By Amy Ryan
Updated August 01, 2006 at 12:00 PM EDT

I’m not especially interested in what Gibsongate says about Mel himself. I met him once, interviewing him years ago at a press junket, where he hinted at a prankish fratboy sense of humor but was otherwise on his best behavior. I do not profess to know what is in his heart. But I am interested in everyone else’s reaction to this scandal, especially since his drunken outburst seems to have given plenty of bigots permission to come out from under their mossy rocks and post all over the Internet.

The situation raises a number of uncomfortable questions. Why the outrage now over Gibson’s anti-Semitic statements, when pundits and critics seemed willing to overlook or downplay such sentiments two years ago in The Passion of the Christ and in Gibson’s refusal in interviews at the time to disavow his father’s Holocaust-denial ideology? Why the outrage over his drunken, anti-Semitic outburst but not over his long history of homophobic statements made while he was sober? (Similarly, does anti-Semitism trump the sexism of his ”sugar t–s” remark or his dangerous drunk driving?) If showbiz power-brokers follow talent agent Ari Emanuel’s call to blackball Gibson, does that risk creating a backlash by seeming to prove the haters right about what happens when you run afoul of the supposed Hollywood cabal? (Already, ABC has scrapped Gibson’s planned Holocaust miniseries, though the network declined to link its move to Gibson’s scandal.) On the other hand, if Hollywood accepts Gibson’s apologies and agrees to continue working with him (see this statement from Disney exec Oren Aviv, who still plans to release Gibson’s Apocalypto on schedule in December), doesn’t that prove the cynics right that money trumps morality in Hollywood? Can an industry that’s forgiven Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and Victor Salva forgive Gibson? Finally, why didn’t the pals who partied with Gibson at a Malibu nightspot minutes before his arrest put him in a cab?

Fortunately, Gibson has addressed his demons by entering rehab on Monday and by issuing another apology on Tuesday that finally expresses explicit regret for his anti-Semitic remarks. He says he even wants to ”meet with leaders in the Jewish community, with whom I can have a one on one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing.” Whether or not this means Gibson’s heart really is in the right place, the new apology creates an opportunity for both Gibson and his detractors to save face. The sensitivity training Gibson seeks may be personally therapeutic, but to rehabilitate his career in the eyes of Americans who think he’s gone off the deep end, he’ll have to follow his own Via Dolorosa and make a contrition tour with stops along the usual stations (Leno, Oprah, Larry King). Maybe then, everyone can go back to work, and the haters can all crawl back into obscurity.

addCredit(“Mel Gibson: Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department/AP”)