NEW YORK—A critical comment by CBS-TV's Bryant Gumbel has turned out to a lethal weapon of sorts in the pro-life cause.
The comment on CBS' The Early Show came after actor Mel Gibson in an interview expressed his personal views against abortion and in favor of the death penalty.
“I was glad to see you ask him about it,” host Gumbel told the reporter, “because he's said some pretty outrageous things over the years.”
Gumbel's comment, construed to be a slight against Gibson's anti-abortion views, consequentially prompted dozens of protest calls to CBS, according to Pro-Life Infonet, which sends abortion news and information to about 10,500 e-mail subscribers daily.
Pro-Life Infonet spokesman Steven Ertelt said his organization wants Gumbel to apologize for treating Gibson's opposition to abortion as “this horrible view, as if he was spouting racism.”
“If you disagree, that's fine and good,” Ertelt said, “but you have to respect other people's opinions.”
Gumbel, host of the new morning news and variety program, made his comment after a taped interview with the star of “Lethal Weapon” and “Braveheart” aired on the show Nov. 1.
Though Gumbel didn't specify which opinions he was referring to, Pro-Life Infonet's Ertelt noted that Gibson had addressed his opposition to abortion and his support for capital punishment.
“I really think the pro-life one is what he was getting at,” Ertelt said of Gumbel.
Ertelt and his wife, Sally Winn, run Women and Children First, a nonprofit organization based in Helena, Mont., that sponsors Pro-Life Infonet. Ertelt is also executive director of Montana Right to Life. Winn is an activist with the National Pro-life Democrats Committee (see story on Page 1).
Ertelt noted that Gibson's longstanding opposition to abortion has been well-publicized, and is probably the best-known of the actor's political views.
The Early Show piece that aired anticipates a movie Gibson is shooting in South Carolina called The Patriot, about a farmer during the Revolutionary War.
During the piece the reporter, Mark McEwen, noted that Gibson's stances against abortion and for capital punishment are out of step with Hollywood, and he asked Gibson, “do you ever feel like you're howling in a hurricane?” according to a transcript of the show on the Media Research Center Web site.
“You have to have these opinions about things,” Gibson replied, according to a transcript on the CBS Web site. “I think I'm pretty firm on stuff like that … I don't feel like I'm howling in a hurricane. I just try and do my bit the way I think it should be done.”
After the taped piece ended, Gumbel, speaking live on the set of the show, praised McEwen for bringing up Gibson's views. “I was glad to see you ask him about it,” Gumbel told the reporter, “because he's said some pretty outrageous things over the years and nobody seems to ever call him on it. They kind of think, ‘Oh, that's cute, he's a movie star.’ But some of the stuff he's said is…”
McEwen jumped in and said: “Well, he speaks his mind, and if you ask him, he backs up everything that he's said.”
As the Register went to press, CBS spokesman Kelly Edwards had not responded to requests for comment. A spokesman for Alan Nierob, Gibson's publicist, declined comment on behalf of the actor.
Ertelt said he was alerted to the show by an e-mail newsletter from the Media Research Center, a group he said he has worked with in the past.
The Media Research Center, chaired by L. Brent Bozell III, is a media watchdog group that tapes and produces transcripts of national TV news shows. The organization has criticized Gumbel severely in recent weeks in anticipation of his new show, publishing examples of what it calls Gumbel's liberal bias. Gumbel has denied the charge.
According to the Media Research Center, when Gumbel appeared Oct. 30 on Tim Russert's self-titled television show on CNBC, Russert asked Gumbel if he finds it “hard holding your own views in check.”
Gumbel, speaking two days before the Gibson interview aired on The Early Show, replied: “You know what, in terms of my political views, I hold them in check. I don't think that someone who watches is inclined to think that I'm one way or the other.”
Gibson's own career has not been without controversy. Many of his movies rely on a blend of violence, sexuality and profanity that some viewers find inconsistent with Gibson's own real-life role as a family man.
In The Patriot, Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, the loving father of seven children. In real life, Gibson and his wife, Robyn, just became the parents of their seventh child, a boy.
Gibson said the new baby “came along 10 years after everybody else. You know? And it was a surprise, but a welcome one. I didn't think I'd enjoy it this much. … I'm savoring it, man. It's the best thing ever. It's great.”
Matt McDonald is based in Mashpee, Massachusetts.