Oliver Stone has apologized for his anti-Semitic rant, but is the damage already done?

The Big Picture

It’s such a quintessentially American thing to do that I’m surprised that someone hasn’t already engraved it on our $20 bills: If you shoot off your mouth and hurl stupid insults at innocent people, the best thing to do is to apologize as quickly as possible. It’s why Oliver Stone isn’t going to become Mel Gibson, even though Stone’s crackpot remarks about the “Jewish domination of the media” and the Holocaust sounded just as bad as anything Gibson said in his infamous drunken rant about the Jews after he was picked up by Malibu police for drunken driving.

I know this is going to be portrayed as yet another example of the terrible double standard in Hollywood, where lefties can say whatever they want and get away with it while conservatives are pilloried and symbolically burned at the stake. Or as Big Hollywood’s John Nolte so succinctly put it: “Don’t expect Oliver Stone to get the Mel Gibson treatment. Gibson’s sin against Hollywood was producing ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ not the vile things that came out of his mouth. After all, this is the same industry that honors, continues to work with, and defends fugitive child rapist Roman Polanski. As long as your politics are in order, no ‘Jewish domination of the media’ comments can hurt you.”

That’s the right wing mantra about the way the media handles these outbursts, which is filled with some considerable irony, since Big Hollywood is run by Andrew Breitbart, the mischievous conservative bomb thrower who ignited the Shirley Sherrod media conflagration last week by putting up an edited tape of a speech she’d given, which made it appear that she was a racist. Of course, when seen in its entirety, the tape showed the exact opposite. By then, Sherrod had been forced to resign. After the unedited tape surfaced, Sherrod was deluged with contrite apologies from everyone from the White House, the NAACP and the Secretary of Agriculture to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who’d been among the first to call for her firing.

So where does this leave Oliver Stone? First off, unlike Gibson, who took forever to issue a weak apology for his anti-Semitic rant -- and still hasn’t apologized for more recent racist, misogynistic ravings reported to have been made to the mother of his young child -- Stone issued a quick, forceful apology. He said very clearly that “Jews obviously do not control media or any other industry,” adding that the Holocaust was indeed an “atrocity.” Has he really changed his views overnight? Perhaps not. But sincerity is hard to measure, especially in show business.

I don’t know how it works anywhere else, but in America, if you apologize with speed and sincerity, people forgive you. They may not forget, but they’ll forgive. Jews have long memories, so even a haphazard Jew like myself can easily call to mind Henry Ford, David Dukes, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and all the other infamous anti-Semites who’ve never done much in the way of apologizing for their vile words.

The conservative argument about Hollywood’s double standard toward Gibson versus Stone is full of holes, the biggest one being that until Gibson went off into the wackosphere with his latest rant, he’d been quietly accepted back into polite Hollywood society. When his longtime agent Ed Limato’s agency merged with the agency run by Ari Emanuel, who’d loudly said that Gibson should be shunned by one and all, Emanuel happily received Gibson as an agency client rather than risk Limato leaving with all his other top stars. No one in the supposedly liberal media criticized Emanuel for accepting Gibson with open arms. And hardly anyone in the showbiz press bothered to dredge up Gibson’s past offenses when he was out promoting “Edge of Darkness” earlier this year. Forgiveness was in the air. It was only when Gibson went off of a new rampage, adding blacks and women to his hit list, that he officially became a Hollywood pariah.

I suspect that when Stone is out promoting “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” this September that he’ll occasionally be required to issue a few more mea culpas. But not often. After all the crazy things Stone has said through the years, from signing a petition that compared Germany’s treatment of Scientologists to the Nazi’s oppression of the Jews to his unabashed embrace of tinhorn Latin American dictators like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, it takes a lot for people to get worked up over his latest foot-in-mouth antics.

Of course, for a filmmaker to make dark insinuations about a Jewish media cabal is sort of like a Republican officeholder advocating tax increases -- it can get you into a whale of trouble, even if, as this wry Jewish Journal post points out, it’s not considered out of bounds for Jewish filmmakers to josh among themselves about the decline in Jewish domination of the film industry. If Stone were a comedian, he’d be able to push the envelope oh, so much further, since comics can get away with all sorts of outlandish, politically incorrect remarks without provoking a hailstorm of criticism. I guess if there is any lesson here, it’s that Stone is a lot better off in American than in his beloved Venezuela, Cuba or Iran, where artists have languished in prison for years for making remarks far less rude than what Stone had to say about the Jews. Stone is a free man, which I suspect means that he’ll saying something crazy again any day now.