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In a "Twenty-Four Hour Society," Naps Become Increasingly Necessary

Sleep physiologist Martin Moore-Ede. He is founder and president of Circadian Technologies, Inc., which helps shiftworkers cope with night shifts and rotating work schedules. He provides assistance to companies that are open round the clock. Dr. Moore-Ede is a professor at Harvard Medical School, and is the author of the newly published "The Twenty-Four Hour Society: Understanding Human Limits in a World That Never Stops." (Addison Wesley).


Other segments from the episode on August 18, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 18, 1998: Interview with Martin Moore-Ede; Interview with Harry Shearer.


Date: AUGUST 18, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081801np.217
Head: Sleep Expert Martin Moore-Ede
Sect: Medical
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Living in a 24-hour society with 24-hour workplaces, 24-hour shopping, and FAX machines and E-mail that just won't quit, forces most of us to cheat on our sleep. My guest Martin Moore-Ede recommends naps to help catch up on our rest and be more productive. In fact, he's even helped some companies set up nap rooms for employees.

Moore-Ede is a physiologist who studies sleep and the biological time clock. He was a professor at the Harvard Medical School for more than 20 years. As the president of Circadian Technologies, he consults to companies that operate 24 hours a day, such as airlines, railroads, factories and the technology industry. He helps them devise work and sleep schedules that help integrate shift work with workers' biological time clocks.

Moore-Ede is the author of the 1993 book "The Twenty-Four Hour Society." He says napping can compensate for not getting enough sleep at night because it's actually more efficient than nighttime sleep.

MARTIN MOORE-EDE, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, CIRCADIAN TECHNOLOGIES, INC.; AUTHOR, "THE TWENTY-FOUR HOUR SOCIETY: UNDERSTANDING HUMAN LIMITS IN A WORLD THAT NEVER STOPS"; PROFESSOR, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: You can catch up a sleep deficit with a nap that's much shorter than the total amount of sleep you've lost. I mean, for example, let's say during the week you've been sleeping about an hour less than you normally would. It might be that just an hour-and-a-half nap at the weekend might sort of reset your base to where you should be.

So it can do it pretty rapidly, and that's because it's a more intense form of sleep than the sleep you normally get at night.

GROSS: Why is it more intense?

MOORE-EDE: Well, it's -- what you seem to be doing when you fall asleep, particularly with a sleep deficit, is you sort of burn off that sleep debt first. And so it does become quite efficient. Now, as I say, we'll get into different types of naps, because it's actually a bit of a different story depending on whether you're dealing with short naps or dealing with long naps. And in the particular case I'm talking about, I'm talking about a nap that would be one full sleep cycle or about an hour-and-a-half in length.

GROSS: Let's get into the different kinds of naps. The first kind of nap that you talk about is the short nap: 10 to 20 minutes. That's pretty short.

MOORE-EDE: Yes, and there's a very good reason for that, because our natural pattern of sleeping is composed of a cycles that are about 90 to 100 minutes in length. In fact, we progress. When you fall asleep, whether it's a nap or whether it's at night, down from light sleep, a stage one sleep, where you're basically half-aware of the surroundings around you, down into deeper stages of sleep. It takes about 40, 45 minutes down to -- to get down to those really deep stages of sleep. And then you come back out again, and at night you go through a cycle of dreaming and then go back into the deep sleep again.

But the key point about the napping -- the short napping -- is you don't want to get into those deep stages of sleep, because if you get into that, you'll wake up groggy, disoriented, in a sort of an impaired position compared to where you were before.

So the secret of the short cat nap is just to take advantage of that boost you get from the stage one, stage two -- the initial stages of sleep, and don't go any further because you can wake up out of those, be fully alert, and have just taken the edge off; and it will typically give you another three hours or so of full level alertness before you might need to do something else.

GROSS: Now, how does the longer nap function?

MOORE-EDE: Well, the longer nap is truly a method now of correcting for sleep deficit. I mean, the shorter nap doesn't really correct for a sleep deficit you've built up over -- progressively. And we all get into this stage of cumulative fatigue. You know, by Friday you're wearing a little thin as compared to earlier in the week, for example, if you've been cheating a little on the edges of your sleep.

The longer nap is -- takes you -- what you want to do there, is you want to go through a complete sleep cycle. So typically, a longer nap ideally is around 90 minutes or so in length -- about an-hour-and-a-half. And in that case, what you do is you cycle all the way through those deep stages. You get the benefit of burning off that excess sleep energy very efficiently in that first cycle, and you come back out again at the end of 90 minutes; and if you wake up after 90 minutes, you are coming out of lighter stages of sleep again and, hence, you don't get this phenomenon called "sleep inertia," which is the technical term for this grogginess, disorientation, that one gets if one's right in the middle of the deep stages of sleep.

