With yet another rage-filled recording leaked today, most of Mel Gibson's conservative supporters are nowhere to be found. Rebecca Dana finds a few who still have his back. Plus, Tina Brown on more ugliness from Mel Gibson.
Conservative pundits and evangelical Christian leaders have always been Mel Gibson’s biggest apologists. But now, after the release of two damning tapes in which the blue-eyed misanthrope threatens violence against the mother of his child, they are almost uniformly silent.
While most of his base has deserted him, a few bold loyalists have risen to defend Gibson. Conservative pundit John Derbyshire, who defended the actor after his 2006 anti-Semitic tirade by saying, “The guy was drunk, for heaven’s sake,” said the latest incidents only make him feel more compassion.
These groups helped to drive record turnouts during the opening weekend of The Passion of the Christ, packing theaters and contributing to the movie’s staggering $612 million international box-office gross.
“Clearly Mel's a guy who's deeply unhappy some of the time and finds relationships with women difficult,” he told The Daily Beast in an email. “Still I'd maintain that ‘a guy who's deeply unhappy some of the time and finds relationships with women difficult’ describes a largish portion of male humanity—one in three at the very minimum. What's the fuss?” Derbyshire lays blame with Gibson’s ex, the object of two Gibson death threats in the second tape. “These tapes are like nude photographs taken without permission,” he wrote. “There oughta be a law. Oksana Grigorievna [sic] is a gold-digging tart.”
• Nicole LaPorte—Mel Gibson: Classic Batterer• More Mel Gibson Coverage From The Daily Beast• Tina Brown: More Ugliness from Mel Gibson Conservative blogger Doug Powers, writing on Michelle Malkin’s website offered a tepid defense last week, blasting William Morris Endeavor for dropping Gibson “because he used the ‘N-word’ in an unhinged privately recorded rant,” while keeping as clients a host of hip-hop stars, including Mary J. Blige.
But where are the rest of Gibson’s acolytes? Where is Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, who gave a full-throated defense of Gibson after that 2006 incident?
At the time, Dobson dismissed any notion that Gibson’s outburst might bear upon The Passion of the Christ, “one of the finest films of this era,” and released a statement saying, “Mel has apologized profusely for this incident, and there the matter should rest.”
After the second of Gibson ex Oksana Grigorieva’s audiotapes went online Monday, a representative of Focus on the Family declined to comment, as did representatives for Promise Keepers, the National Association of Evangelicals, and a host of other groups that came out strongly in support of Gibson around the release of The Passion of The Christ.
A spokeswoman for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network said she had no idea if Robertson, who called The Passion of The Christ a “deeply personal film,” would ever be in a position to comment on Gibson’s latest scandal. “I don’t even know if he knows about it,” she said.
Years ago, Robertson joined other prominent evangelical leaders in voicing support for Gibson, forming a united front to bat down concerns, largely from Jewish groups, about anti-Semitic themes in Gibson’s 2004 film chronicling the final hours and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Evangelical crusader Billy Graham met with Gibson twice in the run-up to the film’s release and declared himself convinced of the actor/producer’s “deep sincerity and great desire” to bring greater attention to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Their powers combined, these groups helped to drive record turnouts during the opening weekend of the film, packing theaters and contributing to the movie’s staggering $612 million international box office gross.
That was before some of Gibson’s most incendiary comments—including references to “wetbacks,” “a pack of n-----s,” “sugar tits” and the “f------ Jews”—but even then, he’d made an assortment of bigoted or disturbing public statements. In 2003, he said he wanted to kill New York Times columnist Frank Rich, who wrote an early article about The Passion of The Christ. “I want his intestines on a stick,” Gibson said. “I want to kill his dog.” In 2004, in response to questions about whether he believed the Holocaust had happened, Gibson told the New York Post, “Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps.” In a 2004 interview with New York City radio station WSNR, Gibson’s father Hutton questioned the logistics of killing 6 million Jews and said, “It’s all—maybe not all—fiction, but most of it is.” In the Post interview, Gibson said his father “taught me my faith…The man never lied to me in his life.”
Even in the mid 1990s, at the peak of his mainstream fame, when the charming Gibson of Gallipoli had grown into the rugged Gibson of Braveheart, the actor made a series of derisive comments about gay people in interviews, laughing about how “they take it up the ass,” and saying he’d “apologize when hell freezes over. They can f--- off.”
After the 2006 drunk-driving incident, a host of pundits rallied to Gibson's defense. On Fox News, David Horowitz said, “People deserve compassion when they’re in this kind of trouble.” In a press release, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, founder and president of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, called for Gibson’s detractors to “have compassion,” and said he was “sorry that Mel Gibson and his family are going through this difficult period.” A Fox News poll that summer reported that 80 percent of people surveyed said his comments about Jews would make no difference to them when it came to the decision to see a future Gibson film.
Gibson himself has yet to address the leaked tapes, in which he twice threatens to kill Grigorieva, the mother of his 8-month-old daughter Lucia, and says she “deserved” a recent incident she described, in which he hit her while she was holding the child, breaking Grigorieva’s teeth.
Perhaps all it’ll take is an apology to unleash another tide of sympathy from his old loyalists. Or perhaps, as Gibson says in the second tape, “So that’s why I’m so f------ angry, because I don’t have any friends!”
Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal, she has also written for The New York Times, the New York Observer, Rolling Stone, and Slate, among other publications.