The Mel Gibson Tapes Tampering Saga: Is it news or is it exploitation?
OK, I'm just as fascinated with the Mel Gibson loony bin behavior saga as everyone else, but it's beginning to look like this story has jumped the shark, so to speak, in terms of actual real news value.
The not-so-shocking truth is that everyone is running Mel Gibson Rant Stories because they get ratings and readership wherever they appear. So I guess it's no surprise that Bonnie Fuller, the ex-US Weekly Svengali, had the brilliant idea of taking the story to the next level -- and generating tons of hits on her Hollywood Life website -- by ramping up a conspiracy-theory style "are those tapes really real?" angle.
As Chloe Melas somewhat breathlessly reports: "HollywoodLife.com can now EXCLUSIVELY confirm that [the Gibson tapes] are not 100% authentic. We spoke to Arlo West, CEO of Creative Forensic Services, best known for his work on the Natalee Holloway case, who reveals the audio rants between Mel and his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva have been tampered with."
The story contends that the tapes were professionally edited and made for distribution in order to help Oksana "entrap Gibson," complete with intentionally removed words and the use of a high-tech mike known as a large diaphragm microphone that sounds like a device right out of an "Austin Powers" movie.
The mainstream news media is taking this whole thing very seriously, or at least doing a good job or pretending to take it seriously, with ABC News, for example, doing a lengthy report on the subject, including an interview with Fuller and one of her forensic experts. ABC treats Fuller as if she were Seymour Hersh, even though if you go on her delightfully tacky, hot pink-colored Hollywood Life website, you'll find it overrun with such weighty fare as "Lamar Odom Warns Miles Austin -- Don't Hurt Kim or Else!," "Kelly Osbourne Dumps Cheating Jerk of a Fiance" and my personal favorite, "Woman With World's Biggest Breasts in Fight for Her Life."
That doesn't mean that her investigation into the authenticity of the Gibson rants is off base. Her audio experts sound persuasive. But so far, all they've managed to insinuate is that Oksana, who has charged Gibson with beating her and physically intimidating her, may have decided to get some help in recording some audio evidence of his abusive behavior. She certainly accomplished that, since once it was clear that she had actual tapes of Gibson in all his unhinged fury, there has been no serious effort by the Gibson camp to turn this into a she-said, he-said story.
It's possible that the tapes have been edited to cut out some inflammatory remarks by Oksana, but no one, not even Hollywood Life, is making the claim that Oksana actually baited Gibson into going off the deep end. It seems to be that, at worst, she got some help in recording their conversations. But that's exactly the problem with this latest new wrinkle in the Gibson saga. Now that we've gotten over our initial horror and exhausted all of the "How will this hurt Mel's career" stories -- like the one I wrote -- all we have left are the dregs, as in titillating revelations and revisionist "Was Mel entrapped?" style stories. And when you head down that road, you know, in terms of media infatuation with a celebrity-gone astray story, that you're getting close to the bottom of the barrel.
Photo: Mel Gibson and Oksana Grigorieva in February at the premiere of "Edge of Darkness." Credit: Jacques Brinon / Associated Press