Clooney targeted by threats

Barry Koltnow and Barry Koltnow

LOS ANGELES – When George Clooney unveiled his new movie “Good Night, and Good Luck” on the opening night of the New York Film Festival, it looked pretty much like any other star-studded Clooney premiere.

There was an endless stream of beautiful people in designer clothes parading down the red carpet. There were hordes of photographers and celebrity journalists on hand to record the moment for posterity and a rack of glossy magazines. There was a lavish party afterwards.

And, of course, there were the death threats, warning Clooney that he wouldn’t live through the night if he showed up.

The ominous threats have become as much a part of a Clooney premiere as the red carpet since he decided four years ago to let his political opinions be known.

His public battles with talk-show host Bill O’Reilly and his vocal opposition to the Bush administration’s stance in the days leading up to the war in Iraq stirred a deep-seated animosity in some circles.

Clooney said he disagrees with those who say that actors shouldn’t speak out on political issues.

“I do not believe that actors should hold a press conference to announce their views, but if they are asked a question, they have every right to answer that question. All of the political views you’ve heard me espouse have been answers to questions I have been asked in interviews.

“I have no regrets about anything I have said,” he added. “In fact, I would be embarrassed today if I hadn’t spoken up.”

Clooney’s new film, which he directed and co-wrote, could stir angry feelings even more, at least among fans of the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

“Good Night, and Good Luck” is a black-and-white film with a documentary feel that explores the epic on-air battles in the early 1950s between the junior senator from Wisconsin and legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow. Veteran actor David Strathairn plays Murrow, Clooney plays CBS news producer Fred Friendly and McCarthy plays himself through archival footage.

In two test screenings, Clooney said, a number of audience members complained that the “actor” playing McCarthy was not realistic and that his performance was “over the top.”

“I thought it was essential to approach it the way Murrow did,” Clooney said. “I let McCarthy hang himself with his own words. If I didn’t do it that way, it would have allowed the audience to dismiss the entire movie because the actor had over-acted.”

Elected in 1946, McCarthy rose to prominence in a 1950 speech in which he asserted that the State Department was “infested” with communists. He became notorious for his communist witch hunts, which ultimately led to his censure by the Senate in 1954. He died three years later of complications from alcoholism.

“There are a whole lot of conservatives who would agree that McCarthy was a jerk, regardless of whether he was right or wrong about communism,” Clooney said. “The point is that none of these people who he accused were allowed to face their accuser.

“Quite frankly, I find what happened at that time to be similar to what is happening today in the Padilla case (Jose Padilla is a U.S. citizen being held by the government as a terrorist but has not been charged with a crime). He might very well be a terrorist, but that’s not the issue. If he is a criminal, he is entitled to the same rights as any other criminal. If he is a prisoner of war, he is entitled to his Geneva Convention rights.”