Wag the Dog (1997) is a film that involves the President of the United States being caught in a scandalous situation involving a young girl, but through mass media and fabrication, this scandal goes absent. With the election just days away, the President tries to redirect attention and cover the scandal by turning to Conrad Brean, a political “spin doctor”. Brean, being a specialist at what he does best, helps the President manufacture an artificial war with Albania along with Producer Stanley Motts, shifting the focus from his scandal to the war, which he intends on ending, appearing heroic in the voters eyes. This though, is not as easy as the President thought, as the CIA becomes involves and shifts the focus back to the President’s scandal by releasing statements that the war with Albania has concluded. With the attention back on the President, an idea to release a story regarding a missing heroic soldier from the war with Albania is put into action, resulting in the President being re-elected and praised for his efforts. After seeing the results, Motts becomes frustrated with the President, as he is not recognized for his help in getting him re-elected. Motts expresses his frustrations, threatening to come out with the truth. Motts is then found dead due to a “heart attack”.
Looking at the historical perspective on the ethical issues at hand, the film correlates directly to the film we viewed in class earlier this semester, All The Presidents Men (1976). In All the President’s Men (1976), President Nixon tries to cover the Watergate Scandal he and his office were apart of, by sanctioning dirty tricks and unethical activities while in office. The film can also be attributed to Shattered Glass (2003), where fabricating quotes, sources, and the overall story was the plot, correlating to actions of the President’s artificial war with Albania. Lastly, the film correlates directly with the case of Janet Cooke’s story Jimmy’s World (1980), a story about an eight-year-old heroin addict, whom was not a real child, and a made up story in general, exactly what happened in Wag the Dog.
When it comes to how this situation should have been handled, or how the President handled it, I have no words. The situation should have never happened and never been covered. The President of the United States should be someone you can trust with your life, and in this situation, there is not a chance I could trust my life, and neither could Stanley Mott by the way things resulted. The fact that the President of the United States was caught in a sex scandal with a minor should raise a red flag right away. He should have taken responsibility for his actions, not trying to cover a scandal.
I believe that this film has an enormous impact on journalism as it shows us just how powerful mass media truly is, especially when it comes to true and false stories. Stories that are released are so easily believed and the truth is far from easy when trying to uncover it. The SPJ Code of Ethics comes to mind, where seeking the truth and reporting it is the only option we have when releasing stories, knowing they are not fabricated and cannot be raised in ethical debate.
All The President’s Men. (1976). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074119/
Jimmy’s World. (1980). http://www2.uncp.edu/home/canada/work/markport/lit/litjour/spg2002/cooke.htm
Shattered Glass. (2003). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0323944/
Wag the Dog. (1997). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120885/