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Interview With Michael Medved, William Donohue

Aired August 4, 2003 - 20:44   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hollywood is buzzing about Mel Gibson's latest movie. Gibson co-directed and reportedly spent $25 million of his own money on "The Passion." It doesn't come out until next year, but critics are already labeling the movie as anti-Semitic and theologically inaccurate. One of those who has seen it is William Donohue, who is president of the Catholic League. Joining us from Seattle is film critic and former synagogue president Michael Medved.
Welcome, gentlemen.



ZAHN: First of all, William, you saw the film. You know that Mel Gibson has talked about "The Passion," supposing -- he has said is meant to be a film to inspire, not offend.

DONOHUE: Oh, I think that's...

ZAHN: Did it inspire you or did it offend you?

DONOHUE: It absolutely -- it's breathtaking. It's most overpowering dramatic representation of Christ's life I've ever seen in my life. The sentiment that you come away with is one of love and sacrifice. Anybody who watches this movie and has hatred in his heart is a disturbed human being who must have been that way before he or she had seen the movie.

Paul Lauer (ph) is partly Jewish. He is the marking representative for the movie. And he told me just a few hours ago that he wants to get the word out they are reaching out to Jewish people. They do want other Jews to see this. This is not true that he's just having a select group of people who might share his views. They are interested in dialogue, and they do not want to create tensions between Catholics and -- and Protestants and Jews. And I don't think that'll happen. After all, the people who have labeled this anti-Semitic are precisely the people who've not seen it! That I think is amazing!

ZAHN: Michael Medved, you've seen the film. Did you view it as anti-Semitic?

MEDVED: I did not. And I actually did find it deeply moving by a large margin of advantage. It's the finest adaptation ever in cinema of a biblical story because most biblical films, let's face it, have been laughable in the past. This is not laughable. It is a very serious and intense film. And I can just second what Bill Donohue said, which is I know personally that -- as somebody who is Jewish and committed and tries to live an orthodox live, they have reached out to me. They've reached out to a number of other Jewish leaders and scholars to try to get input on this movie. The one thing that they haven't done is to cooperate with people who preemptively attack their movie without even having seen it, based on a stolen script. And I must tell you, I am totally sympathetic with Mel Gibson on this. I mean, why should you suddenly be willing to work with people who have shown no good faith at all?

ZAHN: I see you nodding your head.

DONOHUE: Well, yes, because, look, his father, his elderly father has been maligned. They've impugned Gibson's character. They said that he's...


ZAHN: Now, explain to people who haven't been following this story.


ZAHN: His father is a member of a...

DONOHUE: A very traditionalist Catholic...

ZAHN: ... what you call it, conservative...

DONOHUE: Exactly.

ZAHN: ... Catholic sect.

DONOHUE: He's a man in his mid-80s. I mean, Mel Gibson has simply said himself that he doesn't share all of his father's sentiments on certain things. But people...

MEDVED: Yes. And basically, what Bill is talking about -- "The New York Times" back in March, before Mel had even finished the film, when he's still shooting it -- and it still isn't finished, by the way. He's still working on it. Back in March, "The New York Times" did a vicious and despicable article in which they tried to use guilt by association of the lowest kind to try to say that some fairly kooky ideas that Mel's father may hold were somehow associated with Mel, and therefore, this movie was part of a grand conspiracy. And it almost looked like a set-up job.

Mel is being attacked -- and this is laughable -- even in a recent article in "The New York Times," he's being attacked because he's a charitable guy who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money to build a church. I don't see what's wrong with that.

ZAHN: Plus $25 million on this film. DONOHUE: You know what really bothers me is that Paula Fredrikson (ph) is one of the Catholic scholars who was involved in this script, OK? She hasn't seen the movie. She has said that when the violence occurs after the movie comes out, he'll have to answer, Mel Gibson, to a higher source. There's not going to be any violence! There are always thugs in society. You have anti-Catholic bigots. You have Catholics who are bigoted against Jews. We understand that, and we denounce it.

But to say that this movie has a trace of deicide, the idea that -- that it's the Jews who killed Christ -- that's a despicable connotation. It's been condemned by the Catholic church. It's been condemned by Protestants. You can't watch this movie and come away with that.

This movie will blow people away. I think it's going to have a very positive effect in the long run. And it's irresponsible for people to accuse Mel Gibson of fomenting violence, particularly people who haven't even seen the movie.

ZAHN: Michael, could you see any way that someone would take the opposite point of view that Bill has described here after seeing the movie?

MEDVED: I think it would be...

ZAHN: You know, blaming the killing of Christ...

MEDVED: Look, I think it would be very...

ZAHN: ... on Jews.

MEDVED: ... tough. There was a fine piece that was published just a couple of days ago in "The Jewish Forward," which is one of the leading Jewish newspapers in the country, by an orthodox Jewish scholar named David Klinghoffer. And he made the point, attacking, just as Bill Donohue did, Paula Fredrikson's article -- she says, "when the violence occurs." The point is, Jews have real enemies. Americans have real enemies. I mean, there are people out there who mean us harm. Mel Gibson isn't one of them. And the people who mean us harm don't need to look at a movie to find a basis for anti- Semitism. If somebody wanted to sort of distort the movie, I would imagine they could use it in that basis.

But look, Mel has a problem. He has to be faithful to the Gospel sources that he's trying to use. And I think he has largely done that. The scholars who have reviewed this film, based on a stolen script, which Mel has changed 30 times since that script was even prepared, really are showing, it seems to me, bad faith and owe Mr. Gibson an apology, should meanwhile try to work constructively, if at all possible, to try to bring this together as a means of building those coalitions between Jews and Christians and Catholics and Protestants that have grown up in defense of American values and values of the family and that Bill Donohue is such a strong part of.

ZAHN: Well, Michael Medved, thank you for your view. Bill, I suppose you're not surprised by the reaction this has gotten in Hollywood.

DONOHUE: No. And you know...

ZAHN: Mel Gibson hasn't gotten a whole lot of support on this.

DONOHUE: No, but I just think that...


ZAHN: ... ten seconds.

DONOHUE: When the actual movie is shown -- the average American is a decent, fair-minded person of all faiths, and they will come to understand, as Michael Medved has said so eloquently, this is a movie of love and compassion and a movie of sacrifice and forgiveness.

ZAHN: You should go work for Mel Gibson.


DONOHUE: I'd love to! Hey, Mel, I'm for sale!

ZAHN: Bill Donohue, Michael Medved, thank you for your time tonight.


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