'Shock and Awe' director Rob Reiner on the damage Fox News is doing to its viewers

Shock and Awe might be set during the months leading up to the Iraq War after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but upon viewing the film, you’ll quickly realize just how relevant it truly is. A new film from celebrated director Rob Reiner, Shock and Awe is based on the true story of journalists Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay.

Strobel (James Marsden) and Landay (Woody Harrelson) were journalists working for Knight Ridder, a media corporation that owned more than 30 American newspapers before it was bought by the McClatchy Company in 2006. They hold the sad distinction of being two of the few American journalists who were rightly skeptical of the claims made by former President George W. Bush’s administration regarding the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which the United States invaded on March 20, 2003.

In the movie, Strobel and Landay find themselves being largely ignored as outlets like the New York Times (which has since acknowledged their faulty reporting) and the Washington Post (they apologized as well) published erroneous information or underreported skepticism over the administration’s claims. In one scene, the pair find themselves being angrily confronted by two men who had been watching prewar coverage on Fox News. The station, then run by Roger Ailes, was and has since been criticized for seemingly cheerleading the Bush administration.

James Marsden as Warren Strobel and Woody Harrelson as Jonathan Landay in Rob Reiner’s new Iraq War-era movie, <i>Shock and Awe</i>. (Photo: Vertical Entertainment/Courtesy Everett Collection)
James Marsden as Warren Strobel and Woody Harrelson as Jonathan Landay in Rob Reiner’s new Iraq War-era movie, Shock and Awe. (Photo: Vertical Entertainment/Courtesy Everett Collection)

When Reiner, who also plays then-Knight Ridder Washington bureau chief John Walcott in the movie, came to Yahoo Entertainment’s Los Angeles studios, he chatted with us about how he sees Fox News and similar outlets still doing damage to the American public during the Trump administration.

“This is the first time in American history where we essentially have a state-run media for a president, with Fox, Breitbart, Sinclair, and Alex Jones, and so on,” Reiner tells us. “There’s always been propaganda. Administrations have always used propaganda, both Republican and Democrat, to sell a policy or rationale to go to war. But it’s never been where you have a big chunk of mainstream media basically doing a flak job for the administration. And that’s the scary part right now.

“And that’s really what [Shock and Awe] is about,” he continues. “It’s about journalists trying to break through with the truth. Because unless the truth comes to the American public, they have no way of knowing how they can make decisions on their leaders. And it’s one thing for the media to be facing headwinds of patriotism and wanting access and wanting to not look like we’re being unpatriotic, and another, like now, where you’re facing headwinds of other mainstream media pushing back and basically saying you’re the enemy of the people, that you’re fake news. It’s no longer an argument about what’s the right policy, it’s about what’s true. And that is very upsetting to the American public because they become confused and they don’t know what’s true and what’s not true.

“I think Fox was always a conservative news outlet, but it’s become propaganda to a large extent,” Reiner adds. “There is a news division of it, but except for Shepard Smith and Bret Baier, there’s very little of that going on. I think that people who are watching are only getting a certain view of things, and usually it reinforces the view that they already have, so they’re pretty much boxed into a way of thinking, and they keep getting reinforced with that, and so it becomes more and more difficult to penetrate into their way of thinking.”

Shock and Awe is in theaters now and is available on demand.

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