ROB REINER

Actor, director and activist Rob Reiner takes on Hollywood, the Washington establishment, and President Donald Trump.

Aired on September 5, 2018 and August 12, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> IN 2003 THE UNITED STATES PREEMPTIVELY ATTACKED IRAQ IN A WAR THAT WOULD LAST FOR EIGHT YEARS.

ACTOR, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER ROB REINER'S NEW MOVIE IS THE STORY OF A JOURNALIST AND THEIR COVERAGE THAT CAST SERIOUS DOUBTS ABOUT THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S CASE FOR GOING TO WAR.

TAKE A LOOK.

SIMPLY STATED THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT SADAAM HUSSEIN NOW HAS WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION.

THEY'RE DIALING UP THE RHETORIC ON IRAQ.

LET'S SEE IF WE CAN NAIL THEM DOWN, OKAY.

LET'S GET TO WORK.

WORKING ON A THEORY THAT THE ADMINISTRATION HAS ALREADY DECIDED TO GO TO WAR AND IS NOW FOCUSED ON HOW TO JUSTIFY IT.

IT'S NOT A THEORY.

WE'RE WORKING ON SOMETHING IMPORTANT.

THAT'S WHY I'M HERE, TO MAKE YOU AN OFFER.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW?

EVERYTHING THE ADMINISTRATION DOESN'T WANT US TO KNOW.

A SECRET WAR PLANNING GROUP HAS BEEN SET UP IN THE BUILDING WHERE I WORK.

WHICH BUILDING IS THAT?

THE ONE WITH FIVE SIDES.

THEY DON'T CARE ABOUT THE TRUTH.

THEY WANT A WAR, THEY'RE GOING TO GET ONE.

SHOCK AND AWE.

ALL DUE RESPECT, SIR, MY SOURCES MIGHT EVEN BE IN THIS ROOM.

DID YOU ACTUALLY HAVE SOURCES IN THE ROOMS?

NO, BUT IT WAS FUN WATCHING THEM SWEAT LIKE WHORES IN CHURCH.

HERE IS ROB REINER, AN OUTSPOKEN ACTIVIST, HIS TAKE ON WHAT'S GOING ON IN WASHINGTON AND AROUND THE COUNTRY.

GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE.

THANKS VERY HAVING ME.

I WAS CURIOUS ABOUT HOW FOLKS WHO ARE EXPERIENCED, SUCCESSFUL DIRECTORS, PRODUCERS, ACTORS, DECIDE ON PARTICULAR PROJECTS.

YES.

SO WHAT WAS IT ABOUT THIS THAT MADE YOU SAY, YOU KNOW, I'M -- AND YOU ARE ALL IN.

YOU'RE ACTING, YOU'RE PRODUCING, YOU'RE DIRECTING.

WHY THIS PROJECT?

WELL, YOU KNOW, I WANTED TO MAKE A FILM ABOUT HOW WE GOT INTO IRAQ FROM -- RIGHT FROM THE GET GO, RIGHT AFTER THE INVASION OF -- IN 2003.

AND I -- BEING OF DRAFT AGE DURING THE VIETNAM WAR I COULDN'T BELIEVE THAT WE WERE GOING TO WAR AGAIN BASED ON A LIE.

AND THAT WAS, YOU KNOW, JUST INCREDIBLE TO ME.

AND I DIDN'T REALLY KNOW HOW TO APPROACH IT.

I THOUGHT, WELL, I'LL MAKE IT A SATIRE, LIKE A DR. STRANGE LOVE KIND OF THING.

I COULDN'T GET A SCRIPT I LIKED.

THEN TRIED IT AS A DRAMA.

THEN I SAW THIS DOCUMENTARY BY BILL MOIERS WHO WE QUO AT THE BEGINNING OF THE FILM.

HE INTERVIEWED THESE FOUR JOURNALISTS, ALL ABOUT HOW THEY GOT IT ALL RIGHT, EVERY ASPECT OF THE RUNUP TO THE WAR RIGHT BUT THEY COULDN'T BREAK THROUGH.

I THOUGHT THAT'S MY WAY INTO THIS STORY.

THEN WE MADE THIS AND IT REALLY BECOMES ABOUT THE CHALLENGE OF JOURNALISM TO BREAK THROUGH AND GET THE TRUTH TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.

BECAUSE IF THEY DON'T, WE CAN SEE WHAT THE CONSEQUENCES ARE.

