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Mel Gibson didn’t mean what he said

Don’t you get it? Mel Gibson is sorry, already. “I’ve apologized more than anyone I know,” the 50-year-old road warrior told Diane Sawyer Thursday morning in the first of two taped interviews on “Good Morning America.” “It’s getting old,” he said.

Well, maybe. Just a little bit. But remember Gibson has to inspire good faith in his public. His new movie, “Apocolypto,” comes out in December. And aside from a couple of press statements, this is the first time he discussed last summer’s infamous drunk driving arrest. As Sawyer reminded viewers, Gibson was pulled over for driving twice the legal speed limit, with an open bottle of tequila and a blood alcohol level half again over the legal limit.

As the interview began, Sawyer recounted the (Jewish) arresting officer’s report as Gibson gritted his teeth in a frozen smile. She reminded him that, as well as telling the officer he “owned” Malibu, Gibson launched into “a torrent of anti-Semitism” which included “expletive Jews,” “Are you a Jew?” and everyone’s favorite, “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” Once he arrived at the police station, Gibson snapped at a female officer, with “What are you looking at?” followed by a comment about her breasts.

Blue eyes wide and forehead crinkled, Gibson was the very picture of contrite as he explained to Sawyer, as he did in his press statements, that it was (but it wasn’t really) his fault. This must be something they’re teaching these days in Celebrity School. Just as Ashlee Simpson had gastrointestinal reflux disorder and Tom Cruise had his uncontainable love for Katie Holmes, Gibson reiterated that his own bad movie star behavior was caused by Old Demon Alcohol.

'That's not who I am'Yes, Gibson agreed with Sawyer, what he said to the police officers was horrible. “Oh yeah, absolutely, it sounds horrible,” he said. “I’m ashamed of that. That came out of my mouth, but I’m not that. That’s not who I am.”

Gibson has battled alcoholism for years. He was first arrested for drunk driving in the early 80s and he later joined Alcoholics Anonymous. On July 28, the day of his arrest, apparently the battle raged again. As Gibson dramatically described (dramatic as if from a script), “Years go by, you’re fine. And then all of a sudden in a heartbeat, in an instant, on an impulse, somebody shoves a glass of Mescal in front of our nose and says, ‘It’s from Oaxaca.’ ” Miming a glass to his mouth and emitting a huffing sound, the actor continued. “And it’s burning its way through your esophagus, and you go, “oh man, what did I do that for? I can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

Apparently, you can’t put tequila back in the bottle either, but does that make you anti-Semitic? A lot of critics in the blogoshere — some medical doctors, some who’ve just had the experience of being really drunk — describe alcohol as a “truth serum.” It can’t make you say what you’re not thinking. When asked about that opinion, Gibson broke out his vocabulary. “That’s patently false,” he told Sawyer. “Alcohol loosens our tongue and makes you act, say, and behave in a way that is not you.”

Still, it wasn’t the first time Sawyer grilled Gibson regarding his alleged anti-Semitism. The topic was broached (and denied) in a 2004 GMA interview regarding the controversy surrounding his film, “The Passion of The Christ.”

“The Passion” wasn’t mentioned in Thursday’s interview segment, and another area of Gibson’s past intolerance was also absent. In fact, for all the hand wringing and surprise over Gibson in the wake of his bizarre traffic stop rant, why hasn’t anyone mentioned his homophobic ramblings of the early 90s?

History of controversial commentsSeriously, does no one remember the fallout from his derisive comments in a Spanish magazine interview, and his refusal to apologize? Gay rights organizations were furious over his homosexual sex rant and his response when asked about his fear that as an actor, people would think he was gay. “Do I sound like a homosexual?” he said in the interview. “Do I talk like them? Do I move like them? I think not.”

Gibson didn’t go so far as to blame gays and lesbians of all the wars in the world, but he did provide a peek into his rich supply of stereotypical beliefs. And for all his recent claims that his bigoted behavior was driven by alcohol alone, when arrested, he did have the wherewithal to remember his personal grooming once it was time for the mug shot.

“The first thing that went through my mind was like, Nick Nolte’s photograph,” he said, as the screen cut to Nolte’s Sasquach-like arrest photo. Knowing the image would be broadcast all over the world, Gibson said he finger-combed his hair and splashed water on his face at the water fountain, all so he wouldn’t, “take one of those hideous mug shots.” At least we know now why his photo is so shiny. “Vanity won out.”

Gibson, now two-months sober, says he sees this scandal as a blessing. “I got stopped before I did any damage to anyone else, I didn’t hurt myself,” he said. “Sometimes you need a cold bucket of water in the face to snap too.” Or prepare for your mug shot.

Helen Popkin lives in New York and is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.

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