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June 30, 2005

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

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 β€” while promoting a book β€” 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 β€” while the actor didn't approve of taking antidepressants β€” 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 β€” like the millions of Americans who use prescription drugs β€” 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.

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posted by Ace at 01:06 PM

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