GROSS: Do you recommend napping with the alarm set?

MOORE-EDE: Well, if you are concerned -- if you're not well-trained to wake up spontaneously -- many people can do it and sort of do the timing right and so forth. But in fact, yeah -- we -- yes, we do in fact have -- encourage people to have alarms. There are now little special clocks -- you just press a button -- that you can give a nap length. And that should just -- one push of a button, you can get an alarm timed for -- in essentially 20 minutes intervals.

GROSS: You've done a lot of laboratory research on sleeping and circadian rhythms. Are we biologically wired for naps?

MOORE-EDE: Yes, we are. It actually is programmed within us. We're programmed. We're bi-phasic in terms of our sleep and alertness cycles. It comes out particularly clearly in hot tropical climates, and the siesta hour is a well-established practice in many places in -- that have warm locations on the globe.

It is a pattern that we have a -- in fact, a sleep propensity. We have two peaks of alertness -- one in the morning, one in the evening hours, early evening hours. Which of those peaks is more prominent does depend on your own individual physiology, and there is some real individual physiology -- physiological differences in all this. So that if you're a morning-type person, you have a much stronger morning peak of alertness than if you're an evening-type person, for example.

But whether an evening-type or a morning-type person, you still have these two peaks of alertness and two times of sleepiness.

GROSS: The siesta is an accepted custom in a lot of countries, as you mentioned -- particularly tropical ones. Though what we always hear is that, well, that's because before air conditioning, it was so hot nobody could possibly work in the afternoon, and that's why they slept. But if you take a nap here, you're going to be considered lazy.

MOORE-EDE: Well, yes, it's very much part of our Puritan culture to view the taking of naps as a slothful activity. And indeed, that's what really impedes very much the practice of napping. It's done guiltily and secretly, typically. But in fact, more and more enlightened workplaces, particularly those where they're asking people to work extended hours, to be at peak levels of creativity and performance, are recognizing there's a tradeoff.

If you want a high performance workplace, with flexible hours in terms of work, the tradeoff -- the fair tradeoff is flexible hours in terms of sleep. In other words, companies -- I mean, we do it ourselves -- have napping rooms. So you have a napping room that people use, and we encourage the use of that.

Now, we don't expect someone to come in late and leave early and then use the napping room in the middle of the day. That obviously would be an abuse of it. But we expect people to sometimes have to work late or sometimes have to come in very early to get the job done. The fair trade is to allow some way to give them boosts in terms of their performance and alertness. And the fair way is to allow a napping policy.

GROSS: So have you worked with companies who have set up nap rooms for their employees?

MOORE-EDE: Yes, we have. We've set up policies and nap rooms, and helped them design those facilities; helped them look for ways to -- typically with reclining chairs, Laz-e-boy-type chairs, and so forth in them; dim lighting with a phone hook up that's not a audible phone, but a vibration, so people can be called or summoned if needed.

Yes, absolutely. And that is -- that's occurring more and more.

GROSS: What's your company's nap room like?

MOORE-EDE: Well, what we have is -- actually, we use it experimentally. We have some high-tech Japanese napping chairs.

GROSS: Describe them for us.

MOORE-EDE: Oh, yeah, they're rather cute. They actually -- this is where you have the whole napping experience at the push of a button -- a chair, you press a button and you -- it goes through an automatic recline. It gives a certain tune vibration at the back of the spine which actually is probing to decrease the time before you fall asleep. And then it times the nap. At the end of it, it shines bright light and blows cool air in your face.


And it brings you upright and has you ready to go again. So it's -- no, it's a wonderful, a wonderful technology. And we're still in the proving stages. I mean, one of the little challenges is that the average American is about a foot higher than the average Japanese, who the chair was built for. So there are a few little things we're sorting out along the way. But, no, we typically have the latest technology that we are playing with and working with.

GROSS: Now, I would imagine that when you're consulting to a company and you're recommending a nap room and a nap policy, that the company is afraid that the nap room will be taken advantage of; that people will be just kind of going off there and sleeping longer than they ought to be and using the nap to avoid work.

What are the concerns that companies bring to you and how do you address them?

MOORE-EDE: The first -- the sort of issues that you want to make sure that you're addressing is: is there a sort of a reasonable control-checking policy, a way of knowing that your people are being reasonable and the issue isn't being abused? And so one of the concerns obviously is someone's going to cut, you know, play hard at night, party all night or whatever, and come in and sleep it off during the day time. That's not a fair trade, obviously, and so the real issue comes down to more the output. In other words, is the person performing the job you want them to perform? Are they being -- offering the creativity and energy and accomplishments you want to see them achieve?

And if they are, then allowing them this policy enables you to get around that.