WHY DO YOU THINK IT WAS, HAVING LIVED THROUGH THIS, AND KNOWING THAT THERE'S USUALLY A TENSION BETWEEN JOURNALISTS AND PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATIONS, HISTORICALLY IT'S BEEN THAT WAY.

RIGHT.

SOMETIMES THAT TENSION GETS RATCHETED UP, WE SEE IT NOW, BUT WE'VE SEEN IT WITH OTHER PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATIONS, THE TENSION GETS RATCHETED UP AND BECOMES ADVERSARIAL, MAYBE EVEN CONFRONTATIONAL.

BUT IT SEEMS, LOOKING BACK AS IF IN -- THE TIME PERIOD LEADING UP TO 2003 AND OUR INVOLVEMENT IN IRAQ, THAT THERE WASN'T THAT TENSION, THERE WASN'T THAT PUSH.

RIGHT.

TO DIG.

RIGHT.

AND THAT --

WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE STORY HERE.

WHY DO YOU THINK THAT WAS?

I'M NOT CONDEMNING EVERYBODY.

NO, NO, NO, BUT I THINK IT WAS CLEARLY THE TRAUMA OF 9/11 WHICH WAS SO PERVASIVE WITH THE PRESS CORPS THAT THERE WAS GROUP THINK.

NOBODY WANTED TO SEEM UNPATRIOTIC TO GO AGAINST THE ADMINISTRATION, ESPECIALLY WHEN WE HAD JUST BEEN ATTACKED.

AND SO THERE WASN'T THE CRITICAL DUE DILIGENCE THAT NORMALLY THE PRESS WOULD DO BECAUSE THERE IS AN ADVERSARIAL RELATIONSHIP IN THE PRESS AND THE ADMINISTRATION AND THERE SHOULD BE.

THAT'S THE WHOLE POINT.

I MEAN, THE CHARACTER IN THE FILM SAYS, YOU KNOW, IF THE GOVERNMENT SAYS SOMETHING, YOU HAVE ONE QUESTION TO ASK, IS IT TRUE?

AND THAT'S THE JOB IS TO GET TO THE TRUTH.

THERE IS THAT TENSION.

I THINK THE TENSION WENT AWAY BECAUSE PEOPLE WERE FRIGHTENED OF LOOKING UNPATRIOTIC.

DO YOU SEE -- SOMETIMES STORIES ARE TOLD ON FILM, AND SOMETIMES THEY'RE JUST GOOD STORIES.

WHAT ARE YOU HOPING THE MESSAGE IS COMING OUT OF 'SHOCK AND AWE'.

WELL, WE OPENED THE FILM WITH A QUOTE BY BILL MOYERS.

A FRIEND OF OURS AND A COLLEAGUE.

GREAT GUY.

HE BASICALLY SAYS THAT A DEMOCRACY CANNOT SURVIVE WITHOUT A FREE AND INDEPENDENT PRESS, AND THAT IS THE MESSAGE OF THE FILM THAT RIGHT NOW THE PRESS IS UNDER ATTACK MORE THAN IT HAS EVER BEEN.

IT'S BEING CALLED THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE.

IT'S BEING CALLED FAKE NEWS.

AND IN ORDER FOR OUR DEMOCRACY TO SURVIVE, THE PRESS NEEDS TO HOLD THE ADMINISTRATION ACCOUNTABLE.

NOW, I DO BELIEVE THAT THERE IS A BIG SWATH OF MEDIA, PBS INCLUDED, 'NEW YORK TIMES,' 'WASHINGTON POST,' THE OTHER NETWORKS, THAT ARE DOING THAT, THAT ARE TRYING TO HOLD HIM ACCOUNTABLE.

BUT THERE'S 40% OF THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA, THE FOX, SINCLAIR, BREITBART, EVEN ALEX JONES, WHO ARE SPEAKING TO 40% OF THE AMERICAN PUBLIC.

AND FOR THE HONEST, MAINSTREAM PRESS TO BREAK THROUGH TO THAT 40% IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE AND ARGUABLY EVEN STRONGER HEAD WINDS THAN THE PRESS FACED AFTER 9/11.

I WANT TO TALK WITH YOU IN A MINUTE ABOUT SOME OF THOSE -- INCLUDING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE PRESIDENT AND THE PRESS.

BUT ONE LAST QUESTION I WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT THIS FILM.

IT'S POWERFUL, AS SOMEBODY WHO LIVED AS A JOURNALIST THROUGH THAT TIME, IT'S REVEALING.

BUT I WANT TO ASK YOU PERSONALLY, AS A FILMMAKER, AND I THINK PEOPLE MIGHT BE CURIOUS ABOUT THIS, HOW DO YOU DIRECT YOURSELF?

