The legendary talk show host, who lost his show because he opposed the Iraq war, discusses the wars, the presidential candidates, and more in an in-depth interview.

January 16, 2012  |  



Top of Form

Bottom of Form





From the early 1970s to 1985, The Phil Donahue Show was broadcast nationally from Chicago. Donahue also co-hosted a compelling political talk show — with Vladimir Pozner of the former Soviet Union — called This Week with Pozner and Donahue from 1991-1994.

In July 2002, MSNBC hired him to host a free-wheeling TV talk show, which hyped the return of Donahue. However, eight months later during the run-up to war with Iraq, behind-the-scenes pressure from the Bush White House — and a groundswell of conservative outrage — led MSNBC to give the anti-war TV talk-show host the boot.

It mattered little that Donahue had won nine Daytime Emmys and a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 1996. MSNBC claimed Donahue’s ratings were too low to justify keeping the show on the air, even though Donahue was the highest rated show on MSNBC at the time it was canceled and beat out Chris Matthews‘s Hardball, which was then on CNBC.

After Donahue was cancelled, reported it had obtained a copy of an internal NBC memo that stated Donahue should be fired because he would be a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.”

We caught up with Donahue at the campaign headquarters of Norman Solomon for Congress, in San Rafael, California, about 20 miles north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. He had come into town to show his moving film “Body of War” and to campaign for Solomon.

DB: Phil Donahue has come into town to show a very compelling film that he produced called “Body of War”  in 2007. It’s a very thoughtful film about a young vet, named Thomas Young, who was paralyzed in Iraq, and went through a transformation. … It wasn’t meant to be a dogmatic attack at policy but it turned into something that made you really think about war and peace, and why we send young people off to war.

So, in that context, we’ve been at many wars for a long time here. We’re thinking that there’s some end to the U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq. But now, everything looks like, and it’s getting worse that there might be some kind of tangle, and a very terrible tangle, with Iran. Your response to current policy, war policy, and your thoughts on that.

PD:  Well, Rick Santorum is scaring me. He’s got both guns out. The Straits of Hormuz,  if they [the Iranians] block that, you can see how we get into war. That’s one of the reasons why I admire Norman so much, he is making the point that it’s much too easy for a president to go to war.

And I discovered Thomas Young at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. … Here was this kid, 24-years old, pale as the sheet, whacked out on morphine. And as I stood and looked down at him and his mother told me how paralyzed he was; he’s a T4 which anatomists knows is paralyzed from the nipples down. Thomas can’t cough. Thomas has bowel and bladder every morning, nausea.

He is a warrior turned anti-warrior. He came home from the war absolutely stunned at its horror, that it wasn’t necessary. He went to Fort Hood and immediately said, “Why am I going to Iraq, I thought I was going to Afghanistan?” Too late now, he goes there, he goes to Iraq and he’s there five days, no top on the truck, main street in Sadr City, and he takes a bullet through the collar bone and exited T4 in his spine. He will never walk again.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And then it occurred to me how sanitized this war was. I mean you couldn’t. … The president [George W. Bush] said, “don’t take pictures” [of the carnage] and the whole mainstream press said “Okay.”  There was never any push back.