Penn's War: Media Lap Dogs Backed Iraq Mess

Sean Penn, the actor-director-turned-political-activist, narrates a new anti-war documentary that alleges U.S. presidents since Kennedy have manipulated the public to wage wars.

The searing documentary coincides with the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and asserts that the mainstream media have been cheerleaders for a war that has cost the nation -- according to Department of Defense figures this week -- 3,980 lives.

The star, who won for best actor in the 2003 film "Mystic River," has been an outspoken critic of the war, often calling it "Dante's Inferno."

This week, "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death" has been released for home entertainment to distributors like Amazon and Best Buy and on Netflix. The film premiered in New York City, Saturday.

Penn, 47, has toured Iraq twice -- once just before the Bush administration stepped up drumbeats for the war in December 2002, and also as a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Written and directed by Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp, the film weaves archival footage from World War II to the Iraq War. It is based on the book by the same name, written in 2005 by Norman Solomon, founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

'No One Else Has the Guts to Go'

"I invited Sean Penn out of the blue, when no one else had the guts to go," Solomon told "When I worked on the film, I contacted him and he didn't hesitate at all. He donated his time, his work and his reputation."

Penn was unavailable for comment because he is in production on a film about the life of Harvey Milk, his publicist Rachel Karten of I/D Public Relations told The actor is set to play the gay politician of San Francisco's 1970s in a biopic directed by Gus Van Sant.

Penn has been a growing political force in Hollywood. That is no surprise, considering Penn's roots: His father, actor and director Leo Penn, was blacklisted in the 1950s for his support of Joseph Stalin.

From his early days portraying an airhead in 1982's "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," Penn has played more highly charged roles like a death row inmate in "Dead Man Walking" (1995) and Sgt. Eddie Walsh in the anti-war film "The Thin Red Line" (1998).

Penn answered a call to help in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, literally pulling people out of the water. A year ago, Penn led a town meeting in California that was critical of President Bush and his handling of the war, drawing both public praise and scorn.

Penn once paid $56,000 for an ad in The Washington Post criticizing the war, according to a report in USA Today. He also baited Bush for his handling of Katrina and his "inflammatory rhetoric" toward Iran.

"You and your smarmy pundits -- and the smarmy pundits you have in your pocket -- can take your war and shove it," Penn told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. "Let's unite not only in stopping this war, but in holding this administration accountable."

Reaction to "War Made Easy" has been favorable, according to Adi Bemak, gift director of the Media Education Foundation, which produced the film and is distributing it worldwide.

The project also received support from actor Matt Damon, who was listed in the film's credits as a "friend" of the foundation.

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