GROSS: My guest is physiologist Martin Moore-Ede, the president of Circadian Technologies. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


Back with Martin Moore-Ede, and he's the CEO and president of Circadian Technologies, and author of "The Twenty-Four Hour Society." You know, the expression "asleep at the wheel" -- we use that as a metaphor, but it's something that actually happens to a lot of people. You're driving and your eyes just kind of momentarily close, and you say: oh my God, I'm falling asleep; and you wake yourself up. But in those few seconds that your eyes close, it's terrifying when you realize the potential for danger there.

MOORE-EDE: And sometimes you don't wake up -- and sometimes you don't wake up early enough, and that's -- that's the issue. Because, in fact, the largest cause of fatalities on the highways these days is not drunken driver accidents. It's actually fatigue-related accidents. But the phenomenon you're referring to is called "micro-sleeping." It's these short interludes of sleep. Sometimes they happen without you even realizing it at all, and you can go in and out of these things and have a 10-second or a 20-second lapse.

If the road's straight and there's no traffic in the way, you can get away with it and come outside -- you might drift outside your lane. But if it's unfortunate enough for the road to be taking a bend at that point in time, you'll come off the road, or if there's a stall vehicle, you'll hit it without even tapping the brakes.

It's a major cause of accidents and deaths on the highway, particularly cause of fatal accidents because the difference between someone who has an accident because they're fatigued, because they have a micro-sleep, versus someone who's drunk on alcohol and just not paying attention is that, in most situations, you will react to some extent and you will avert the full impact of the injury; whereas, if you've got -- in the middle of the micro-sleep, you will not touch the brake. You will not make any steering correction, and you'll hit the hard obstacle head-on. And hence, that the proportion -- there are some estimates that suggest as many as half the fatal accidents on freeways, on rural freeways, are due to fatigue-related micro-sleep accidents. Now, it may only be five or 10 percent of the total number of accidents, but it's half of the fatal ones.

GROSS: If you're having these little micro-sleeps, is that a pretty good indication that you're sleep starved?

MOORE-EDE: Yes, it is. It's an indication that you're leaking sleep, as it were, out of your conscious -- in the middle of your conscious day. It is something that's going to occur more prominently at certain times. The biggest time of risk is in the wee hours of the morning.

One of the most dangerous things you can do is decide to take advantage of the quieter freeways at night and decide to drive to your vacation overnight, because if you stay up and then drive, by about 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 in the morning, people will get in very dangerous states, and that, in fact, is the peak time of accidents. In fact, truck drivers have 15 times more accidents at 5:00 in the morning than they do at -- in the middle of the day, for example. And the same sort of pattern's true for any type of driver.

So those micro-sleeps are going to occur at that time. They're going to occur in the post-lunch siesta hour, as it were. But they are indication -- if you are micro-sleeping, you really shouldn't be on the job or you shouldn't be performing the activity.

GROSS: Well, one more thing about micro-sleeps. You know, that feeling where this micro-sleep is coming on and then you're trying to fight it, and then it comes on, and you try to fight it again. It's a really irritating area to be in, you know?



GROSS: Anyway -- so what suggestions do you have if you can't take a nap at that moment? What suggestions do you have to get yourself out of that netherworld and wake yourself up?

MOORE-EDE: Well, it depends what you're doing, because, clearly, you are in -- if you're in danger, you really should be pulling off the road and trying to find an opportunity to take a break; ideally to take a nap break, if it's safe to do that, or a coffee break, or stretch.

But the problem is, some of the short-term things like just getting out and walking around and so forth will sort of protect you for the next 20 minutes, but they'll -- you'll be lapsing back into it pretty soon again. It doesn't give any long-term benefit.

But the things that people do -- you know, we've all tried them. You know, turn up the air conditioning, turn on the radio, and, you know, you find one of these particularly irritating talk shows -- not this one, of course, but ...

GROSS: Oh, of course.

MOORE-EDE: ... maybe one that's really, really interesting to you, but something that keeps your mind alive. There are even devices that people use -- using aroma; base devices that keep people awake. There's a whole technology developed in Japan to do that.

So that -- but basically, that pattern is a warning signal, and the best thing is to break out of what you're doing. Now, if you're in a meeting, you know, find an excuse to go out, get up, and walk down the corridor. Find an excuse to, you know, sort of get a bit of cool air, because it is very tough. Because one of the problems is this: when you're in that micro-sleeping situation, you're aware you're getting into it, often, but you don't have conscious control of what happens. So in other words, you can naturally just come back out of your micro-sleep and there's just a brief moment, but you can also just inadvertently slip into deeper sleep. And you don't have conscious control of which way you're going.

And this is the biggest danger when driving or in a critical situation. People think they've got this mastered, think: well, I'm just going to sort of, you know, I'll get through this. But then it's very hard to distinguish between, your mind is wandering suddenly, and then suddenly you've found you've actually come off the road or totally fallen asleep. And you can't tell the difference. You don't -- you lose that judgment.

