Alan Alda has always been outspoken about mental health
Alda used empathy to deal with a tricky line of questioning.
There's a certain type of journalist who ties their worth to exposé. They'll only be satisfied with unveiling some major secret, rather than accurately portraying their subject. While an interview may include any topics, this journalist is only interested in shock. Instead of integrity, this kind of writer is concerned with selling headlines. Newspapers are black and white, and these writers ensure nuance never changes that.
It may not be the case that Lloyd Shearer of the St. Louis News-Press is a lousy journalist, but in a 1979 interview with M*A*S*H's Alan Alda, Shearer came across as one. That's because, rather than accurately portraying Alda as he is, Shearer sought to put Alda in an easy-to-define box. Shearer didn't recognize anything but Alda's celebrity, robbing the actor of his humanity. Luckily, Alan Alda isn't one to bite his tongue, and he did his best to put Shearer in his place.
The interview starts off routinely enough, with Shearer serving Alda some lowball questions. He asks Alda about the actor's weaknesses, a line of questioning Alda gamely parries. By this time, the man who played Hawkeye Pierce was a veteran of the limelight. He'd been interviewed tons of times before and knew when not to back down.
The discussion takes a nasty turn when Shearer refuses to back off a line of questioning regarding Alda's mental health. The actor is clearly uncomfortable regarding the question. Alda was asked whether he'd been in analysis ever. While a person's journey in therapy is very much their own, private matter, Shearer wouldn't let Alda off the hook, despite Alda's clear indication that he'd prefer to speak on something else.
"I answered the question; I said 'no," said Alda. "But I also said I think it's too personal. I want to prevent you from asking other people these questions, although that's their problem.
"I think that it would be nice if we all accepted each other's frailties and didn't make each other uncomfortable for having our frailties. But the way things work, we don't. And while I might be able to—if let's say, I had been in analysis and talked openly about it, I might make it easier for other people—I would also have to make a choice about whether I want to expend that energy to do that and be the guinea pig. I might not choose to, and that would depend on how much I wanted to make that a cause. I, at the moment, spend a lot of energy making the world better in other ways. And I don't think I want to spread myself too thin."