Friday, July 01, 2005

Tom Cruise and Scientology in the News Again

I don't agree completely with what By Ruben Navarrette Jr. says in his article in the Sant Diego Union-Tribune but I respect him for his integrity in writing it.

Here's what he says (with some comments from me)

Tom Cruise has right to his opinion on important subject

SAN DIEGO -- I can't believe I'm defending Tom Cruise.

(I don't know why- maybe you've bought a bit too much of the media slant on him)

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.

Cruise suggested vitamins and exercise as a viable alternative and said drugs only "mask the problem.'

I enjoy a good fight. How many other celebrities in the same situation would have caved in and said whatever they thought the interviewer wanted to hear?

Instead, Cruise kicked off a debate over a subject that a lot of people don't feel comfortable discussing: whether Americans are too quick to turn to prescription drugs and whether their doctors are too quick to prescribe them. Cruise zeroed in on "drugging children' with Ritalin, which is supposed to treat hyperactivity or attention- deficit disorder.

That's a hugely important discussion and it shouldn't matter who gets the ball rolling. Even if the push comes from a gasp celebrity, and one who has links to gasp Scientology.

So far the public isn't buying it. According to an online poll by MSNBC, 69 percent of viewers said Cruise was "just plain wrong' on the role of doctors and the use of drugs to alleviate mental distress.

Those people are naive. My friends who are doctors tell me that they are constantly being lobbied by drug companies, trying to convince them to prescribe some of this and more of that.

Could this have anything to do with the economic incentives and perks that drug companies offer doctors and hospitals? What do you think?

That's the discussion we need to be having. And if it's finally under way, it is no thanks to the scores of newspaper reporters and radio talk show hosts who piled on Tom Cruise. After watching the interview and the reaction, I felt embarrassed not for Cruise, but for many of my colleagues in the media.

All of a sudden, the issue went from being about drugs to being about celebrity and Scientology. Talk-show hosts in Southern California ribbed "Dr. Cruise' for thinking that he knows anything about psychiatry. 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.'

What Scientology rant? The guy was talking about or rather trying to talk about our society's increasing dependence on mind-altering and mood-altering drugs. And at no point in the interview did he even attribute those views to his religion.

Do you suppose it's possible for an entire profession in this case, the news media to suffer from attention-deficit disorder? The problem is that Tom Cruise raised a serious issue, one that deserves serious attention.

E-mail Sant Diego Union-Tribune columnist Ruben Navarrette's at