WASHINGTON — Rob Reiner’s new movie “Shock & Awe” is the story of the Knight-Ridder D.C. journalists who “got it right” on Iraq, as he says, in their skeptical coverage that cast serious doubts about the Bush administration’s case for war.
Reiner plays bureau chief John Walcott, who at one point tells his reporters, “When the government says something, you only have one question to ask, and that is, ‘Is it true?'”
“Certainly most of the mainstream journalists did not ask those tough questions in the run up to the war in Iraq, and I would submit that they didn’t ask those questions of Donald Trump during the campaign,” Reiner tells Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM’s POTUS Channel. “And I think he got pretty much a free ride.”
He said that since Trump was elected, many news outlets are “doing their due diligence, but now we have a country that is divided, and the information that is going to the other side is going to them through one source. And that is through the president and essentially the state-run media of Fox and Sinclair and Breitbart and Alex Jones, and also amplified, still by Russia.”
The movie also stars Woody Harrelson as Jonathan Landay, James Marsden as Warren Strobel, and Tommy Lee Jones as Joe Galloway, as they try to debunk the evidence that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire nuclear weapons and held a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. The problem was that so much of D.C. and the public was not paying much attention to their work.
Reiner says that he “never knew about these guys” and didn’t know that their reporting existed. He himself was “convinced there was no rationale for war,” and other media figures like Phil Donahue, then hosting an MSNBC show, shared that skepticism. His show was canceled a month before the invasion.
Reiner says that even 15 years later, “it is a very tough reckoning to realize that America was wrong.” DirecTV is showing it this month, and Vertical Entertainment will release it in theaters on July 13, but lining up financing was difficult. He says he and his wife, Michele, ended up funding part of the movie themselves when one producer dropped out at the last minute.
The movie, he says, is “about the importance of the truth and getting the truth out.”
Listen below, as Reiner talks more about Trump and Russia, and why Robert De Niro’s Tony outburst at the president is not a helpful way to oppose him.
Gray Lady Finale
Liz Garbus, the director of Showtime’s New York Times documentary “The Fourth Estate,” chats about filming the four-part series and what it says about the way that reporters interact with the Trump administration. She also talks about how she handled situations where reporters were talking to confidential or off-the-record sources. Another revelation: Times reporters are talking to Trump White House figures frequently, some of which are the harshest critics of the paper’s coverage.
“They are all talking to them all the time, and the cry of the fake news is really just a technique to discredit stories that they don’t like,” she says.
“PopPolitics,” hosted by Variety‘s Ted Johnson, airs from 2-3 p.m. ET/11-noon PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.