GROSS: Getting back to napping, do you have to be careful that your nap doesn't interfere with a good night's sleep, instead of supplementing your night's sleep?

MOORE-EDE: Mmm-hm. Well, I think that's -- that's classically been one of the concerns that have been raised. You know, I think it tends to be, quite frankly, much more likely that people are relatively sleep-deprived. And if you're at all sleep-deprived, then a nap will help you. Now it's true that if you just spend all your time napping, and particularly if you nap close to bedtime, then you will interfere with sleep.

But one of -- there's some interesting things here. For example, some -- one of the -- what happens when you get particularly sleep-deprived, is it actually is a stresser. We know it's a stresser for all sorts of reasons. It impairs the immune system. It has -- it has all the symptoms of cardiovascular and other symptoms of stress that build up as someone gets more and more sleep-deprived.

And the trouble is, sometimes in that situation you can't sleep well at night, for whatever reason; something to do with -- some things to do with your biological clock; some things to do with your own sleep personality. But essentially, one way you can actually break that cycle is have a nap in the afternoon, which will just sort of take off that sharp edge of fatigue. And then, interestingly enough, you'll sleep -- find yourself sleeping even more the next night. In other words, suddenly, you won't be waking up sort of short of sleep or insomniac in an insomniac state.

GROSS: I guess the value of napping depends, in part, on whether you're not getting enough sleep because you have insomnia or you're not getting enough sleep because your work doesn't allow you to be in bed long enough to get enough sleep.

MOORE-EDE: Yes. I mean, there are -- you know, there's a host of reasons and situations. I mean, there are many, many causes of insomnia. Some of them are medical causes; some are the psychological and stress-related causes; all those factors. It also is a function very much of your sleep personality and if -- I have, in fact, a new book coming out in the fall which is going to be really classifying people's sleep personality, rather like a Myers-Briggs test in four scales. And based on that, you can actually devise a strategy that's very effective for you personally. So that for example, you will have a scale to do with your morningness or eveningness. In other words, are you an extreme morning person or are you an evening person?

I'm a morning person. I get up at 4:00 every morning. I'm a social zombie, as my wife will frequently tell me, by 9:00 or 10:00 at night. There are other people whose motor doesn't get running 'til noon, but they're going great guns at 1:00 a.m.

Now, those -- that's one scale. Another scale is your rigidity pattern -- your flexibility, rigidity. Some people can sleep at all hours very flexibly, move their sleep times around. Others find that they wake up at exactly the same time whether they want to or not -- weekends, weekdays and so forth; very rigid cycle.

The third pattern is your sleep length. Some people are naturally short sleepers, some are long sleepers. Some do perfectly well on five hours sleep a night, others need 10. And many people, of course, most people, are somewhere in-between.

And then the fourth scale is your "napability." Some people find it very easy to take naps. Others couldn't nap if their life depended on it. So you need to understand that sleep personality to really tailor your own strategies for coping. And so, you know, when we give advice for something like napping, it does depend somewhat on your own napability. Now you can teach some of it, but there are some people even with all the teaching in the world are not really very good or very spontaneous nappers.

GROSS: Martin Moore-Ede is the president of Circadian Technologies and author of "The Twenty-Four Hour Society." He'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Martin Moore-Ede, a physiologist who studies sleep and the human biological time clock. His company, Circadian Technologies, consults with companies that operate around the clock, requiring many workers to work during the night and sleep during the day.

Our biological system is geared to sleep at night, but the work world does not always accommodate human physiology. I asked Moore-Ede if people who have to sleep during the day must fool their biological time clocks.

MOORE-EDE: Well, yes, whether one used the pejorative world "fool" or whether one uses taking advantage of scientific knowledge. But certainly, you have to recognize that reality. Now, there's nothing intrinsically impossible about shifting your time of sleep and alertness. It is actually -- we understand a lot about the levers of that. After all, if you went and flew across the Atlantic and went to work in Paris for a while, you would be working on a different time zone and a different schedule, and you would be feeling perfectly well-adapted to that.

And you've got to study -- what are the differences? Well, one of the key differences is the timing and exposure to light and dark. And, in fact, if you can control light and dark, it's the single biggest cue that determines where are our own biological clock in the brain lands up. So that, for example, if I were to put you on the nightshift and make your exposure to light be similar or in similar range to the daytime, and then when you're sleeping at home make sure that it's totally pitch dark, your biological clock will totally adapt and you will feel no different during the night hours of work than you would during the day hours of work previously.

Now, that's very well if you're -- got people working in a very controlled environment. I mean, you can do it easily on a Navy submarine or on an oil rig platform, where you've got total control. Of course, the missing factor is the social life of one's family and friends. And that's where people really get deeply into trouble because they try to -- that's where they try to burn at both ends and try to adapt their wake and sleep patterns to their family life, and then they try to adapt -- also they're trying to make a compromise with their work life. And that's typically where the whole thing comes falling apart.

