->''"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."''
-->-- [[OpeningMonologue Opening]] TitleDrop

''Wag the Dog'' is a 1997 political {{black comedy}} film, co-written by Creator/DavidMamet and directed by Barry Levinson.

The President of the United States (Michael Belson) is caught making sexual advances to an underage "[[ScoutOut Firefly Girl]]" (the fictional equivalent of a Girl Scout). His timing could not be worse, as there is a presidential election coming up. Presidential aide Winifred Ames (Creator/AnneHeche) and professional spin doctor Conrad Brean (Creator/RobertDeNiro) are tasked with taking the public attention away from the scandal.

Conrad decides to create a fictional war with UsefulNotes/{{Albania}}. He recruits Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Creator/DustinHoffman) to create the illusion of the ongoing war. Actors play war orphans, an army convict is cast as a war hero, etc. All broadcast by American networks as real news. They take advantage of the relative obscurity of Albania among the public to make up details as they go.

This film was actually ''not'' RippedFromTheHeadlines, because said headlines happened the next year.

This title is, of course, unrelated to TropeyTheWonderDog.


* AcceptableTargets: In-universe, the Albanians are this.
-->'''Ames:''' Why Albania?
-->'''Brean:''' Why not?
-->'''Ames:''' What have they done to us?
-->'''Brean:''' What have they done ''for'' us? What do you know about them?
-->'''Ames:''' Nothing.
-->'''Brean:''' See? They keep to themselves. Shifty. Untrustable.
* AmbiguouslyGay: Possibly a coincidence, but Motss is an [[FunWithAcronyms acronym]] that has [[MeaningfulName significant meaning in]] [[https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/MOTSS certain circles]]...
* ArtisticLicenseAwards: Motss repeatedly rants that there is no Oscar for producing. However, the producer is the one who receives the award for Best Film.
* AstroTurf: The main characters create a fake grassroots campaign of support for William "Old Shoe" Schumann.
* TheBarnum: Conrad has based his entire career on this trope (well... that, and killing people). Stanley and Winifred evolve into this type.
* BlackComedy
* CatchPhrase: Motss laughing, "This is ''nothing!''"
* DudeNotFunny InUniverse: No one is amused by Johnny Dean's musical riff on the President's sexual escapades.
* EveryoneKnowsMorse: "Old Shoe" ripped Morse code into his shirt.
* ExecutiveMeddling: An In-Universe example. During the filming of the fake footage of the Albanian war, Motts wants to have the refugee holding a calico kitten as she's seen "escaping", but when the President is informed of this during filming he insists for whatever reason that the kitten be white. Motts is less than pleased to say the least.
--> '''Motts:''' [[LampshadeHanging I hate it when they start to meddle.]] [[TranquilFury Can we have a white one please, he wants a white one...]]
* IndyPloy: Sort of done by the spin man, as he has to gauge the media's reaction and then feed them.
* InsistentTerminology:
-->'''Conrad Brean:''' We want you to produce.
-->'''Stanley Motss:''' You want me to produce your war?
-->'''Conrad Brean:''' It's not a war, it's a pageant. We need a theme, a song, some visuals - it's a pageant.
* InventedIndividual: To make the entirely fake war in Albania more "real" Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) creates the personality of a special operations soldier: "Old Shoe". A series of setbacks (including the fact that the person they used died before his staged return) forces them to explain his death. They even mount an AstroTurf memorial by throwing tennis shoes in trees.
* InvisiblePresident: The film almost always has the main characters talking to "the president" on the phone. The one time the President is on camera, he is in shadows and seen from the back only. On the other hand, his opponent is frequently shown in TV ads and on talk shows. His name isn't said either- his campaign ads just have 'Re-elect the President' as a tag line.
* ItsAllAboutMe: Motss goes off the deep end by the end of the film, ranting about how he'll tell the media everything because he wants the credit for pulling it off, not the reward he was offered. He's so insulted that he hasn't got any prestige or media attention that he shrugs off Brean's warnings and makes it clear that he wants everyone to know. [[spoiler: And it gets him killed.]]
* KarmaHoudini: [[spoiler: Brean and Ames succeed in their scheme to spin attention away from the President's scandal]].
* KilledToUpholdTheMasquerade: Chillingly portrayed: [[spoiler: Motss refuses to keep quiet about the fake war, and in the next scene, he's reported as having died of a heart attack in his estate.]]
