Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Spinning Mel Gibson's Relapse (1)

In case you’ve been on another planet, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies stopped actor/producer Mel Gibson’s Lexus at 2:36 a.m. last Friday going 87 in a 45 mph zone on the Malibu highway. Gibson had an open bottle of tequila on the front seat. He apparently attempted to escape, made anti-Semitic and obscene remarks, swung from the bars of his cell, and boasted that he owned Malibu and would f**k the arresting officers.

The story of Gibson’s DUI bust, first broken by the celeb-watch website tmz.com, scored more than four thousand hits in Google’s index to the world press. Gibson produced and directed the controversial religious blockbuster Passion of the Christ, which made him very rich. Many critics at the time objected to what they saw as the film’s anti-Semitic message. That background, plus the current Mideast conflagration, made Gibson’s drunken tirade newsworthy. After he sobered up and huddled with his agent and his PR people, Gibson issued an apology and checked himself into rehab.

When I entered “Mel Gibson Alcoholics Anonymous” in Google’s News search a moment ago, up came a mere 49 hits. ABC News reported that one of Gibson’s neighbors in Malibu, Chris Prentiss, said that “The center that I’ve heard he’s checked himself into follows the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program. And I don’t believe that will help him.” Prentiss owns a competing celebrity treatment center. The Chicago Sun-Times, the Philadelphia Daily News, and the Boston Globe carried the same bit.

The Los Angeles Times has so far been the only American print source to dig a little deeper. In a July 31 story, staff writers Robert Welkos and John Horn say, “One source said the star had already begun rehabilitation, noting that Gibson had long been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.” Source. In other words, it appears that Gibson is not just beginning to attend AA, he is a long time AA member experiencing a spectacular relapse.

Print media outside the U.S. have been much less delicate in handling Gibson’s long time AA membership. Compare the Glasgow Daily Record’s coverage:

Recovering alcoholic Gibson was stopped on Friday on suspicion of drink-driving on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California, near his luxury mansion.

The director and actor was allegedly driving at 87mph in a 45mph area. The Alcoholics Anonymous member had a bottle of tequila in his car.

The London Daily Mail details Gibson’s background and notes that Gibson already joined AA in 1991. Source. In other words, the current relapse — the paper says it is only the most recent of many — came after fifteen years of AA membership. The Adelaide Advertiser in Australia says flatly “that Gibson has been attending meetings of the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program since 1991.” Source. A dozen other Australian, British, Indian, Thai, and other world press sources consider it relevant and newsworthy to print Gibson’s long-time record of AA participation.

As a recovering alcoholic myself, my heart goes out to Mel Gibson in this relapse. I don’t share his politics or his religion, but I know what addiction is and I don’t wish relapse on anybody. I hope that with the benefits of 15 years of hindsight, Gibson stops repeating the same recovery experiment expecting different results, and finds a program that will work for him.

I also wish that the U.S. press would take a hint from the world press and stop treating AA like a sacred cow. When a long-time AA member in the public eye has a spectacular relapse, the person’s membership is relevant and newsworthy. People in recovery, the general public, and lifestyle gurus like Dr. Phil and Dear Abby should become aware that no recovery program is guaranteed, that they all have their failures, and that what the recovering person needs is choices.


PS Aug. 3: Today’s Google News search on “Mel Gibson Alcoholics Anonymous” yields 138 hits … but the spin in the U.S. Press continues.

Fox gives a perfect specimen of the pro-AA media whitewash with a story today that focuses on Gibson’s selection of outpatient rather than inpatient 12-step treatment. Fox’s writer issues the usual bland promotional yadda-yadda about AA and then quotes an “anonymous” AA spokesperson stating “We only say we have found a solution that works for many of us and we are happy to share information about it with any person interested in not drinking.” Source.

As if Gibson were a newcomer to the AA concept! Not a word in the Fox story about the fact that Gibson has been attending the Malibu AA meeting since 1991 and has been following the 12-step recovery path for 15 years. The “many of us” for whom the solution works, on the evidence, doesn’t include Mel G. Fox deserves a booby prize for shutting its eyes to the obvious. (The same story is now on the AP wire and the Washington Post, which ought to know better, ran it verbatim.)

Oh, and in case you were thinking that Mel G. was just a casual AA participant, sitting behind a pole in meetings and not really working the program, consider this letter printed in the London Telegraph:

A Scottish actor who worked on Braveheart once told a director friend of mine what it was like working with Mel Gibson. “He’s off his head,” alleged the actor. “We’d all be standing there in kilts and with blue woad painted on our faces, ready to do a shot, when suddenly Mel would announce to the Alcoholics Anonymous members among us - a healthy number - that we had to have a meeting. So there we would be, behind the catering van with painted faces, reading from the Big Book and sharing our experience. You know, ‘My name’s Mel and I’m an alcoholic,’ then we’d all go back to the set and get stuck into the English.” Source.

As if to prove that some of the UK press can be dumb, too, the London Daily Mail has a story today that plays along with the wink-wink nod-nod game from America: “According to U.S. reports, Gibson, a recovering alcoholic, will now embark on the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programme.” Source. Will now embark! Hello!

So far, the only U.S. print media source that is filling in the background of Mel G.’s AA membership, following the L.A. Times, is the Miami Herald, which on Aug. 2 wrote, “Gibson has been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous for years.” Source.

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