I commissioned veteran investigative journalist Allison Hope Weiner to write an opinion piece on how she evolved from critical reporting of Mel Gibson’s verbal indiscretions and into a friend who made a case for him being given another chance in Hollywood on the 10th anniversary of The Passion of The Christ. She dropped her objectivity for the first time in her career, and delivered a provocative opinion piece that garnered 870 comments, all over the map. After, some reports alleged she should have disclosed that Gibson’s Icon was a seed investor in Thelip.tv, an Internet company where she hosts two shows, and where Gibson’s son, Will, is a former employee. Deadline has evaluated the situation. I stand behind her piece completely, but we decided our readers deserve transparency. Had I known about this tie, I would have asked Allison to weave it into her piece. But I didn’t know, and so I have invited Allison to explain.
To me, the difference between perception and an actual conflict is key, and one every journalist faces from time to time. Back in 1999, I wrote a book about The Three Stooges and Gibson wrote the foreword. Later, he, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron turned it into an ABC telepic. The network made a deal with the Stooges estate (they owned the copyright), and I was paid a small fee as a consultant. Did I have a conflict editing this article? I don’t think so. If I have a soft spot for Gibson, it’s this: I was so profoundly moved by the depiction of suffering by Jesus Christ in his movie that I couldn’t speak for about an hour and when I could, I decided I didn’t want to be an estranged Catholic anymore. I began dragging my son, sister and my parents to the Bay Shore churchmy childhood church in Bay Shore for 8 AM mass each Sunday, and breakfast after. Not only was rekindling faith important, but my father isn’t here anymore and I got years of extra time with him. I don’t know if I could bear to watch it again, but by that mark, The Passion of the Christ had a more profound impact on my life than any movie I have ever seen and I believe a director that gifted should be able to make movies, even if the hurtful comments he said do reflect his personal beliefs. Should all this have disqualified me as editor? Again, I think not. It comes down to whether a potential conflict makes a writer shave words or soften blows to favor their subject. I have never done that with Gibson and neither did Allison, in my opinion. Her Thelip.tv disclosure wouldn’t have dampened my enthusiasm for a worthy, gutsy piece, but I most certainly would have disclosed it. So here is her explanation:
“I received a call over two years ago from Michael Lustig, who was starting up an internet channel that he’d named Thelip.tv and was looking for experienced journalists to host one of the shows on the channel. He’d gotten my name from his friend, Mel Gibson. Lustig, a former manager whose clients included Bryan Ferry and The Smashing Pumpkins between 1988 and 2003, proposed a show covering the media and asked if I might be interested in partnering with him. He explained that there would be no money, but I would get a financial stake in my show and share in its success. When he launched the venture, Icon Productions agreed to be a passive investor, an extension of his relationship with Icon. While I partnered with Lustig on my own show, I never had any dealings with Icon; I was not involved in the hiring of employees by Thelip.tv nor did I pay any of the employees who work for Lustig. That includes Will Gibson, who worked for Thelip.tv until he left last December.
I started my show in 2011 and I have never received any money from Mel Gibson or Icon for my work on the shows Media Mayhem or Crime Time. I am not an employee of Mr. Gibson nor of Icon. Furthermore, neither Icon Productions nor any third party have any control over what I do or say on either of my shows, which is part of the conceit of the shows and represents what I believe to be their intrinsic value. The suggestion that Mr. Gibson, or any third party, exercises influence over me or my shows is false. My shows aren’t editorially compromised by advertising or any other factors, and that is the hard truth.