WHEN YOU DECIDED TO DIRECT A FILM AND YOU SAY, HERE'S MY LIST, AND YOU'VE GOT MARVELOUS ACTORS, AND I'M INCLUDING YOU IN THE LIST OF MARVELOUS.

THANK YOU.

BUT YOU'RE DIRECTING YOURSELF.

I'VE HEARD PEOPLE ASK THIS BEFORE, DO YOU DIRECT ANY DIFFERENTLY?

WELL, IT'S A RIDICULOUS CHORE BECAUSE IT'S A COMPLETELY SPLIT FOCUS.

AND I DIDN'T -- I WASN'T INITIALLY GOING TO DO THAT PART.

IT WAS SUPPOSED TO ALEX BALDWIN.

BEFORE HE WAS SUPPOSED TO SHOOT HE DROPPED OUT AND SAID I CAN'T DO THIS.

AND I HAD ALREADY BEEN SHOOTING FOR A WEEK.

I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO DO.

MY WIFE MICHELLE WHO IS ONE OF THE PRODUCERS SAID WHY DON'T YOU PLAY THE PART?

I FIGURED, WELL, I'M AVAILABLE, AND I WORK CHEAP.

I CAN GET ME FOR THIS PART.

SO I'M PLAYING A CHARACTER, JOHN WALLCOTT IN THE FILM AND HER ONE DIRECTION TO ME WAS TRY TO BE A LITTLE LESS JEWISH.

I DON'T KNOW IF I PULLED THAT OFF OR NOT, I HAD TO RUN BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN ACTING --

SOUNDS LIKE ONE OF YOUR DAD'S COMEDY ROUTINES AND MEL BROOKS, THE 2,000-YEAR-OLD MAN, HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

I HAD TO RUN BACK TO THE MONITOR AND CHECK MYSELF OUT.

IT WAS NOT PREFERABLE FOR ME.

HOW ABOUT WHEN YOU HAVE THE ARRAY OF STARS THAT YOU HAVE HERE, DO YOU DIRECT ANY DIFFERENTLY THAN IF YOU WERE DOING SOMETHING WITH SOME VERY TALENTED ACTORS, BUT SORT OF WORKING THEIR WAY UP, NOT WELL-KNOWN, DOES THAT CHANGE AT ALL?

NO, IT'S THE SAME, IT'S THE SAME.

ACTORS ARE ACTORS, SOME ACTORS NEED TO BE PUSHED, SOME ACTORS WANT TO BE LEFT ALONE.

YOU HAVE TO GET A SENSE OF WHICH ONE IS WHICH.

BUT THEY'RE BASICALLY ACTORS AND WE'RE ALL THERE TO SERVE THE MASTER, WHICH IS THE FILM, THE STORY.

AND WHEN YOU HAVE A GOOD STORY, AND IT'S A GOOD SCRIPT BY JOEY HEARTSTONE, ACTORS WANT TO CHECK THEIR EGOS AT THE DOOR, THEY REALLY WANT TO BE PART OF SOMETHING THAT'S BIGGER THAN THEMSELVES.

A GREAT COLLABORATIVE FEATURE.

IT IS.

I HAD A LOT OF IMPORTANT, BIG STARS AND STUFF, BUT THEY ALL WANTED TO SERVE THE STORY.

LET'S TRANSITION A LITTLE BIT IN USING THE FILM AS A BIT OF A SPRING BOARD INTO TALKING ABOUT SOME CURRENT POLITICAL ISSUES.

YOU AND I ARE SIMILAR AGE, YOU'VE GOT ME BY ABOUT THREE YEARS.

I'M OLDING THAN YOU.

YOU'RE A YOUNG PUPPY COMPARED TO ME.

WE'RE BOTH IN HIGH SCHOOL AND IN COLLEGE DURING VIETNAM AND DURING THE TURMOIL THAT THE VIETNAM WAR BECAME.

AND PEOPLE OFTEN TALK ABOUT THE STRESS THAT IT PUT ON SOCIETY.

AND HOW PARTISAN PEOPLE BECAME, EMOTIONALLY PARTISAN.

DO YOU SEE SIMILARITIES NOW IN TERMS OF THE PARTISAN POLITICS, THE TERM TRIBAL PARTISAN POLITICS, SIMILARITIES TO WHAT WAS TAKING PLACE IN THIS COUNTRY AND THE TEARING OF THE FABRIC OF THIS COUNTRY.

