Political Communication Theory in “Wag the Dog”

Wag the Dog” is a 1997 film directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. The films follow an unnamed President, who gets embroiled in a sex scandal two weeks before the Presidential election. To help quell the situation, the President enlists the help of political consultant Conrad Brean, who determines that the best course of action is to distract the American people by constructing a fake diversionary war. Brean then enlists the help of Hollywood producer Stanley Motss to use the media to manipulate the public into believing that the US is at war with Albania. Despite the fact that many doubts are raised about the war, the efforts of Brean and Motss successfully distracted the American public from the President’s scandal and helped to rally support behind him during the closing days of the Presidential election. “Wag the Dog” explores themes such as the relationship between the media and politics, how the media shapes public opinion and the control that the mass media has within society. Additionally, examples of political communication theory can be used to explain the events in “Wag the Dog.”

The false war between the US and Albania in “Wag the Dog” can be considered to be a pseudo-event. A pseudo-event is an occurrence that is planned out for the primary purpose of being reported on by the media. Examples of pseudo-events in political campaigns include press conferences, announcements of new policies and initiatives, and participation in ceremonial events. Pseudo-events are used by political candidates to capture media attention and gain a higher level of public support. Additionally, incumbent politicians are in a better position than non-incumbents to create pseudo-events. The war between the US and Albania in “Wag the Dog” can be considered to be an example of a pseudo-event because it was created by the President to distract public opinion from his potentially damaging scandal and to draw attention to himself as being a strong leader in a time of international crisis.

Additionally, the actions by the President and his political advisors in “Wag the Dog” are examples of political spin. In political communications, spin is achieved through a biased interpretation of an event meant to persuade public opinion for a particular political figure and against their opponents. Examples of political spin include the presentation of facts in a way that supports one’s position and announcing unpopular policy decisions at a time in which the media is preoccupied with other stories. Moreover, political spin often relies on deceptive tactics meant to manipulate the public into believing things that may turn out to be false. The war between the US and Albania is an example of political spin because it served as a way to distract the media from the President’s scandal and presented a biased view towards the American people that helped to persuade public opinion for the President.

In conclusion, “Wag the Dog” explores the relationship between the media and the American political system and highlights the influence that the media has on shaping public opinion. Moreover, “Wag the Dog” highlights the fact that the media can be a powerful tool in manipulating the public. Additionally, political communication theory can be used to explain the events in “Wag the Dog” and allow political scientists to better understand the dynamic between the media and the American political system.

the author

Matt is a graduate of Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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  1. Ray on May 25, 2017

    Many thanks for this post!

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