There is an unusual aspect to Mel Gibson's award-winning lie, which was contained in his first abject (of three, and counting) apology for the drunken tirade he launched against Jews upon being stopped by police for driving while plastered. Gibson's unbelievable statement was not only his best course of action under the circumstances but one that absolutely nobody, including the ever-judgemental Ethics Scoreboard, could reasonably fault him for making. It was that rarity of rarities, the completely justifiable unconvincing lie. We may not see another in our lifetime.
To recap the remarkable set of circumstances that led to Gibson's unique achievement: when he was stopped for reckless driving in Malibu, Mad Mel exclaimed, among other things, "Fucking Jews! The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world!'' This is not a welcome sentiment from anyone, but especially not from someone who 1) has a father who is a professed Holocaust denier; 2) made a movie ("The Passion of the Christ") which offended many in the Jewish community; and 3) works in show business, a field in which Americans of Jewish ancestry are especially active. Mel, in other words, was in big trouble, and had to do something quick. Unfortunately, however, a mere apology, even an especially sincere one, wouldn't suffice, because this was not merely misconduct, but misconduct with implications. The implication of Gibson's rant was that he was an Anti-Semitic bigot. The overwhelming majority of Americans do not like or admire Anti-Semitic bigots, no matter how good they may be in the "Lethal Weapon" movies. So Mel said this, once he sobered up:
Not bad, and mostly true. Gibson is undoubtedly sorry he said what he did, and he clearly knows that being a bigot goes against his religion, just as he understands that Anti-Semitism has caused horrible consequences to the Jewish people and the world for centuries. On the key issue, however, Gibson was lying.
He is an Anti-Semite, and knows it. Sober, he has been smart and restrained enough not to act on his biases, for he knows they are unacceptable, and may even know they are irrational. Still, they are there, and alcohol loosened his inhibitions sufficiently that he expressed them.
Gibson was not "insane," nor was he suddenly possessed by Joseph Goebbels. He isn't Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hitler, a lover of all mankind transformed by a potion into a Jew-hating menace. Mel Gibson, actor, director and star holds Anti-Semitic beliefs, because people who do not have these beliefs don't suddenly start spewing them just because they've had one too many. Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg and Jimmy Carter are not going to suddenly become "insane" and start claiming that the Jews are responsible for all the wars, no matter how many Buds they knock down.
Lie though his denial of this was, Gibson could hardly could say otherwise. "Yes, I'm a bigot, and I'm sorry. I know this is unacceptable and I'm trying to control it" wasn't what anyone wanted to hear. For being an Anti-Semite, like being a racist, is such a shameful state of mind in 21st Century America that for someone to admit it is to demonstrate that he doesn't realize how bad it is. Indeed, the only people who openly admit that they are racists and Anti-Semites are the ones who are actually proud of their beliefs, like Klansmen and other white supremacy advocates who sometimes show up on daytime TV talk shows. Once Gibson actually admitted to being Anti-Semitic, he would never be trusted by the public again, no matter how many healing meetings he had with Jewish leaders and no matter how many pro-Jewish causes he supported and no matter how many productions of The Diary of Anne Frank he directed. His lie, however, gives him a chance for redemption.
Mel Gibson knows he is a bigot, but he also knows that it is unacceptable. His lie proves that. The lie wasn't merely transparent; it also told the public something they wanted and needed to know. If he ever recovers the trust of the public, Mel's lie, obvious as it was, will be part of the reason.