June 30, 2005

Stunner: Matt Lauer Thinks Celebrities Should Keep Their Opinions To Themselves
— Ace

Corrected! See Update below.

Sorry, back to Tom Cruise/psychiatric drugs/Scientology. But briefly.

I don't seem to remember Lauer telling the Dixie Chicks they should keep their mouths shut. Nor Sarandon, Robbins, Sheen, Glover, etc.

But suddenly Lauer is all atwitter at the idea of celebrities using their charisma and ignorance to shape public opinion:

I can't believe I'm defending Tom Cruise.

But someone has to do it. Cruise has been criticized and ridiculed after a heated exchange with "Today" show co-host Matt Lauer the other day over a rather important topic: the possible overuse of prescription drugs that supposedly treat depression or other forms of mental illness.

It all started when Lauer came to the rescue of Brooke Shields, who — while promoting a book — disclosed that she had therapy and took antidepressant drugs to combat postpartum depression.

Cruise doesn't believe in psychiatry ("a pseudo science") or antidepressants ("mind-altering, antipsychotic drugs"), and he said as much after Shields made her remarks.

Lauer thought that Cruise was being judgmental, and that he should keep his opinions to himself. He also thought Cruise should stipulate that — while the actor didn't approve of taking antidepressants — those for whom the drugs had worked should be free to take them.

Why should Cruise keep his opinions to himself? Shields didn't keep her bout with mental illness to herself. She advertised it to sell books. Cruise is entitled to his opinion, just like anyone else.

The problem isn't that celebrities have opinions. It's that the rest of society is quick to treat them as experts. They're not experts. They're movie stars with opinions. And they should be free to express their opinions, and the rest of us should be free to discount them if they don't hold up.

But Lauer seemed to be saying that Cruise didn't have a right to his opinion because many people — like the millions of Americans who use prescription drugs — might find it offensive.

Cruise held his ground. He didn't just give in to Lauer's brand of "I'm OK, you're OK" psychobabble. When asked if it was OK if drugs worked for Shields, Cruise said, no, it wasn't.

"I disagree with it," he told Lauer.

I'm not so much reversing fields myself here -- I actually do wish celebrities would zip it more; they have the right to speak out, of course, but they're dumb and undeservedly influential -- so much as questioning why Lauer approves of every other celebrity's pontificating but not Cruise's.

Could it be -- possibly? -- that Lauer approves of the rantings of Streisand & Co. whereas Tom Cruise's slam is against something the liberal elite hold dear-- the therapuetic culture?

Matt, either celebrities have the right to opine or they don't. It can't be the case they're to be praised for "bravery" when they opine in a manner you approve of but should shut up when they threaten you or your friends' easy access to mood elevators.

And I have to note here that I come down closer to Lauer's side of the argument than Cruise's. Yes, we are an overmedicated society, and yes, doctors are lobbied by drug companies to prescribe certain drugs, injecting an economic conflict of interest into the patient-doctor relationship, but Cruise is daft in claiming that the one part of the human body that cannot be healed through the effective administration of drugs is the brain.

The weak form of his argument ("let's take a closer look at all this") is strong; the strong form of his argument ("all psychotropic drugs are bad, bad, bad, and all you need is some Vitamin C") is weak.

Still, he has the right to be wrong.

And until Lauer tells Bono to zip it, he is no position to tell Cruise to keep his opinions to himself.

PS, here's an idea: how about bubble-headed morning chat-show hosts keeping their opinions to themselves? You know-- all that jouralistic code of ethics about reporting the news straight and with no editorializing.

Nah. What was I thinking? It's very important that the American public know where Katie and Matt stand on all complex political issues.

Fact-Checking My Ass: Zuke points out that the columnist cited above states, flat-out, that Lauer instructed Cruise that he should keep his opinions to himself. In fact, the transcript does not seem to contain such a clear statement, although some parts may be paraphrased or digested.

