So, have you read any interesting stories about Mel Gibson lately? If so, has the word "traditionalist" made an appearance in these texts? I have a pretty thick research folder on Gibson packed with mainstream news coverage over the years, especially stories about the rise and fall of his marriage and his faith. The bottom line: This is one violent, stupid man when he is drinking and not going to confession. Unfortunately, there is also evidence that it's easier for him to get sober long enough to work (as in directing movies and acting) than it is for him to stay sober and live a moral, sane life as a husband and father.
The question of the day is this: What does any of this have to do with news coverage of this tragic story? And the follow-up question is more tricky: Is Gibson's faith (when he chooses to follow its teachings) a part of the problem or the solution?
Consider the following passage from The Catholic Herald over in the United Kingdom. Methinks this is what quite a few journalists are thinking at the moment:
Newspapers routinely refer to any Roman Catholic in the news as "a devout Catholic." They would not say that of Mel Gibson at the moment, however. Mad Mel is again in hot water for racism. This time it is not the Jews; it is (allegedly) the blacks (or n -- s as he allegedly calls them). He has also, according to reports, hit his (former) girlfriend, the Russian singer Oksana Grigorieva, and called her an expletive-deleted "pig in heat."
Just like a juiced up Irish-Australian-American, eh? ... You don't have to be a doctor to know that Mel is a man in the grip of galloping paranoia and sexual insecurity. He is a puritan who now regrets having departed from the straight and narrow, and is blaming his ex-girlfriend for his fall. He is like a lot of us, in other words. He is also a serious Catholic, however, and has sound liturgical instincts. Unfortunately, he cleaves to a paranoid traditionalism that seems to feed his demons (or at any rate does not destroy them). Maybe he should return to the mainstream, hand his Holy Family Church outside Malibu to some traditionalist group in communion with Rome.
Now, that's strong stuff. I would argue, after years of following the story, that Gibson's faith has actually helped him reign in his demons when he practices it. The big issue, it seems, is alcohol. However, the Herald piece seems to assume that his traditionalist guilt fuels the drinking and then that fuels the madness. In other words, Gibson is damned if he practices his faith and double-damned when he doesn't.
Now, the issue of whether it's good for Gibson to focus his devotion on a schismatic parish is another issue altogether but, frankly, I've never seen a significant amount of actual journalism about that subject. Has there been any? Yes, but not enough. In my humble opinion, the best piece on Gibson, ever, remains the classic Peter J. Boyer feature in The New Yorker entitled "The Jesus War." This is the kind of hot-button topic that requires the attention of a mainstream journalist as talented and fair-minded as Boyer.
But what are we looking for, in terms of journalistic content? What would bring light to this tragedy, rather than merely heat? For starters, I would like to know what Gibson has actually said about his failures as a husband, since he is well aware of Catholic teachings on that issue. What words have been spoken on the record? I know that Gibson has said the divorce was his fault -- period.
I think we will, in the end, see the "traditionalist" angle surface in MSM coverage, once again. For a hint at what that might look like, consider this Gustav Niebuhr post over at the strictly non-news "On Faith" site at the Washington Post. Never the end, there is this:
Indiscretions and worse often color the lives of Hollywood celebrities. But how many become notorious after making a globally-distributed testimony to their religious faith? O.K., the latest material is mainly allegations. But as it's presented in the news, the Gibson story eschews the typical conversion narrative, where the messy behavior comes first.
Ah, that misses the point. Key facts are missing.
Gibson was very, very messed up in the years before he got his act together and made "Braveheart" and "The Passion of the Christ." He was, well, a loud and stupid drunk who almost wrecked his family and his marriage. Then he got on the wagon and started going to confession -- daily, he said -- for quite some time. The wild behavior went away, as best anyone could tell.
Then he started drinking and raving and skirt-chasing, once again. At what point in that process did Gibson stop practicing his faith?
It is very hard to do solid reporting about events inside a confessional and inside the sacrament called marriage. At this point, I simply hope that journalists stop speculating and get back to looking at the timeline of this troubled man's life. Clearly the man knows that he is a master sinner. Perhaps the only valid question that can be asked is why he stopped repenting.
P.S. It goes without saying that the goal is to focus comments on the actual journalistic coverage of this controversial man and his on again, off again, faith -- as opposed to ranting about Gibson's rants.