WHAT WE'RE EXPERIENCING NOW IS WORSE, NOT IN TERMS OF OBVIOUSLY LIVES ON THE LINE.

I MEAN, DURING VIETNAM WE HAD 58,000 DYING AND MILLIONS OF VIETNAMESE AND THE COST OF ALL OF THAT, IRAQ SAME KIND OF THING.

BUT WE WERE DIVIDED IN TERMS OF WHAT WE FELT WE SHOULD DO.

SHOULD WE BE IN THAT WAR?

SHOULD WE NOT?

WAS THERE CREEPING COMMUNISM, DOMINO EFFECT, WAS THERE NOT?

THOSE WERE A POLITICAL ARGUMENTS AND DISCUSSIONS THAT WERE GOING ON AND IT DID WIND UP IN THE STREETS AND AT THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION IN '68.

ALL THAT HAPPENED.

BUT RIGHT NOW, DEMOCRACY ITSELF IS BEING TORN APART.

AND IT'S NOT SO MUCH DO YOU AGREE WITH THIS POLICY OR THAT POLICY, IT'S ARE WE GOING TO DESTROY THE FOUNDATION OF DEMOCRACY, THE PILLARS OF DEMOCRACY, THE FREE PRESS, IS THAT BEING DESTROYED?

THE RULE OF LAW, IS THAT BEING DESTROYED?

THESE THINGS THAT HAVE HELD US TOGETHER FOR 242 YEARS OF SELF-RULE, THAT ERODING TO THE POINT WHERE IT COULD DISAPPEAR?

THERE'S NO GUARANTEE THAT DEMOCRACY SURVIVES FOREVER.

IT IS THE GREAT EXPERIMENT, AND WE ARE THE LONGEST LIVING EXAMPLE OF THAT EXPERIMENT.

BUT THERE'S NO GUARANTEE.

AND SO WE'RE SEEING NOW, IN A PRESIDENT WHO THEY SAY HE'S DECONSTRUCTING THE ADMINISTRATIVE STATE.

HE'S DOING AWAY WITH ALL NORMS.

THAT ACUTE SAYING THAT THERE'S AN EROSION IN DEMOCRACY AND A -- TO AUTHORITARIANISM, FASCISM, AUTOCRACY, HOWEVER YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT, AND THAT IS SCARIER TO ME THAN, YOU KNOW, FIGHTING OVER WHETHER OR NOT A PARTICULAR POLICY ONE WAY OR THE OTHER.

DO YOU THINK, LOOKING BACK, AND, YOU KNOW, YOU -- WE'VE ALWAYS HAD DISAGREEMENTS, THE FOUNDATION OF A DEMOCRACY IS BASICALLY WHEN WE DISAGREE, FIGURE OUT A WAY TO FIND SOME COMMON GROUND.

AND HISTORICALLY WE'VE GONE THROUGH ERAS THAT HAVE TORN US APART.

BUT YOU REMEMBER STORIES ABOUT, YOU KNOW, RONALD REAGAN AND TIP O'NEILL, THE ABILITY TO SIT DOWN AND HAVE A BEER TOGETHER AND DISAGREE DRAMATICALLY BUT FIND SOME WAY TO AGREE, SEEMS TO ME, TELL ME IF YOU SHARE THIS VIEW, SEEMS TO ME, HAVING BEEN A JOURNALIST FOR THE LAST 30 YEARS THAT FROM THE BILL CLINTON ERA ONWARD WE'VE SEEN THE POLITICS OF PERSONAL DESTRUCTION.

YEAH.

IT'S NOT ENOUGH JUST TO DISAGREE WITH SOMEBODY, YOU'VE GOT TO DESTROY THEM IF YOU DISAGREE.

THAT'S A GENERALIZATION, BUT I THINK IT'S FAIRLY ACCURATE AS A DEPICTION OF THINGS.

DO YOU THINK WE CAN EVER COME BACK FROM THAT?

I DO.

HOW DO WE DO THAT?

HERE'S HOW.

FIRST, WE HAVE TO PRESERVE DEMOCRACY.

THAT'S THE FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS.

IF WE DON'T PRESERVE DEMOCRACY AND IF WE DON'T STRENGTHEN RULE OF LAW AND THE ABILITY FOR THE FREE PRESS TO WORK AND DO WHAT THEY NEED TO DO, IF WE DON'T DO THESE THINGS THEN THERE'S NO DISCUSSION.

