end – ignore him.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Legion: I can’t see what happened on the comment there. Even in the edit window, it truncates right where it leaves off in the display. There’s not bad HTML or anything. Weird.

    Michael/Legion: The only sense in which I’m letting Gibson off for being drunk is the acknowledgment that he would likely have at least restrained from saying those idiotic things running around his head. Indeed, so far as I’m aware, he has manged to do so a little over 50 years, over half of those in the media spotlight.

    The ADL and Simon Weisenthal Center leaders, meanwhile, were completely sober so at least understood what the hell they were saying and were cognizant of the consequences.

    Frankly, lots of entertainers believe some repugnant, idiotic nonsense. For the most part, that doesn’t impact my ability to enjoy their work if I were predisposed to like it. Indeed, aside from Jane Fonda and Woody Allen, I can’t think of any off the top of my head that I essentially won’t see because of their off-screen behavior.

  7. Bithead says:

    James, agreed, all points.
    Prather’s points about the ADL being a

  8. madmatt says:

    The Passion wasn’t exactly a semitic love fest

  9. James Joyner says:

    Bithead: Did this thing eat your comments, too?

    Can you recall what the next words you typed were? Better yet, is the preview window still available to you? I’m curious as to what’s triggering the cut-off.

  10. legion says:

    Funky. It had looked fine in preview; just dropped when it showed up on the site. Looks like Bithead may have been hit by the same bug.

    And while I agree that the KKK comparison is a touch hyperbolic I can, to paraphrase Chris Rock,

  11. legion says:

    Dammit! Same problem! But this time, I copied the text first…

    Funky. It had looked fine in preview; just dropped when it showed up on the site. Looks like Bithead may have been hit by the same bug.

    And while I agree that the KKK comparison is a touch hyperbolic I can, to paraphrase Chris Rock,

  12. James Joyner says:

    Looks like it happened again. I’ve emailed Mark to see if he can figure out what the new bug is.

  13. legion says:

    OK, that’s just weird. Perhaps there’s some hidden character setting this off…

    Funky. It had looked fine in preview; just dropped when it showed up on the site. Looks like Bithead may have been hit by the same bug.

    And while I agree that the KKK comparison is a touch hyperbolic I can, to paraphrase Chris Rock,

  14. James Joyner says:

    can you repost just the deleted text and/or email it to me at drjjoynerATgmailDOT com? Trying to see if we can figure out what the trigger is.

  15. madmatt says:

    It rejected my comments when I used quote marks but let it thru once I removed them.

  16. legion says:

    OK, let’s try it without the quotes…
    Funky. It had looked fine in preview; just dropped when it showed up on the site. Looks like Bithead may have been hit by the same bug.

    And while I agree that the KKK comparison is a touch hyperbolic I can, to paraphrase Chris Rock, see how they got there.

    There should be some sort of corollary to the law of unintended consequences… perhaps the Law of Inappropriate Fame – People who are famous for one thing will use that fame as credibility in other, unrelated fields; they are invariably unqualified in these other fields.

    This sounds plausible… I think I used a quote in the first attempt at the top – good catch, madmatt.

  17. legion says:

    BINGO!

    And as long as it seems to be working, I think Ann Althouse goes even farther over the top than the ADL folks… Mel Gibson’s sad ranting are worse than Michael Jackson’s and OJ’s barely-dodged trials for pedophilia and murder?!? Dude. While I wouldn’t hire Mel as a babysitter, I at least wouldn’t worry about the kids’ physical safety with the guy… Unless he was driving them someplace 🙂

  18. James Joyner says:

    madmatt: Good deal. I’ve submitted the bug to my tech guys. Hopefully, they’ll get it fixed soon.

  19. Mel Gibson Overload…

    Just in case there is someone out there who hasn’t heard the news about Mel Gibson, here is a summary:
    Gibson’s Anti-Semitic Tirade — Alleged Cover Up
    TMZ has learned that Mel Gibson went on a rampage when he was arrested Friday on su…

  20. Anderson says:

    Have we reached the point where adherence to a warped religious mindset and some spewed words of idiocy are more vile than double homicide, pedophilia, and incest?

    No, but we weren’t discussing any celebrity killers, pedophiles, or incest-committers (gotta be a better word; “motherf–ker” is good but too narrow)? Or am I behind the curve on what Tom Cruise has been up to?

    Anti-semitism is pretty rotten stuff, at least since the Nazis gave it a bad name. Gibson deserves the heat he’s getting.

  21. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: Not that I’m aware of on Cruise. He’s got some views I consider off-the-way but, so far as I know, hasn’t done anything more morally reprehensible than divorce Nicole Kidman for no apparent reason and deprive their adopted children of a full-time father.

    I was referring to Althouse’s quote: “What artist has ever crashed like this? Not Michael Jackson. Not Woody Allen. Not O.J. Simpson.”

  22. jim says:

    I use a dual scale for performers and their statements. How much to I disagree [detest] with the statements [actions] and how much do I enjoy their work. Thus Gibson Jackson are out—no more Lethal Weapon reruns for me.
    Someone who is in—Charlie Sheen. He does over the top comedy well. His 911 views are also over the top.

  23. […] One wonders about the speed in which the news got out and if the murky details were true. But his desire to go public and apologize seems to dictate that the facts were indeed true. Time will tell both the impact on his career and if his apology carries any weight. Currently Mel’s passion would be to get through this as best as possible. Feedbacks on this entry via RSS 2.0 Please leave a Comment or discuss via Trackback! […]

  24. Anderson says:

    I was referring to Althouse’s quote: “What artist has ever crashed like this? Not Michael Jackson. Not Woody Allen. Not O.J. Simpson.”

    Ah so (“double homicide” was the clue there eh?). But pinning “incest” on Allen is a bit much. Wasn’t Soon-Yi Previn 22 or so when their relationship started? And Allen never adopted her, right?

  25. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: Technically true, although Allen was her adopted mother’s lover and presumably the closest thing she had to a father figure from when she was 9 or 10 years old. It’s not technically incest but it’s hardly less disturbing by virtue of his never having signed a piece of paper.