Phil Donahue Strikes Back

“I said, ‘Eddie, I’m doing an anti–Iraq War documentary,” said Mr. Donahue. “He said, ‘You want a song?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding?’”

“Wait until you hear the sound in this place,” said Mr. Donahue.

The screen flickered. Mr. Vedder’s voice filled the room.

Nothing’s too good for a veteran,

Yeh, this is what they say,

So nothing is what they will get,

In this new American way.

For the next half hour, Mr. Donahue showed clips of his unfinished film. Along the way, Mr. Young was shown struggling to pull his pants over his unfeeling legs; his fiancée appeared onscreen trying to figure out how to get Mr. Young through their wedding day without accidentally soiling his tuxedo; and a wheelchair-bound Vietnam Vet was seen advising Mr. Young on Viagra.

“There’s a lot of what you might call ‘guy talk’ in the film,” said Mr. Donahue. There is also plenty of stirring footage. In a particularly mesmerizing sequence, Mr. Young watches stoically as his younger brother, fresh out of boot camp, ships off to Iraq.

To judge by the preview, Mr. Donahue has eschewed much of the genre’s perfunctory Bush-bashing and, instead, has aimed the camera on the members of Congress who voted to authorize the war.

One person who does not appear in the movie is Mr. Donahue. During the course of the film, the man who made his career in front of the camera decided to stay behind it. “I didn’t want to upstage Tomas,” said Mr. Donahue. “And I don’t want to look like a guy out there tap-dancing his feet when we have 3,500 guys dead.”

A week later, Mr. Donahue called The Observer from his hotel room at the Peninsula on Santa Monica Boulevard. He was in Beverly Hills to present an award at the Daytime Emmys and to meet with film distributors.

“I’m showing it to some biggies here this week,” said Mr. Donahue. “We’ll see. At this point, it’s still just a dream.”

The dream began years ago with a visit to Ralph Nader. Sometime around the winter of 2004, Mr. Nader had received an invitation to see an injured soldier at the Walter Reed hospital in Washington, D.C. Mr. Nader asked Mr. Donahue to tag along.

At the hospital, Mr. Donahue met Mr. Young for the first time. He was bedridden, paralyzed, groggy from morphine and engaged to be married. Mr. Donahue was floored.

“Jesus, the kid couldn’t walk,” recalled Mr. Donahue. “I couldn’t just pat him on the head and walk away. I thought, ‘O.K., Mr. Retired Guy, what the hell can I do?’”

He decided to write a book.

But before he could begin putting pen to paper, he had to fly to St. Louis to attend the second annual National Conference on Media Reform. There, a few thousand media-watchdog types were gathering to critique the shortcomings of the corporate media. It was a subject close to Mr. Donahue’s heart.

A few years earlier, Mr. Donahue had joined MSNBC to host a nightly talk-show program that would compete with The O’Reilly Factor on Fox. At the time, the nation was preparing for war. “Everybody was go, go, go, bomb, bomb, bomb,” recalled Mr. Donahue. “I thought, ‘Well, people will watch my show because I’m different.’”

Phil Donahue Strikes Back