IF -- ASSUMING THAT WE PRESERVE DEMOCRACY, AND THOSE PILLARS ARE HOLDING US UP, THEN IT WILL TAKE A GREAT LEADER WHO IS WISE, WHO IS INTELLIGENT, WHO UNDERSTANDS THE NEXUS OF POLITICS, POLICY AND HOW GOVERNMENT WORKS, AND HOW THOSE THINGS INTERSECT.

AND WHO HAS TO BE CHARISMATIC.

I KNOW I'M PUTTING A LOT OF IF, IF, IFS ON IT.

BUT IF WE HAVE THAT GUY OR THAT WOMAN TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT, THEN YOU CAN START THE PROCESS OF HEALING AND BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER.

BUT IT'S GOING TO TAKE AN INCREDIBLE PERSON.

I MEAN, LOOK WHAT ABRAHAM LINCOLN HAD TO DO TO KEEP THE UNION TOGETHER.

WE DON'T WANT TO HAVE BLOODSHED OVER THIS, AND HOPEFULLY THERE WILL NOT BE BLOODSHED.

BUT WE DO HAVE A PRESIDENT WHO BASICALLY IS INCITING VIOLENCE.

HE DOES IT DURING HIS CAMPAIGN, HE DOES IT ALL THE TIME ABOUT INCITING VIOLENCE, I HOPE WE DON'T GO THERE, AND IF WE DO, THEN THAT'S TRAGIC AND WE'RE FIGHTING THE LAST BATTLE OF THE CIVIL WAR, WHICH I FEEL WE ARE FIGHTING NOW ANYWAY, WHETHER OR NOT IT'S DONE PHYSICALLY OR NOT.

BUT A GREAT LEADER WILL HAVE TO COME TO KNIT THIS ALL BACK TOGETHER.

LAST QUESTION FOR YOU, DO YOU THINK, TALKING ABOUT IF WE COULD FIND THAT PERSON, THAT MAN OR THAT WOMAN, OF WHATEVER PARTY WHO HAS THOSE QUALIFICATIONS.

RIGHT, RIGHT.

I'M WONDERING THE THAT PERSON COULD EVEN EMERGE THROUGH OUR SYSTEM, SORT OF THE WAY WE ARE NOW, YOU AND I WERE TALKING BEFORE, TO RUN FOR OFFICE, YOU HAVE TO RUN ON AN EXTREME END OF THE SPECTRUM, YOU CAN'T RUN AS A CENTRIST, EVEN THOUGH PEOPLE SAY THE ONLY WAY TO GOVERN A DEMOCRACY IS REALLY SORT OF FROM THE MIDDLE.

HAVE WE REACHED A POINT WHERE IT MIGHT BE IMPOSSIBLE?

THAT SOUNDS AWFULLY PESSIMISTIC.

I DON'T THINK IT'S IMPOSSIBLE.

FOR INSTANCE, I DON'T KNOW WHO'S GOING TO EMERGE, YOU KNOW, AS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IN 2020, BUT JOE BIDEN IS THE KIND OF PERSON WHO COULD BRING BOTH SIDES TOGETHER.

HE COMES FROM A WORKING CLASS BACKGROUND, EVEN THOUGH HE'S A DEMOCRAT HE HAS SOME CENTRIST VALUES.

HE HAS SOME PROGRESSIVE VALUES.

HE HAS SOME CONSERVATIVE VALUES.

AND HE COULD KNIT THAT BACK TOGETHER.

I DON'T KNOW IF HE WANTS TO RUN OR HE WILL RUN, BUT THAT KIND OF PERSON YOU'RE GOING TO NEED.

AND I THINK EVERYBODY KNOWS JOE BIDEN.

SO IT'S NOT LIKE JOE BIDEN IS GOING TO BECOME BERNIE SANDERS TO GET THE NOMINATION.

JOE BIDEN IS GOING TO BE WHO HE IS, AND HE WILL -- PEOPLE WILL KNOW WHO THAT IS.

SO I THINK SOMEBODY LIKE THAT COULD HOPEFULLY EMERGE.

IT'S INTERESTING.

BUT EVEN WITH PBS AND THE OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK AT LENGTH, THERE'S SOME LIMITS WHEN I HAVE TO WRAP UP.

BUT I WANT TO JUST GO BACK ONCE AGAIN AND MENTION 'SHOCK AND AWE,' THE FILM, SO POWERFUL AND SO REVEALING AND SO ENTERTAINING.

THANK YOU.

KIND OF WHAT YOU WANT FILMS TO BE NOWADAYS.

ROB, IT'S A PLEASURE TO SPEND SOME TIME WITH YOU.

YOU BE WELL.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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