The Last Word: George Clooney

George Clooney has played everything from a doctor to a CIA operative. But these days, the 45-year-old Oscar-winning actor (and Oscar-nominated director) is reveling in his role as an activist. Since first visiting Darfur in 2006, Clooney has been an outspoken critic of the genocide currently taking place in western Sudan. Last September he addressed the United Nations Security Council, urging it to act in Darfur. In December he traveled to China and Egypt to meet with state officials to put pressure on the government of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. And January saw the U.S. television debut of "A Journey to Darfur," a documentary coproduced by Clooney and his father, Nick, a veteran television journalist. NEWSWEEK's Ginanne Brownell spoke to Clooney, who, lest anyone forget, is still a Hollywood actor. (He was recently voted People magazine's "sexiest man alive" for the second time and appears as a journalist in the new film "The Good German.") Excerpts:

CLOONEY: Our problem is that the West and the United States have been able to broker things at other times. Obviously we did not do anything in Rwanda, but we played a big part with NATO in ending the Bosnian situation. We used to be able to do that. But [in] our [personal] meetings with all of the heads of government they said to us, "Your policies in Iraq have made it impossible for you now to threaten anything." We have no moral high ground. We have to look to anyone but ourselves to be able to broker some sort of a peace treaty. That is a very frustrating place to be.

It is rather astonishing that the United States does not play ball with the ICC, considering our country was the beacon of the idea of an international criminal court. I really like what the ICC is doing. [But] I do not know how effective it is. I suppose if everybody subscribed to it, it would be tremendously effective. But I do not think that is going to happen in the near future.

[Growing up,] I was taught to look at the United States not from the inside out but from the outside in. The signs you see are very disheartening. It is probably the worst time ever for us internationally. When you go to Europe, for the most part, they just hate us. Not individually, but they think we are just like these big bullies--and quite honestly, we have acted like that. That has been the most unusual twist in the last few years, having to defend being an American.

We have fallen in love with the 24-hour news cycle. But 24-hour news does not mean that you get more news, it means you get the same news more. We came back from China and Egypt and it hit the news cycle very quickly, and for about five minutes it was getting a lot of play. And then that afternoon three hikers got stuck up on a mountain in [Oregon], and it was 24 hours of three guys stuck up on a mountain. A tragedy, but it is three guys who chose to go out on a mountain for sport and had a terrible accident. Yet there were hundreds and hundreds of people dying in vicious attacks in places all around the world; there were tons of news stories that day that were so much more important to what was going on in the world.

I just worry that we have lost our balls for reporting. We constantly underestimate the intelligence and interest in the audience. The U.S. press took such a pass on the Bush administration that they are as responsible for us marching into Iraq as the administration. There is no question about it. They were afraid to be marked as unpatriotic.

You have to pick your battles and be very informed on them, [or] people will [complain about] "all these screaming liberals." I think in general we can be very effective, but we have to be very careful about getting on our soapbox.

Here is the funny thing. This is literally the first time I have ever heard anyone say that. I am not going to get into politics. I like Obama, I consider him a friend and I love how good he is at what he does. I am excited by him getting into the race. It energizes everything. And I would do whatever I can to help him, even if that means staying away. But I am certainly staying out of the political racket. The truth is, I am not good at compromises.