* LineOfSightName: How Stanley comes up with "Old Shoe's" unit number: It's 3:03 PM, so Old Shoe was a proud member of the 303!
* NoCelebritiesWereHarmed: Dustin Hoffman based Motss look and mannerisms on real-world producer Creator/RobertEvans. Evans is said to have joked on occasion that he was ''really'' good in that film.
* PostMortemConversion: The propaganda spin-doctors turn a mentally ill rapist into a faked war hero. When they can't control him, they get him killed. This is a huge improvement for them, since his corpse is easy to control. [[ShamCeremony Public burial of the "hero" ensues]].
* POVSequel: Producer Stanley Motss claims to have made an extremely successful film re-telling Moby Dick from the perspective of the white whale.
* RunningBothSides: Political advisers attempt to create an "artificial war" and trick the public into thinking it's the real thing.
* RunningGag:
** Despite being knee-deep in a cover-up that has far wider implications, Winifred is more obsessed with ensuring there are no illegal immigrants involved.
*** The farmer that rescues them after the plane crash actually turns out to be an illegal immigrant. The next scene shows him being fast-tracked into US Citizenship.
** The terrible "You don't change horses in midstream" ads and how much Motts hates them.
** Another one involving Motss is how he wishes he had an Oscar, or at least had received credit at them.
* ScaryBlackMan: The bald special agent wearing black Ray Ban sunglasses. He shows up in only two shots with perhaps a grand total of five seconds of screen time and only says one or two unintelligible words. But that's still enough to make it clear that he's very bad news.
* ScoutOut: The scandal that prompts the plot to happen involves a "Firefly Girl" that the President is accused of fondling just fourteen days before election time.
* ShoutOut: "When the fit hits the shan" was, famously, the line that inspired Creator/RogerZelazny to write ''Literature/LordOfLight''. Since a proposed film version was part of the [=CIA=] operation to rescue hostages from the Iranian embassy siege in 1979, it may be a subtle hint as to this film's real life inspiration.
* SmartPeoplePlayChess: Subverted. After a particularly devious play in their campaign to create a fake war, the film producer remarks to the spin doctor, "I'll bet you're great at chess." The spin doctor replies, "I would be, if I could remember how all the pieces moved."
* {{Spoonerism}}: Agent Young facetiously says "when the fit hits the shan" when he confronts Conrad.
* StylisticSuck: The President's awful, awful campaign ads.
* SuspiciouslyAproposMusic: Quickly pressed into vinyl and smuggled into the Library of Congress.
* SuspiciouslySpecificDenial: Invoked. Brean tells one of the president's staff to make one of these to the press, saying that the reason the president is late returning home has absolutely nothing to do with the B-3 bomber or the situation in Albania. And right after that, that they misspoke and that there is no such plane and no situation. The results are predictable, and pretty soon everybody's attention is focused on finding out what's going on in Albania instead of on the girl.
* TheUnreveal: We never get to know if the president did, in fact, have sex with the Firefly Girl.
** [[{{Squick}} You sure you wanna know?]]
** There's another example: at the end of the film, there's a news flash telling us that an Albanian terrorist organisation has claimed responsibility for a recent bombing. We don't find out if it's real or fake, who's running things now that [[spoiler: Motss is dead]], or why, if it's real, they'd want the war to continue.
* VillainProtagonist: The main characters, and also, the President. Motss, Brean and Ames, no matter how loveable their characters come off, are still despicable people manipulating the American public to protect a President who was caught trying to make a pass at a young girl. The fact that several people end up dead as a result of their actions, [[spoiler:and that they get away with it]], only underlines the point.
* WarForFunAndProfit: Toyed with. The President gets a sex scandal swept under the rug and even improves his approval rating, all because of a war. With the twist that there never actually is a war as far as the viewers know. There may be fighting going on off screen, or there may not at all. We don't know, because it doesn't matter and nobody cares. What's important are the photo ops, the slogans and the huge PR spin.
* XanatosSpeedChess: ''Constantly''. Almost every plan Stanley and Conrad come up with once the film gets going backfires hugely, leading to a frantic chain of improvisation.