Considering the hullabaloo of hisses and boos it generated for weeks in advance, Leonardo DiCaprio's interview with Bill Clinton barely registered a blip on the outrage-ograph when it aired as part of an ABC News environmental special Saturday night.
As it happened, the whole country was caught up in the continuing dramatic story of Elian Gonzalez, the little boy from Cuba, and mesmerized by a photo of Elian at the end of a federal agent's gun--the very definition of a shocking instant icon. The fact that Earth Day had dawned again, and that Leo and Bill had hunkered down to dish about it, hardly seemed crucial.
The non-momentous encounter between two of America's reigning male sex symbols took up only about three minutes near the end of the hour, which was produced by ABC News and titled "Planet Earth 2000." As edited for TV, the session seemed to begin by ending, with DiCaprio thanking the president for his time and appearing about to say goodbye.
"I am neither a politician nor a journalist," DiCaprio announced. It's the "nor a journalist" part that has had actual, professional journalists at ABC News in a snit. Imagine sending a cutie-pie movie star to interview a (cutie-pie?) president. It would, indeed, have been better not to do it, but when the topic is as innocuous as "the environment," the potential damage to institutional ethics seems minimal.
In the interview, Clinton called for "an energy revolution in the 21st century that will save the planet and actually increase health and wealth." Oh. Okay. Fine.
Several things about the show proved far more bemoanable than DiCaprio's contributions (he also introduced a few segments and shared some "final thoughts," amongst a bevy of butterflies, at the end). This was much less a report than a call to arms, a sort of tutorial docutorial that sounded warning after warning about global warming and gave only token exposure to the position that it's not the apocalyptic uber-crisis it's been made out to be.
Worse was the style chosen for the show, that now-hackneyed MTV-ish approach that has the viewer being bombarded with flashing images, jittery editing and an annoying array of pointless camera movements--flips, flops, twists, turns, swoops, zooms, cartwheels and pirouettes. A scientist interviewed in the great outdoors was shot from three angles by two cameras even though he spoke in brief sound bites.
Thus did a preachy hour about protecting the environment quickly become an air pollutant itself, or an airwaves pollutant at least. The "hip" editing and presence of DiCaprio had to be ploys to entice young viewers, and they were enticements to an enticement: a hyper-animated recruiting poster designed to turn young people into environmental activists.
Not surprisingly--no, not surprisingly at all--corporate America came through the hour with barely a scratch or a slap on the wrist. The impression was given that if corporate polluters exist, they pose a negligible threat. The blame was placed on consumers and for the 10 millionth time we were urged to car-pool to work or, even better, ride a damn bicycle.
Elizabeth Vargas, the very accomplished ABC News correspondent who looks like a movie star herself, anchored the show. "Last fall, Leonardo came to us" and volunteered to participate, she said of DiCaprio's involvement--perhaps an attempt to get ABC News off the hook as regards the hunk. "Hey, he called us; we didn't call him. It was all his idea."
Kind of a disingenuous pose to strike, isn't it? But then nearly everything about the way ABC has handled the controversy, including News President David Westin's weaselly waffling, has been just this side of despicable. Or maybe, come to think of it, that side. The fact that the program itself was terrible is almost an anticlimax.