Locked out of the Passion

OK, I understand the tensions between Mel Gibson and his hired guns, when it comes to relating to the secular news media in the months running up to the release of the final cut of his movie. I understand that he is trying a grassroots, faith-based initiative to get early ticket sales up and, thus, gain clout with nervous theater chains.

I know that all of the coverage of this film has been shaped by early coverage growing out of a leaked first draft of the script. The hostility meter soared in the New York Times, in particular, right from the get-go. Gibson is genuinely hated by the leaders of the Lifestyle Left.

But Icon is conducting a bizarre PR campaign in which thousands of people get to see the movie and hear the film's creators explain their views and their faith, while reporters -- those of us who have to quote people for a living -- are left totally on the sidelines.

Has this made the story go away? No way.

Has this made the coverage even more one-sided that it would have been otherwise? Amen.

Editor and Publisher recently did a piece allowing the religion-news specialists to sound off. They did so.

Here is a sample, quoting a traditional Christian who is a veteran on the beat:

Julia Duin, a religion reporter for The Washington Times, tells a bizarre tale of being invited to a screening at a church in Orlando, Fla., on Jan. 21 by Gibson's publicist. At the event, she says she was forced to sign a confidentiality agreement promising not to reveal anything about the film, was kicked out before the film started, and eventually snuck back in to view all but 25 minutes of the movie.

"Paranoia is a good adjective to describe it," she said of the experience. "I did not enjoy it." When asked about the film, she said it was "not very complimentary to the Jewish leaders of the time, but I didn't think it was anti-Semitic. I don't think you come away from it thinking that Jews are all bad for all time."

The agreement Duin had to sign stated that "'The Passion of the Christ,' is a work in progress, not yet ready for public scrutiny." It also required screeners to agree to "hold confidential my exposure, knowledge and opinions of the film and the question and answer session with Mr. Gibson."

The statement added that a media embargo for reviews and articles about the film's contents would be in effect until the week the film opens, but "pastors and church leaders are free to speak out in support of the movie and your opinions resulting from today's experience and exposure to this project."

Postscript: Many people have asked me to recommend one sweeping article that covers the whole "Passion" controversy landscape. That's a hard one. But "The Jesus War" from The New Yorker is the article that I think does the best job covering the various viewpoints in this media storm. Check it out.

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