Reading the transcript-- Cruise feels that Lauer is suggesting he can't talk about these things, but Lauer says, "No you have that right," or words to that effect. Cruise actually suggests this multiple times, and Lauer's questioning is antagonistic. However, Lauer does say that Cruise has the right to speak out; to say Lauer clearly states that Cruise shouldn't say these things is incorrect.

There may be (at most) implication to zip it here, but no clear statement.

What Lauer does seem to be doing is aggressively questioning Cruise and arguing with him. Which is quite fine, I think. Particularly since what Cruise is saying is sci-fi-quasi-religious dogma.

I guess I have to retract my initial slam on Lauer. And perhaps reduce it to this: It sure would be nice if he questioned other celebrities as vigorously and as argumentatively.... celebrities (including Hillary!) who express views he agrees with.

Posted by: Ace at 08:06 AM | Comments (20)
Post contains 910 words, total size 6 kb.

1 Cruise is a Category Five Nitwit. But, as you said, that doesn't mean he loses his right to speak. Lauer is a hypocritical jackass for suggesting Cruise should shut it. Does he really expect to do thousands of hours of live tv without someone acting like a jerk? Too f'n bad for him. So it made him feel uncomfortable? Get over it and act like a big boy. I'm sure Brooke spent less time worrying about the comments than Lauer. I thoroughly disagree with Cruise (though some meds are way overprescribed) and think the burden is on him. Once again, can people (specifically celebrities) understand that having a right to say something doesn't inoculate you from being an ass for saying it.
And in case that can't wrap their little brains around that, being an ass is still a bad thing.

Posted by: TheDude at June 30, 2005 08:36 AM (47UUL)

2 I saw the video, and I didn't hear Lauer say anything like what this writer is saying he said. I just checked the transcript and nowhere does it say anything even close to "he should keep his opinions to himself".

The transcript does paraphrase the initial question for some reason but has the rest of the dialogue. I don't think this is a cover-up but if somebody else remembers otherwise, speak up.


Posted by: Zuke at June 30, 2005 08:37 AM (PJ4Iq)

3 A writer for The Washington Post joined in, asking: "Should we address him as Dr. Tom Cruise from now on? Or will the Rev. Dr. Cruise suffice?" And how's this for a headline from one online newspaper: "Tom Cruise 'Today Show' Scientology Rant Hurts Image."

Sounds like this pernicious little ferret is on anti-depressans and needs his script bumped up.

Posted by: 72 VIRGINS at June 30, 2005 08:43 AM (dhRpo)

4 It was a fair debate. Lauer challenged him. They went back and forth on it for half the interview. He even says things like "It's very impressive to listen to you. Because clearly, you've done the homework. And you know the subject." And, near the end, "I respect your opinion." These might just be nicetys, but it sort of goes against the premise that he was trying to shut down Cruise from expressing his opinion.

What's the problem here? You're right, Lauer only challenges opinions he disagrees with, but that doesn't mean he was wrong to do it here. We should encourage him to do it with the other celebrity nitwits.

Posted by: Zuke at June 30, 2005 08:44 AM (PJ4Iq)

5 Ace,

It is axiomatic that when people call for others to "keep their opinions to themselves" it is because they disagree with those opinions.

It would be strange, but not surprising, for a purported daily morning news host, to suggest that the guests that they pay or otherwise invite on his show to shut the hell up.

If one follows the logic or intent of such a claim to its origins, as you did Ace, it invariably leads to the fact that Mr. Lauer did not approve of what Mr. Cruise had to say.

And yes, Tom Cruise is an adult, he is as free and entitled as anyone else to hold unpopular or even bizarre ideas.

Posted by: MeTooThen at June 30, 2005 08:47 AM (9Dvaj)

6 Celebrities, is there anything they don't know

Posted by: Homer at June 30, 2005 08:48 AM (m2CN7)

7 Ace,

One more thing.

Mr. Lauer was, of course, talking with Tom Cruise.


Got that?

