When director Rob Reiner made Shock and Awe, a cautionary tale about the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the importance of a free press in holding politicians accountable, he had no idea how that it would take on a whole new resonance in the era of President Donald Trump.

The film details the true story of a team of journalists with Knight-Ridder Newspapers who bucked the media tide by trying to expose the efforts of then-president George W. Bush to justify the invasion with manufactured intelligence. The venerable New York Times eventually apologized to its readers for swallowing the Bush administration’s claim of “weapons of mass destruction” in seeking to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.

“But the headwinds that these guys faced back in the run-up to the war in Iraq, I believe, is nothing compared to headwinds that American journalists are facing now because they’re being called ‘enemies of the people’ and ‘fake news.’ All this authoritarian-playbook stuff that’s being done, it’s very scary right now,” Reiner said in a recent interview.

“Right now, it’s more and more difficult for honest journalists to get to the truth. I mean, 60 per cent of American journalists are working very, very hard to get to the truth. The problem they have is that for the first time in American history, we have a president who lies every minute of his life, just everything that comes out his mouth is a lie and he’s backed up by essentially state-run media and they just parrot everything he says.

“And he (Trump) is also backed up by Republicans that control Congress and the whole concept of checks and balances has been thrown out the window. So you’ve got journalists working overtime … to get the truth out and 40 per cent of Americans are cemented in this alternative, cult-like reality.”

As someone who narrowly escaped being drafted to fight in Vietnam, Reiner said he wanted to do a movie back in 2003.

“I was interested in doing a film about how we got into Iraq right at the time we started invading. I just didn’t think that twice in my lifetime, we were going to be going to war based on lies. I just thought, ‘How is this happening again?’ I knew all (the Bush administration’s) rationales and I knew they were all ridiculous,” Reiner recalled.

Reiner tried a couple of different approaches, he said — including a Dr. Strangelove-type of satire — but couldn’t get a script that worked. Years later, he saw a documentary by Bill Moyers, a respected journalist and former press secretary to late president Lyndon Johnson, about efforts by Knight-Ridder Washington bureau editor John Walcott and his team to unmask the truth.

“I didn’t know about these guys. They basically got it right and they were saying all the things I had been saying all these years,” Reiner said.

The only complication during filming of Shock and Awe — which opened Friday in Toronto — came when Alec Baldwin, who had been parodying Trump on Saturday Night Live, withdrew at the last minute after being cast to play Walcott.

“My wife, Michele, who’s one of the producers, said, ‘Well, why don’t you play the part?’ And I thought, ‘oh my God, I don’t know, I don’t like acting and directing, it’s kind of a split focus.’ And then I thought, ‘What the hell, I’m available and I’ll work cheap, you know.’

“(Michele) had one bit of direction because I’m playing John Walcott, she said, ‘try to be less Jewish,’” he added.

Reiner also had kind but cautionary words for Canadians after Trump publicly lambasted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak.”

“First of all, I want to apologize to Canada for our president. He doesn’t represent the vast majority of the people in this country. Unfortunately, when you have a stranglehold on 40 per cent, that’s enough to keep you in power. Hitler never had more than 37 per cent,” Reiner said.

“We’re in a bad place right now and I hope that this wave of authoritarianism that’s happening all over Western-style democracies doesn’t start infecting Canada. Don’t think authoritarianism is not going to try to invade your country. It’s on the rise all over the world.”

Read more here.