Diane Sawyer Skips Controversy for 'Angels & Demons'; Grilled Mel Gibson

"Angels & Demons" star Tom Hanks received zero critical questions or challenges when he appeared on Monday's "Good Morning America" to promote a movie that features the Catholic Church ordering a brutal massacre in order to silence a secret society. Instead, Sawyer referred to the film, a prequel to "The Da Vinci Code," as a "scary, spiritual scavenger hunt." After playing a clip of Hanks' character in the film asserting that he has no religious beliefs, she moved on to talking about how the movie star still gets nervous when he acts.

It's not as though Hanks didn't open himself up to questions about the film's validity. He admitted to Sawyer that in a few years, this movie, like every one he's made, will be subject to wondering "if moments are proper or authentic. Or if it actually, really, has some purpose in its reflection of, like, the human zeitgeist and that's where you find out whether or not you were telling the truth or not." Wouldn't this have been a good point to jump in and debate some of the assertions made in the book and movie? Sadly, Sawyer remained silent.

Contrast the gentle way that the ABC host treated Hanks with the grilling of Mel Gibson in a 2003 "Primetime" special on "The Passion of the Christ." Regarding accuracy and his film about Jesus Christ, Sawyer pressed for specifics: "What about the historians who say that the Gospels were written long after Jesus died, and are not merely fact, but political points of views and metaphors? Historians, you know, have argued that in fact it was not written at the time [of Christ]. These [gospel writers] were not eyewitnesses."

As the MRC's Tim Graham wrote in a May 23, 2006 study that contrasted the treatment of Mel Gibson's movie with "The Da Vinci Code, the conservative filmmaker actually received a psychological profile from Sawyer:

Sawyer pounded Gibson about his addictions, and how they led him to return to his Catholic beginnings. But Sawyer went further than that: on Good Morning America, she interviewed TV pop-psychologist Drew Pinsky about Gibson’s mental problems, with this line of questioning: "We know that spirituality is fundamental to AA [Alcoholics Anonymous]. Is there any rehab program that really says, hey, do it on your own, you don't need that?" And so on: "And you've said that the relationship between the movie, which concentrates on the suffering, the Passion, the suffering of Jesus, and what [Gibson] went through during this darkest time." And so on: "He's talked about intensity of his struggle being reflected in the violence in the movie."

Regarding "Angels & Demons," in an April 30, 2009 column, MRC President Brent Bozell explained how even the film's trailer is misleading:

Movie watchers are going to think large chunks of this story are actual human history, and the trailer has no disclaimer about how this scientist-murdering-church narrative is pure fantasy. The real Illuminati originated in Bavaria in 1776 (long after Galileo died) and fizzled out a decade later. The Catholic Church never murdered a single member of the Illuminati.

In many ways, it seems as though GMA's coverage of the works of Dan Brown has gotten worse. Thus far, the morning show isn't even hinting that there's anything controversial in "Angels & Demons."

A partial transcript of the May 11 segment, which aired at 8:17am, follows:

DIANE SAWYER: Well, on "Angels Demons," it is another- you called him what, an intellectual Indiana Jones without the whip out there-

TOM HANKS: Yes.

SAWYER: -on another one of his scary, spiritual scavenger hunts.

HANKS: That's a good way of putting it, yes.

SAWYER: And here you are talking to Ewan McGregor, who's inside the Vatican and you have to basically save the Vatican, save the world.

HANKS: Good enough, yeah. Every movie is sort of like that these days.

SAWYER: And he wants to know about your soul. Let's listen.

["Angels and Demons" clip]

EWAN MCGREGOR: Do you believe in God, sir?

HANKS: Father, I simply believe that religion-

MCGREGOR: I did not ask you if you believe what man says about God. I asked you if you believe in God.

HANKS: I'm an academic. My mind tells me I will never understand God.

MCGREGOR: And your heart?

HANKS: Tells me I'm not meant to. Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive.

[Clip ends.]

HANKS: There you have it. The British School, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art Guild Hall Drama School and the American school "Bosom Buddies" and the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. And they are going head to head in a battle royal of acting backgrounds

SAWYER: Showdown. Right. In the box office. Have you said- somebody told me on Biography once, you said that you have two sides of your face.

HANKS: Aw.

SAWYER: One side of your face is leading man and one side of your face-

HANKS: I blame my mother for pushing improperly. The- Because, you know, it's just like- I do. You come out. And I guess for awhile there your head is malleable, you know, your skull and when I was a young man I came out with one pretty good jaw side.

SAWYER: Wait a minute.

HANKS: Which is- this is a good side. This is- you know, please, what time is it? Who's got a good side at this time of the morning? That is a good side and this is not the good side. Now, people at home will YouTube this and freeze frame it and they will say, my God, those are two different human beings. But it's all me.

SAWYER: It's invisible to the naked eye and my eye is very naked at this hour of the morning looking at you. One of the other things that you said, which struck me was that each time you do it, each time- even after all this, each time when you go out, your heart is pounding a little.

HANKS: Oh, it's-

SAWYER: Not possible.

HANKS: Look, I take my work very seriously. I do not take the promotion of my work very seriously. This is a very different beast wrestling, wrestling, wrestling the maw. But it is terrifying because, look, it'll last forever. That's the thing. All movies come out in this kind of, like, hot house atmosphere. Is it a thumbs up? Is it thumbs down? Is it number one at the box office? Did the marketing work? Is the story- Is it worthwhile making the movie at all? That fades after a certain time and years from now, three year, four year, five years, every movie, everybody's film is recalibrate as to whether it was worthwhile or not and whether- if moments are proper or authentic or if it actually really has some purpose in its reflection of, like, the human zeitgeist and that's where you find out whether or not you were telling the truth or not. So, every day, no matter where you are in the world, oh, it's petrifying when you think about that.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org