GROSS: When you talk about how you can set your biological clock with your use of light and dark, does the light have to be sunlight, daylight or can it just be electric lights?

MOORE-EDE: It can be electric light. It has to be a sufficient intensity of light to have an effect. We know that, although you do -- can have some levels of resetting of light with dimmer levels of light, in fact, over a number of consecutive days. So that in other words, if you keep on getting up at 5:00 in the morning and turning the room lights on week after week, you will adjust to that spontaneously.

But in fact, using bright light of at least 2,500 lux, which is a unit of measurement. I'm going to give you a feeling of the scale here. In a typical office situation, people are typically working somewhere between 200 and 400 lux. When you walk outside on a bright sunny day, it may be 50,000 lux; it may be 100,000 lux on the beach. And when you go into a movie theater, you're probably dealing with about two or three lux of light.

Now many people do jobs, like, your aircraft pilot does his job in movie-levels of light, which is a sort of scary thought in itself. But that level of light that is similar to a cloudy day outside, which is in the range between 5,000 and 10,000 lux is very effective at shifting the clock. You don't literally need sunlight to do it, but you need daylight levels of light.

GROSS: Where is our so-called biological clock?

MOORE-EDE: Well, there is a key central biological clock, which is called the "super-chiasmatic nucleus" or SCN for short; which is located in the hypothalamus, which is one of the older parts of the brain that's actually located back behind the eyes. It's called super-chiasmatic because "super" from the Latin meaning "above," and "chiasmatic" meaning "above the optic chiasm" -- and that's the place where the main optic nerves cross over as they go back towards the occipital cortex -- the back of the brain.

And at that point, we've got these two little clusters of nerve cells. There are about 10,000 nerve cells, but it's very small. It's about a third of millimeter in size. And this biological clock acts as the central pacemaker that governs the timing of our lives.

GROSS: And how does it do that, or is that too technical?

MOORE-EDE: Well, it -- we could take the first level shot at it. What it does is it actually -- it itself can sustain time all by itself. In other words, we could take it out into a petri dish and it will mark time in the petri dish, and we can transplant it back into another animal and we will transport knowledge of time of the donor back into the animal.

So it's literal is, like a little microchip, as it were, which operates on its own. So that's a very first important thing. It spontaneously runs at about a 25 -- in humans, about a 25-hour pattern. In mice, it happens to be closer to 23. So it's different species to species. That clock is reset each day by light, particularly at dawn. In other words, you get this corrective stimulus -- bright light falling on the retina at dawn traverses up and hits this biological clock at a time when it's sensitive to what are called "phase advances," or shifts earlier in time.

And so what it does it is pushes the clock back into sync again, sort of like a wrist watch which is running at 25 hours and you reset it every morning when you wake up.

Now that clock, in turn, drives all sorts of hormonal and neural signals going out to the pineal gland, which controls melatonin and this hormone that promotes sleep. It triggers into various parts of the endocrine axes of the body. And that, in turn, sends signals out to every cell. So it really is the conductor of the orchestra. It's making sure that all the different rhythms of the body are all kept in sync with each other, which is a key part in terms of normal health and in terms of your ability to stay synchronized with the environment.

GROSS: You would like to see more hotels that cater to international travelers who are changing time zones all the time; like to see these hotels be better equipped to help the international traveler sleep. What would you like to see?

MOORE-EDE: Well, one of the classic things in the hotel room is that, particularly if you want to sleep outside the hours that are traditional for that society in that time zone. In other words, you've just flown over into a new time zone. You're just going to be there a short period of time. You want to stay on home-based time, as opposed to local time zone -- is you want total control over light, dark, quiet, disturbances and so forth. So you want a light -- totally light-type room. You want to be able to get pitch darkness at any hour of day and night. You want to make sure that sounds are controlled, that it's adequately sound-proofed. You'd like access to lighting systems or bright light visors or other techniques that can help reset the biological clock if you so choose.

And you want the services of the hotel to be oriented in that direction. In other words, you want to have 24-hour room service available; in other words, so you can decide to eat dinner at 5:00 in the morning if that suits you.

You also want to make sure that the hotel maintenance staff and the people who clean the rooms are savvy to what schedule you are on, so they don't come barging in in the middle of sleep and wanting to vacuum out the room or whatever.

So it is something we're starting to see happening, and indeed, many hotels are not very good in this direction at all. But we're starting to see this -- and it really is a requisite to be able to work and live reliably, particularly for the business traveler, who these days, with a global economy, is having to hip-hop, you know, jump around the globe and often land in a city in a far away time zone for a very short space of time before moving on.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us. Thank you.

