Penn discussed the public backlash he received in 2002, when he wrote an open letter in the Washington Post condemning President George W. Bush for his threats to invade Iraq, followed by a trip he took to Baghdad.
“When I got back from that trip, if I was watching the news, I was persona non grata. I was a traitor. I was a communist. I was a socialist. I was an apologist for tyrannical dictators. I was whatever they decided to say that I was,” the actor said. “I thought I was going to go out on the street in Memphis, Tennessee, and get shot, which is where I had flown to directly from Iraq.”
Penn said that while he expected to be harassed, the people there “were as nice as could be,” and compared that experience to problems he sees with the press now.
“The media has not been very good at reflecting, or maybe has intentionally reflected, something other than what this country of people are, and this is where they’ve let us down,” he said. “This is even with other networks who try very hard to do it. We have to recognize at least this much, that even very talented journalists — caring, well-intended, responsible journalists and reporters — as long as the show they work for has commercial breaks, then those sponsors are going to guide [the issues].”
Penn also discussed writing his first controversial book, “Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff,” which he said he had been procrastinating for 50 years.
“The fact that I waited 50 years to start writing a book, I found myself very turned on by the process,” he said. “What happened is I wrote the book in 30 days and then rewrote for two years,” describing how he would walk around the room and dictate to his assistant, then go through and edit it. “I loved getting lost in it, and that’s what happened and I kept doing that.”
Penn also discussed his hesitations about writing a memoir due to false memory syndrome and related that to the film industry, describing an Oscar-winning movie he went to see that he “thought was bloody awful.” He added, “I often felt alienated by what the common wisdom was on movies. I felt like things were increasingly getting overrated or over-tanked.”
The first part of the interview will run on Sunday on the “It’s Electric” show, which streams on Beats 1 on Apple Music. Part two runs on May 27 on the streaming service.