He wasn't talking to, say, a pscyhotherapist, or an expert on psychoneuropharmacology, or researcher from the NIH, or the president of an advocacy group of people with depression, etc.


It was Tom Cruise.

Who by the way, seemed to Mr. Lauer, was someone who had done his homework.

Whatever the hell that meant.

Posted by: MeTooThen at June 30, 2005 08:52 AM (9Dvaj)

8 Its cool Ace. My impression here is the columnist was trying to score some quick points against Lauer - points which had merit - but jumped the gun with a bad example.

MeTooThen - The "done his homework" line was crap, but what do you expect? He's not going to be completely antagonistic with such a high-profile guest who I'm sure they'd like to have on again.

Cruise threw it back in his face though with, "And you should. And you should do that also. Because just knowing people who are on Ritalin isn't enough. You should be a little bit more responsible in knowing really —" which was kind of funny coming from Dr. Cruise. He also talks about reading medical studies and journals and the like. I'm guessing these were written by the highly esteemed Dr. Hubbard.

Important clarification: I still don't like Matt Lauer.

Posted by: Zuke at June 30, 2005 09:10 AM (PJ4Iq)

9 Ace, Hollywood does like to do movies about Squirrel Farmers. Richard Gere in Final Analysis, Barbara Striesand in Price of Tides, Michael Douglas in Don't Say a Word, Billy Crystal in Analyse This 1 & 2, Jack Nicholson in Anger Management, Richard Dreyfuss in Nuts and What About Bob?, Hallee Berry in Gothica, J-Lo in The Cell, and Michael Caine in Dressed to Kill just to name some from memory.

Posted by: Speller at June 30, 2005 09:12 AM (uW2IJ)

10 Shut up and eat your lutefisk (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Posted by: wretched refuse at June 30, 2005 12:32 PM (dhRpo)

11 The public doesn't see celebrities as experts. Celebrities don't even see themselves as experts (Tom Cruise excepted). But, if you are a celebrity and have an opinion the media will broadcast it even if nobody is interested in hearing it. Why not take advantage of that situation? Who doesn't want their opinions heard anyway?

Posted by: Doug Purdie at June 30, 2005 01:55 PM (00DOn)

12 But, if you are a celebrity and have an opinion the media will broadcast it even if nobody is interested in hearing it.

That's what I find annoying about this. I really wish the media would stick to asking relevant questions. Matt Lauer wouldn't ask a psychiatrist about "War of the World"; so what is he doing asking Tom Cruise about psychiatry? It's like asking Paris Hilton for her opinion of plate tectonics.

Posted by: Morbidly Shy at June 30, 2005 02:15 PM (/Ya+2)

13 One more thing. All the criticism of Tom Cruise seems a little malicious. I don't say his opinions shouldn't be criticized -- the only way to fight bad ideas is to point to them where you find them. But the "Tom has lost his mind" meme seems to have gotten slightly out of control. It's easy to debunk Tom's "ideas" without resorting to gratuitous ad hominems.

Posted by: Morbidly Shy at June 30, 2005 02:38 PM (/Ya+2)

14 Yeah, but what's really important here is that I'm a straight chick and Tom Cruise does nothing for me. Sure, he was kinda cute in Risky Business, but he's just too boyish. And now he's creepy.

Posted by: Stace at June 30, 2005 03:36 PM (/xNZg)

15 If only Cruise had been voicing his own opinion.

Or, if only his "homework" had consisted of reading something other than the High Holy Scriptures of El Ron, may we be spared from further exposure to his wisdom, amen.

The whole "psychiatry = pseudo science" is one of the tenets of Scientology.

I'm not an expert either. So I can't really say that he's wrong. But given Cruise's affiliation with the cult, this whole thing comes across as a case of Scientology speaking through a willing mouthpiece.

Posted by: at June 30, 2005 06:02 PM (4ngLd)

16 And who would be whispering in Tom's ear to make him say alla that stupid crap? Would it be, oh, I dunno... Thatan?!?

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