MOORE-EDE: It's been a pleasure.

GROSS: Dr. Martin Moore-Ede is the president of Circadian Technologies and author of "The Twenty-Four Hour Society." His next book, "The Idiot's Guide to Getting a Good Night's Sleep" will be published in September.

Coming up, satirist Harry Shearer talks about President Clinton's talk to the nation last night.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington DC
Guest: Martin Moore-Ede
High: Sleep physiologist Martin Moore-Ede. He is founder and president of Circadian Technologies, Inc., which helps shiftworkers cope with night shifts and rotating work schedules. He provides assistance to companies that are open round-the-clock. Dr. Moore-Ede is a professor at Harvard Medical School and is the author of the newly published "The Twenty-Four Hour Society: Understanding Human Limits in a World That Never Stops" (Addison Wesley).
Spec: Health and Medicine; Martin Moore-Ede; Science
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 Cable News Network, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Prepared by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Cable News Network, Inc.'s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material; provided, however, that members of the news media may redistribute limited portions (less than 250 words) of this material without a specific license from CNN so long as they provide conspicuous attribution to CNN as the originator and copyright holder of such material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.
End-Story: Sleep Expert Martin Moore-Ede

Date: AUGUST 18, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081802NP.217
Head: Satirist Harry Shearer on Clinton
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:52

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Much of America today is preoccupied with mulling over what President Clinton said last night in his brief address to the nation. We called political satirist Harry Shearer early this morning. He creates political satires for his public radio program "Le Show" and for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. And he does the voices for many of the characters on the "The Simpsons."

I asked Harry about his reaction to the president's talk last night.

HARRY SHEARER, SATIRIST; COLUMNIST; VOICE ACTOR, "THE SIMPSONS": I think I was not the only person surprised at the complete absence of lip bites.


But you know, that symbolized the fact that he didn't do what was expected and try to pull emotional strings. He -- of course, I'm talking about the performance as opposed to the content. Is there content these days?

But you know, I was surprised that it was a much angrier or combative apology. It reminded me of, you know, and I -- I guess I'm not sorry to say this, but if you want a five-year-old boy to apologize and he might pout while saying the words.

GROSS: Last night, President Clinton referred to his deposition in January about Monica Lewinsky, and he said: "while my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information." Regarding the "legally accurate," I'm sure you've been reading the latest legal definitions of "sex." And I wonder what that's been making you think about?

SHEARER: It's been making me think about why Americans hate lawyers. You know, that was the one sentence in the speech that probably, aside from attacking Ken Starr, if he had it to do over again, he might not have done. The -- you know, all the speculation about whether he'd take refuge in the definition -- definition one that was handed to him in the Paula Jones case revolved around what you might call "smart lawyering." But if there's anything Americans hate more than politicians, it's lawyers.

And I thought the one thing that the president couldn't be seen to do in a public apology was to come on like a lawyer. So, you know, it just seemed to me that that was skirting the danger zone there, you should pardon the expression. You should pardon all these expressions.


Let's just -- a blanket disclaimer, ladies and gentlemen: pardon every expression that's used in this interview.

GROSS: You've been pretty obsessed with this story. Tell me why.

SHEARER: It's a good story, and it's -- and the media have done their usual job of excess on it, both of which I think are fascinating things to watch. It's also, I think, a sign of how well-off things are generally in the country that we can sort of take a mental vacation like this.

And in many ways, it reminds me of the O.J. spectacle. I mean, these are fantasy (INAUDIBLE) spectacles, if I may wax pretentious, you know. And we have the luxury of, in both cases, telling the pollsters we're not interested and then turning and consuming every tidbit of it. I plead guilty to the latter, but not the former. I don't make any excuses about it. It does involve the president of the United States. It does involve a smart man acting, apparently, in an exceedingly dumb manner, which I find fascinating.

You know, the idea that this guy who knew he had implacable foes, perhaps the most implacable since Richard Nixon set foot in the White House, would take a step that reeks of fast carelessness, when this woman apparently was coming at him with groupie-vibes from 3,000 miles away; makes you think that maybe the Rhodes Scholarship people should take their money back from him.

I find that in a character way -- in the study of human character -- really fascinating. There is, of course, that element that I think makes everybody's ears perk up, which is: what the hell is this marriage really about? I hear stories. I think a lot of people have heard stories. It's the stuff of gossip on a national level. You know, the First Marriage is a subject of some debate.

And then there is the fact that, once again, we're watching the public discourse -- or the rules that govern public discourse be rewritten. You know, it's -- in a childish way, it's fun to see anchor men say "semen."

GROSS: Yeah, it's pretty interesting to watch "oral sex" be a part of the evening news.

