'Wag the Dog' Back In Spotlight
LOS ANGELES (AllPolitics, Aug. 21) -- A president embroiled in a sex scandal in the Oval Office tries to save his presidency by distracting the nation with a made-for-TV war far from American soil in an obscure country.
It's not the latest news out of Washington, but the plot of the movie "Wag the Dog." In the 1997 movie, a shadowy spin doctor played by Robert De Niro recruits a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to invent a war against Albania.
The film came out just before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke -- and no doubt benefited at the box office and then at the video store from the publicity. Now, the film is all the buzz again because of President Clinton's announcement -- three days after admitting for the first time an inappropriate relationship with Ms. Lewinsky -- that he ordered military strikes in two countries.
From the moment Clinton went on live television Thursday to announce the bombings in Afghanistan and Sudan, "Wag the Dog's" producer-director Barry Levinson and producer Jane Rosenthal were inundated with requests for comment.
"The world's media right now are giving the filmmakers far too much credit for being clairvoyant," said their spokesman, Simon Halls. "The filmmakers put together a movie that was entertainment, and it was well received, but that's what it was: entertainment. Anything that is happening in the world today really has nothing to do with the movie."
A reference point
But the movie is serving as a reference point in the debate over Clinton's motivations.
"Look at the movie 'Wag the Dog.' I think this has all the elements of that movie," Rep. Jim Gibbons said. "Our reaction to the embassy bombings should be based on sound credible evidence, not a knee-jerk reaction to try to direct public attention away from his personal problems."
Massachusetts acting Gov. Paul Cellucci, a Republican and a movie buff, said: "It popped into my mind, but I do hope that that's not the situation and I trust that it isn't."
One of the first questions asked of Defense Secretary William Cohen at a nationally televised Pentagon was how he would respond to people who think the military action "bears a striking resemblance to 'Wag the Dog."'
"The only motivation driving this action today was our absolute obligation to protect the American people from terrorist activities," Cohen said. "That is the sole motivation."
The movie's title comes from an old joke, shown in the opening credits of the film: "Why does a dog wag its tail? Because a dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail were smarter, the tail would wag the dog."