Phil Donahue is on a mission to show Americans a view of what’s going on in Iraq that they’re not seeing.
"This is a sanitized war," says the iconic TV talk show host, in San Francisco this week promoting "Body of War," a documentary he co-directed with Ellen Spiro.
The film, Donahue’s first foray into directing, tells the story of Tomas Young, who was paralyzed at age 22 from a bullet wound he sustained to his spinal cord after serving less than a week in Iraq.
Getting up close and personal, the movie focuses on Young’s return home to Kansas City, where he faces daily difficulties living with extreme disabilities and becomes an anti-war activist.
Interspersed is footage from CSPAN showing members of what Donahue calls a "spineless" Congress as they rubber-stamp President Bush’s plans for war.
"It’s unbelievable how this president scared the hell out of everybody," says Donahue, "only 23 senators said no."
Donahue was equally struck upon first meetingYoung. He was introduced to the soldier through Ralph Nader; the three met when Young was being treated at Walter Reed Medical Center near Washington, D.C.
"He had sunken cheekbones, he was loopy from drugs. His mother explained the gravity of the injuries; he was paralyzed from the nipples down. I saw the debilitation. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing," says Donahue.
The film is unlike anything he did working in television for decades. He says, "I never spent three years on one show. This is a long and winding road, and a contact sport. We’re jumping out of cakes all across America."
He’s pleased to bring his message to San Francisco, a place that hosted his program for a week on more than one occasion.
It’s no secret that he’ll vote for a Democrat this year, but he won’t say who. And, setting politics aside, in his spare time he enjoys his boat, grandchildren and a wife who’s never boring.
As for fellow talk-show pioneer Oprah Winfrey, he says, "She’s in the stratosphere. More power to her for the success she’s enjoying."
Body of War
Starring Tomas Young
Directed by Phil Donahue, Ellen Spiro
Running time 1 hour, 27 minutes
Note: Donahue and Spiro will be at the Clay Theatre in San Francisco after the 4:45 p.m. April 19 screening and at the Shattuck in Berkeley after the 4:50 p.m. April 20 showing of the film.