Aug 252008
Authors: Marjorie Hamburger

In recognition of the Democratic National Convention and the upcoming presidential election, I encourage people to watch the 1997 film, “Wag the Dog.” This is a comedic, yet disturbingly plausible political satire directed by Barry Levinson.

Less than two weeks before the presidential election, the current president, who is running for re-election, is caught in a sex scandal involving a juvenile “Firefly Girl”- the equivalent of a Girl Scout.

In a desperate attempt to keep the president’s votes, White House spin-doctor Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), must create an outstanding diversion.

Brean joins forces with Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to concoct a diversion grand enough to make people forget the sex scandal.

But what could be more crucial than the president’s disturbing moral code? Nothing less than a war. And a war is exactly what they create.

The question: With which country should the U.S. go to war?

The answer: Albania.

“Why Albania?” asks White House aide, Winifred Ames (Anne Heche). “Why not? What do you know about them?” Brean says. She replies, “Nothing.” To which he states, “Precisely.”

Does the U.S. actually go to war with Albania? Of course not. They produce a fake war, the appearance of a war. When Brean goes to Motss to produce this “show” he says, “We need a theme, a song, some visuals. It’s a pageant. It’s like the Oscars.” With the help of a renowned Hollywood producer, the omnipotent media, and the never-ending White House budget, Brean and Motss construct their war.

In a Hollywood lot, Motss produces an emotional clip of a young Albanian woman holding a kitten and fleeing from her ruined home.

Everything about the clip is digitally mastered to appear as if set in Albania. The footage goes out to public news, gripping the hearts of Americans nationwide.

Songs are composed to endorse patriotism, hostages are rescued and symbolic objects are created. Unless you are living in a cave, it’s quite obvious our country is at war.

Everything is working smoothly until the CIA and the other presidential hopeful discover that there is no real war.

The tides begin to turn, and the two men must find ways to work the plan to their advantage.

“Wag the Dog” is a well-written, witty satire that leaves the audience wondering; to what extent can the media be trusted, and how much do we rely on it every day? Does the media have enough power to completely distort the facts, or even create them?

This can be explained by the conundrum displayed on the screen at the start of the film: “Why does a dog wag its tail? Because the dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail were smarter, the tail would wag the dog.” Are you the dog?

Staff writer Marjorie Hamburger can be reached at

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