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An Exhibition of Conservative Paranoia

Exhibit 50: The Secret Hirsen-Gibson Connection

Newsmax writer James Hirsen runs a foundation that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Mel Gibson's father found an ultraconservative Catholic church -- but readers of Hirsen's fawning coverage of Gibson don't know that.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 9/30/2009
Updated 10/24/2009

Amazing where you end up when you follow a thread.

In a March 24 Newsmax "Left Coast Report" item, James Hirsen -- according to his bio, the "author, commentator, media analyst and law professor" who is also a Newsmax pundit -- unsurprisingly came down on the side of supporting the side of right-wing group Citizens United in a Supreme Court case over its Hillary Clinton-trashing movie.

But Hirsen obfuscated about the movie and his role in the court case. Hirsen wrote of "Hillary: The Movie": "The film in question didn’t request that its audience vote for or against a certain candidate. It is simply a feature-length movie that presents information about Clinton's background, experience, and character." Hirsen failed to mention that the "information" is all negative and all comes from longtime critics of Hillary. Hirsen also failed to mention that Citizens United's lawyer in the case is Theodore Olson, or that the movie is dedicated to Olson's late wife, Barbara, who was killed in the 9/11 attacks.

The film didn't have to "request" viewers to reject Hillary; that's the obvious intention of the film and the only possible conclusion one can draw from it -- something Hirsen fails to acknowledge.

Why did Hirsen refuse to acknowledge such a simple fact? Because he's working to pretend it doesn't advocate what it does. As he also noted: "I was involved in filing a brief for this case on behalf of a public interest law organization and am familiar with the legal issues it raises."

What "public interest law organization" is that? He didn't say. In a Sept. 9 item previewing the court's unusual decision to hear arguments again, Hirsen again noted, "I have filed a brief as an attorney of record in the case." Again, Hirsen failed to explain his involvement further. (He did, however, acknowledge that the film "took a critical view of the then-presidential candidate.")

But what Hirsen won't tell us, Google can. He's apparently referring to an amicus curiae brief he filed in January on behalf of something called the Foundation for Free Expression, "a California non-profit, tax-exempt corporation formed on September 24, 1998 to preserve and defend the constitutional liberties guaranteed to American citizens, through education and other means." And who's the founder of the Foundation for Free Expression? None other than James Hirsen.

What does Hirsen's FFE do? Not much that we could find, though it's apparently part of another organization, the World Faith Foundation, which Hirsen also heads. And here's where things get interesting.

The World Faith Foundation owns a 26-acre tract of land in western Pennsylvania purchased for the purpose of permitting Hutton Gibson, father of actor Mel Gibson, to found a branch of a dissident ultraconservative Catholic sect that rejects modern church reforms. Hutton Gibson is on record as a Holocaust denier and holding other anti-Semitic views.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Hutton Gibson said his son is "somewhat connected" with Hirsen's World Faith Foundation. But the paper reported in 2007 -- upon the apparent failure of Gibson's church after it relocated to a larger facility, also purchased by the foundation, and its minister was dismissed -- that Mel Gibson "funds" the foundation.

Further, has reported that "Hirsen is a close friend and vocal supporter of Gibson, and he frequently publishes editorials on conservative Web sites endorsing the movie star’s religious views."

Didn't know about Hirsen's relationship with Gibson? Few people do. Hirsen has repeatedly failed to disclose it at Newsmax, even when it would have been the journalistically ethical thing to do.

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For instance, a July 2006 Newsmax column by Hirsen -- published several months after Hirsen's foundation purchased the land for Hutton Gibson's Pennsylvania church -- is an attack on critics who claimed that the younger Gibson's apology for anti-Semitic rantings he made while under arrest for DUI (which Hirsen euphemistically describes only as "untoward statements" and fails to describe in any further detail) was insufficient. He predictably took his remarks in a political direction, whining that "critics on the Left" didn't find Trent Lott's apologies adequate for "regrettable remarks" that "were construed as meaning that the nation would have been better off if a segregationist's presidential campaign had been successful." Hirsen concluded: "According to the Left's parameters, Gibson has exceeded that which is expected. According to human standards, he has exceeded that which is sufferable. No further apologies needed."

How did Hirsen determine that Gibson's apology for saying, among other things, "F*****g Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," was sufficient? He didn't say. And nowhere does Hirsen mention his relationship with the Gibson family in launching this defense.

Unsurprisingly, Hirsen enthusiastically pimped Gibson's 2005 film "The Passion of the Christ," which some have suggested includes anti-Semitic elements. Hirsen also used a November 2003 column to viciously attack Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman for criticizing those alleged anti-Semitic elements, claiming he "puked out" his criticism, was acting "like an angry villager in a Boris Karloff movie" and bizarrely claiming that Foxman wanted "not just to snuff out Mel Gibson’s film but also to extinguish Easter as Christians know it." The headline on Hirsen's screed: "Virtual Hate Crime Against Mel Gibson."

Hirsen has written numerous other articles for Newsmax praising Gibson or attacking Gibson's critics, dating as far back as 2002, without disclosing his relationship with Gibson and his family. Hirsen's Newsmax bio lists Gibson first among the "numerous public figures" he has interviewed (but, curiously, is silent about his links to the Foundation for Free Expression and the World Faith Foundation).

(UPDATE 10/24/09: Hirsen devoted an entire chapter (pp. 206-225) of his 2005 book "Hollywood Nation" to Gibson and "The Passion of the Christ," in which he admits that he "would visit Icon's (Gibson's production company) offices on numerous occasions and would be in close contact with Mel and his associates" in promoting and defending the film. Hirsen writes: "I knew Gibson was one of the few Hollywood folks who had a worldview that was similar to mine, and wasn't afraid to press it on film. ... It was a pattern I'd long admired and, to me, the choice of his new project indicated that once again he was going to edify." Hirsen did not disclose his insider relationship with Gibson in his Newsmax articles on "The Passion.")

It's unsurprising, then, that when news broke earlier this year that Gibson's wife filed for divorce amid reports of Gibson obtaining a new girlfriend -- who, as an added bonus, is pregnant -- Hirsen was nowhere to be found reporting it at Newsmax, even though he's the closest thing to an entertainment reporter Newsmax has. Indeed, a search of Newsmax's archives shows that it has run only a single article on Gibson's tangled personal affairs, an unbylined piece in April.

And that's where our thread leads -- from a court filing to hobnobbing with Hollywood stars to funding ultraconservative religious sects.

All this, by the way, is on top of the usual shoddy journalism we've come to expect from Hirsen. For instance, in 2005, he reported on a U2 concert for which Republican then-Sen. Rick Santorum had purchased tickets for fund-raising purposes, but falsely portrayed the concert itself as a fund-raiser for Santorum.

Hirsen once claimed that if "you want to make it in Hollywood these days, guess you have to be prepared to take the Hypocritic Oath." Apparently, that goes double for Hirsen.

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