Friday's great Today debate is sparking jeers and cheers for Tom and Matt

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated June 27, 2005 08:00 AM
Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage; Virgina Sherwood/NBC Universal

After Tom Cruise and Matt Lauer practically came to blows on Friday’s Today show, both the War of the Worlds star and the TV host are being placed under the microscope for their behavior.

The on-air argument – part two of their interview aired Monday morning – started after Lauer asked Cruise about his criticism of actress Brooke Shields, who praised medication and psychotherapy for helping her battle postpartum depression.

At one point, Cruise, not letting Lauer get a word in edgewise, responded: “Here’s the problem. You don’t know the history of psychiatry. I do. There’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance. … You don’t even – you’re glib, Matt. You don’t even know what Ritalin is. … You should be a bit more responsible in knowing what it is because you communicate to people.”

Rather than press Cruise about his knowledge of Freud, Lauer took the attack as personal, telling Cruise: “You’re now telling me that your experiences with the people I know, which are zero, are more important than my experiences.” (On Monday’s show, Lauer joked: “I thought I was being smug, not glib.”)

As could be expected, bloggers chimed in with their views of the clash, as did the nation’s major newspapers.

Branding Cruise an arrogant “high-school dropout,” New York’s Daily News editorialized: “Coupled with his over-the-top courtship of Holmes, it could be the biggest career misstep since fellow Scientologist John Travolta made Battlefield Earth.

Opined The Washington Post: “Cruise looked like a man possessed – or at least in need of an Ativan – leaning insistently forward in his chair, hammering Lauer when the host suggested that some people were actually, you know, helped when doctors prescribed psychiatric drugs.”

The New York Times, on the other hand, applauded Cruise for leaving behind a publicist’s script and attempting to say something obviously important to him.

“Mr. Cruise seemed unbound, and perhaps even a little unsound, but there was something enjoyably bracing and bold about his outburst,” says The Times. “This latest display of kookiness lent the actor new credibility: his over-the-top declarations of love may look to some like a publicity stunt, but there was nothing self-serving or career-enhancing about his rant with Mr. Lauer.”

One blogger who isn’t leaping to Cruise’s defense is Rosie O’Donnell. Although the former talk show host still refers to the star as “my Tommy,” in an e.e. cummings-style poem posted on her Web site she says that after watching Cruise on Oprah “and then everywhere else in the free world, I may need to up my meds.”

O’Donnell goes on to applaud Brooke Shields, whom she credits with having “saved a lot of women by telling ur truth” about postpartum depression, then O’Donnell “my tommy needs to breathe.” She also quotes songwriter Joni Mitchell as advice to Cruise that “heart humor and humility will lighten up your heavy load.”

As for the big question, whether this will hurt Cruise’s career (his Steven Spielberg movie War of the Worlds opens this week): “Don’t immediately assume that he is ruining himself,” Allan Mayer, managing director of Los Angeles-based Sitrick and Co., a celebrity-crisis PR firm, tells The Post. “He himself has said he doesn’t care, and who are we to say he’s made a mistake?”