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1997 Barry Levinson film about spin doctoring a political scandal
Wag the Dog

Wag the Dog is a 1997 black comedy film where a spin doctor and a Hollywood producer fabricate a war to distract voters from a presidential sex scandal. It was produced and directed by Barry Levinson, and starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro. The screenplay by Hilary Henkin and David Mamet was loosely adapted from Larry Beinhart's novel American Hero. Wag the Dog was released one month before the outbreak of the Lewinsky scandal and the subsequent bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan by the Clinton administration in August 1998, which prompted the media to draw comparisons between the film and reality. The comparison was made again in December 1998 when the administration initiated a bombing campaign of Iraq just prior to Clinton's impeachment over the Lewinsky scandal.

Cast and Crew

Robert De NiroConrad Brean
Denis LearyFad King
Willie NelsonJohnny Dean

Video Products

Wag the Dog (New Line Platinum Series) (1998), 29 Jul 1998


Government Keeps People Poor, by Sheldon Richman, 28 Jun 2006
Enumerates five ways in which, although politicians claim to care about the poor, government keeps people in poverty
Washington reruns are boring. A Democrat beholden to Big Labor proposes an increase in the mandated minimum wage. Republicans beholden to Big (and small) Business defeat the bill. End of episode. ... Both sides will claim to care about the poor, but "caring" means they can be counted on to utter the "right" words on cue. That's Washington for you—nothing more. As the great movie Wag the Dog illustrated, politics is show biz and pageantry. What counts is perceptions. Results—or the lack thereof—don't matter because in short order the public will be distracted by something else anyway.
Memorial Day Alternative, by Butler Shaffer, 16 May 2007
Short summaries of anti-war films with rankings (as a number of *'s [1-3]) in terms of importance
*** Wag the Dog – for those who reject, out of hand, the idea that political conspiracies exist – unless, of course, one is talking about conspiracies perpetrated by 'bad guys' – this film may prove either troublesome or enlightening. In an age when the best way to satirize something is to make a factual report of same, this film of a contrived war engineered to enliven a presidential reelection campaign, has all the ring of a documentary. A 'must' for any modern film festival.


Wag the Dog (1997), by Stephen W. Carson
Hilarious satire of Washington manipulation. The president needs a war to distract from an embarrassing incident with a young girl, (amazingly, made pre-Lewinski I believe), so with the help of a Hollywood producer a war with Albania is staged. If only Washington's distraction wars were simply theatrical!

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Wag the Dog" as of 9 Oct 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.