04/07/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Mayor of Malibu Rides Again

Apparently the sensitivity training classes didn't take.

You'd think that Mel Gibson, the self-proclaimed Mayor of Malibu, would have learned a thing or two about making himself a public spectacle. But there he is again, showing the world how to make oneself look like a fool without really trying.

Mr. Gibson is starring in his first movie since his widely-publicized drunken, anti-Semitic and later misogynistic rant. And so he's now making the PR rounds, doing satellite video interviews around the country. One of those took place on Wednesday in Chicago, with a long-time film critic and entertainment reporter for WGN radio and TV, Dean Richards.

I've listened to Dean Richards over the past decade or so. He always comes across as a low-key, nice guy. Generally positive, but a reporter at heart, not someone who just phones in a puff piece to suck up to the stars, no matter how good-natured Richards is.

Now, let's pause a moment here. Let's say you were a professional journalist (not a fanboy), and you were interviewing Mel Gibson. And it was his first starring role in four years. What question would at least be on your mind?

Okay, you and Dean Richards and me are all on the same page.

The questions Richards asked admittedly weren't puffery, yet were profoundly polite. And reasonable. As it turns out, though, Mel Gibson didn't think so. Mel Gibson apparently thought that the world has tunnel vision, no memory and an obligation to suck up starry-eyed to the Mayor of Malibu.

But Dean Richards nonetheless asked "the" question. And the thing is, he even told Mr. Gibson's representatives that he'd ask about it. Indeed, he said it was the only condition under which he'd do the interview. All above board. Honest, fair. And the PR reps agreed. Whether they told Gibson is uncertain -- but it's hard to imagine a PR person not telling Mel Gibson that the interviewer he was about to talk to insisted on asking about the actor's drunken, anti-Semitic, misogynistic rant. (At least it's hard to imagine if they wanted to keep their job.) But let's even assume they unbelievably didn't tell him. How in the world could Mel Gibson not expect that someone would? Out of all the countless interviews he was doing.

How could Mel Gibson not be prepared with an answer?! Prepared either because his PR representative helped him or prepared because he's an adult human being? Any answer. Even prepared with a polite, but blunt, "I don't want to talk about that here." Yet what's shocking is that Mel Gibson appears completely unprepared, almost bewildered that someone would actually ask him about his drunken, anti-Semitic, misogynistic rant. Pretending at first that he doesn't even know what Dean Richards is referring to.

When he finally acknowledges that, aha, he does understand what Dean Richards is talking about, he dismisses it as having done his "mea culpas four years ago."

Gee, it was four years ago. That's ages ago. Four whole years, wow. In base two, that's 100 years. Who would ever think of bringing it up? Never mind that this is his first starring movie since then, and the first chance any reporter has had a chance to ask him. No, he did his "mea culpas."

What Mr. Gibson clearly has not realized, among his "mea culpas," is that this isn't like NY Jets coach Rex Ryan flipping the bird in public the other day, apologizing for a rude act and getting fined by his team. This had been a drunken, anti-Semitic, misogynistic rant. If Mel Gibson had an alcoholism problem, that's not something that goes away by doing your "mea culpas." It's a one-day-at-a-time, lifetime thing. If you're anti-Semitic and misogynistic, that's a character flaw, not a momentary lapse in judgment. A mea culpa is only the first step that recognizes you've made a terrible mistake. It doesn't correct the flaw. For all one knows, after a passage of time, you still believe that way, or you're pissed off at others for having to humble yourself in public. Given the life issues that arose, it's reasonable to think there are demons in your life that are continually being dealt with. And part of contrition is recognizing that battle always -- not just for yourself, but just as importantly in addressing it for others to get over. But even forgetting all that, even if your "mea culpas" four years ago ended the matter for you, it doesn't answer how much of the audience has accepted it all. And that's part of what Dean Richards is reasonably asking, as well. But Mel Gibson doesn't like that.

Should Mel Gibson still have to be apologizing for his drunken, anti-Semitic, misogynistic rant? He should always have to apologize for it. Why should he ever stop? Unless he doesn't feel sorry. That doesn't mean every apology has to be dropping to his knees and tearing at his heart. But a basic, "Yes, it was awful. I hope others have learned from my regret, too. And part of that is growing from it, and moving on." Pretty easy. Pretty basic.

And at the very least you should be prepared to say that The First Time You've Made a Movie Since Your Drunken, Anti-Semitic, Misogynistic Rant.

I understand that Mel Gibson doesn't want to talk about it. Who would? (Unless you want to help others.) I understand that he just wants to talk about his movie, and ignore the elephant in the room. But those are the rules of life: just because you're a Big Star and want to talk about one thing only doesn't mean all other must kow-tow to you. If you don't want to risk talking about something others might feel is still important, even a whopping four years later, don't sit in front of a camera. And if you do choose to sit there -- geez, prepare yourself.

But it gets even worse. It's amazing that a PR person didn't say, "That might be a Dr. Pepper in your cup, Mel, but don't hold it on camera because everyone will think it's beer."

Maybe someone did tell him, and Mr. Gibson didn't care. Maybe it was beer and he actually was drunk. Maybe...whatever. It's just stupid, though. This is a PR appearance, and so how you come across promoting yourself is the whole point.

At the very end, Mel Gibson makes a comment that has gotten the most attention. Later, Gibson claimed in a text message to another reporter that he wasn't referring to Dean Richards at all, but to his press rep who had been making faces at him. Faces? What, a junior birdman cross-eyed expression to crack his client up during a time of on-air controversy? Or perhaps a wide-eyed, hands over his cringing face, "What in God's name are you doing, Mel?!" look? Or -- maybe it was meant for Dean Richards.

The thing is, last comment aside, even it wasn't said, the whole interview before that is bad enough. It's rambling and embarrassing for Mel Gibson, who had to have known better. How could he not? Ricky Gervais introduced him on live TV only weeks earlier at the Golden Globes with a joke about Gibson's drinking problem. And out he walked with a smile on his face. But when Dean Richards raised the issue, there was a befuddled, angry Mel Gibson.

Mr. Richards has been gracious and said he's fine with the whole thing. But then, he's not the one hoping the public will forget his drunken, anti-Semitic, misogynistic rant.

This one isn't a rant. It's just churlish. And raises the question how much Mel Gibson's "mea culpas" actually meant to him. It doesn't appear like a whole lot.