SHEARER: Yeah, it's fun to watch their expressions, you know. They -- if you get them alone, they'll always make the same speech, you know: this isn't what I got into this business to talk about. And yet, you know, I think the weight and the amount of the coverage has been dictated not by -- not so much by their -- the adolescent state of the mindset of the Washington press corps, which I think is partly true, but just, I think, has been driven by the fact that although they couldn't say it on the air, from the very first moment, everybody in Washington knew that this guy was guilty of this. And that's the dominant feeling that dictated the nature and the extent of the coverage.

GROSS: You know, it's interesting -- some of the central O.J. figures are now pundits on the Monica Lewinsky story.

SHEARER: Here's F. Lee Bailey back again.

GROSS: Marcia Clark is often anchoring a show. And Johnnie Cochran has been weighing in. I -- is -- does it seem odd to you that the central characters in the O.J. story are now the pundits for the Monica Lewinsky story?

SHEARER: Well, on my radio show, to make an unseemly self-reference ...


GROSS: Oh, it's so unlike you.

SHEARER: ... I had ...


... O.J. call Clinton from the golf course to give him some advice. So that doesn't surprise me at all. I think it's gone farther than we know.

I think in the '90s, if I had to sum up my feeling about America: everything's O.J.

GROSS: Do you think when the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton story is over that Kenneth Starr will end up having his own show?


SHEARER: Yeah, on the Christian Broadcasting Network. I think he'll, you know, do summer relief at the Old Time Gospel Hour when Jerry Falwell goes on vacation. You know, this -- one of the things that's interesting about this drama, or as we call it in Hollywood, this "dramedy" ...


... is that sometimes people get the enemies they deserve. And Bill Clinton, this rambunctious libertine, has, you know, ended up fighting a pitched-battle with a prig. And it's pretty classic in that way.

GROSS: Back in the O.J. era, Geraldo used to call his show "The O.J. Show of Record."

SHEARER: Yes, he did.

GROSS: Which program do you think is the "Monica Lewinsky Show of Record?"

SHEARER: Well, I -- you know, the fact is we've, of course, the media landscape has changed since then, and I don't think we have shows of record anymore. I think we have "Networks of Record" now, you know. And I think MS-NBC tries to make every lurid big story its own by just smearing it throughout the program schedule. So I think in some ways we've gone beyond programs. We have to take it in larger chunks than that these days.

But you know, Terry, I -- it's -- in some ways, I think this, and not to excuse Bill Clinton's behavior because I think, as I say, it's -- you know, if stupidity were a grounds for impeachment, I think he'd be out of office tomorrow because it just was remarkably stupid. But in some ways, yes, you know, there's a direct line from Gary Hart on the "Monkey Business" (ph) to this incident. But I think in the old days, I hear, American politicians used to be vetted by their peers before they were allowed to run for high office, and guys who had egregious personal problems were more often than not weeded out by their seniors, who thought: well, he's a nice young chap, but we really can't have this. And they pat him on the head and give him some safe office that -- to occupy.

And our generation, the baby boom generation, dispensed with the political party system in large part because we were fed up with it. It was unresponsive to us. And we were also very sick and tired of the old boy network that protected things like President Kennedy sleeping with an East German spy and a Mafia princess in the White House. We wanted openness in our system. Well, we got openness.

GROSS: My guest is political satirist Harry Shearer. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Back with political satirist Harry Shearer. We're talking about the president's brief address last night and the media coverage of the Clinton-Lewinsky story.

Well, Democrats and Republicans seem to be saying now this story has gone on too long. It's time to wrap it up. It's time for Kenneth Starr to wrap it up, so we can get on with the business of America. As a satirist, do you think the story has gone on too long and will you be sorry to see it end?

SHEARER: Of course, and it hasn't gone on -- by which, when both Democrats and Republicans say that, of course, the truth is, it hasn't gone on nearly long enough. You know, we've heard this litany for a while now, that we need to get on with the business of the country and what we elected this guy to do. And as I was implying earlier with my -- what I was saying about the changes we made in the electoral system. In some very real ways, this is what we elected this guy to do. I think he's done a fine job of this. You know, we elected him to give us this show. We sort of knew who he was and he's given us what we wanted.

GROSS: Is that how you feel? That you knew -- you expected this to happen?

SHEARER: Well, I mean, everybody knew that Bill Clinton was, as they say in the South, "a tough dog to keep on the porch." And obviously, I think that you expect a man of his intelligence to know that the rules have changed since Kennedy and that maybe once he gets into the White House, maybe he should restrain himself and try to put the reins on his character. But when it comes out as before, you know, surprise isn't one of the real emotions you're entitled to.

You know, I've -- the Republicans who went around saying "character counts" I think are entitled to a little round of "I told you so's" at this point.

GROSS: Has anyone gotten angry with you for your satires about the president and the president's sex life; feeling that you've gone too far, that this isn't a laughing matter?


SHEARER: The question itself was a laughing matter. No, interestingly, I got a lot more of that about making fun of the O.J. situation than about this. Now you can sort of understand that in one of two ways. One, of course, is the obvious that the O.J. situation was a matter of life and death. Two people were murdered, and I never made fun of the murders. But still, people can sort of hang on to that and think that it's -- the entire spectacle becomes unseemly for satire.

The other is that public radio listeners felt that O.J. was beneath them but that this is not.

GROSS: You mean that this story was beneath them?

SHEARER: No, that this story was not beneath them because it involves the president of the United States, tabloid though the story be. But that the O.J. story, involving just, you know, celebrities and the demi-monde of Brentwood and Orange County did not rise to the level of public radio importance.

GROSS: So what do you think the next big story's going to be?

SHEARER: You know, I think in the middle of O.J., we couldn't have predicted this. Well, I do think that it -- the real open question is whether this makes every politician's private life in excruciating detail a public matter; or whether this marks the end of that chapter. And I do think that's an open question.

You know, if it -- if everybody's public life is an open book -- private life is an open book at this point, then we are going to have a new class of political leaders. We're going to, for the first time, have under-testosteroned men running for office, as opposed to the over-testosteroned guys who occupy positions of power now. And that'll be an interesting experience. It probably means Al Gore will be our next president.

But if everybody's private life is an open book, you know, it's just going to get incredibly lurid, knowing what one thinks one knows about some of the possible candidates for the year 2000.

GROSS: Harry, in summer movies you've played crude newscasters twice, in "King Kong" and in "The Truman Show."

SHEARER: In "Godzilla."

GROSS: I mean "Godzilla." I'm sorry.

SHEARER: That's all right.

GROSS: I was just watching "King Kong" the other night on television.

SHEARER: They're both big.

GROSS: Yeah, they're both big. That's right. So I'm wondering if you were like the person of choice who comes to mind whenever casting director thinks: "crude newscaster -- get Harry."

SHEARER: Well, that would be nice if that were true, yeah. But in an upcoming picture about -- a comedy about Watergate, I play G. Gordon Liddy, so ...

GROSS: Do you really?

SHEARER: ... yes.

GROSS: What movie is that?


GROSS: What movie is that?

SHEARER: It's called "Dick." It's a comedy about Watergate that's coming out next year. So I guess if I'm thinking of typecasting, I guess, if casting directors of thinking of convicted felons turned radio talk show hosts, they would think of me, as well.

GROSS: Exactly. I mean, there's somebody else who was a central character in a scandal and who's now a pundit.

SHEARER: Yes, well I mean, you know, we do have this -- radio talk shows are, of course, the last refuge of the convicted felon, because both Oliver North and G. Gordon Liddy have made their latter-day fame having made that transition. You know, I think that's the most interesting thing about modern America. And a show that I'm, as we speak, doing a pilot of for HBO really takes that as its central premise, that this slipperiness of identity between notoriety and fame and politics and journalism and media and celebrity and notoriety and all of that just sort of just smushed into one thing. And in some way, we're unable to remember now, you know, who became famous for doing something good and who became famous for doing something evil. It just -- it doesn't make any difference anymore.

You know, Susan Molinari became famous for making a speech and talking about her baby. And G. Gordon Liddy became famous for masterminding a burglary. And here they are both on the air now. Well, except she's not anymore.

But you know, so what difference does it make?

GROSS: When is this HBO show going to be on?

SHEARER: I think it's just a pilot at this point, and I don't think it's going to be aired because it's very topical and, you know, it's just for them to see whether they want to commission the series. But if the series happens, it would happen I would hope soon, but probably around the first of the year.

GROSS: Well, I hope it does happen.

SHEARER: Me, too. It's a very new form of animation that allows me to play most of the characters and produce it very close to the time that you see it. So it's very exciting.

GROSS: Well, that's sounds great. Well, Harry, thanks a lot for talking with us.

SHEARER: My pleasure, Terry.

GROSS: Harry Shearer is the host of the public radio program "Le Show." You can also hear his political satires on his Website,

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington DC
Guest: Harry Shearer
High: Satirist and columnist Harry Shearer. He's the host of the syndicated NPR program "Le Show," does several voices on "The Simpsons" and is a weekly commentator on ABC TV's World News Now. Shearer will give us his thoughts on President Clinton's talk to the nation last night regarding his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
Spec: Clinton; Politics; Sexuality
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 Cable News Network, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Prepared by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Cable News Network, Inc.'s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material; provided, however, that members of the news media may redistribute limited portions (less than 250 words) of this material without a specific license from CNN so long as they provide conspicuous attribution to CNN as the originator and copyright holder of such material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.
End-Story: Satirist Harry Shearer on Clinton
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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