We know that moviemakers like Robert Zemeckis employ images of real-life
politicians for the purposes of their Hollywood fantasies. But do real-life
politicians employ Hollywood fantasies for the purposes of their own protection
and self-interest? That's the premise of Barry Levinson's satire Wag the
Dog, in which a president caught with his pants down has to concoct a phony
war to distract public opinion and win an upcoming election.
"When you think of the Gulf War," says Levinson in support of the story's
plausibility, "it's not unlike a junket. They took everybody [journalists] over
there and they put them in some Quonset hut and they brought them some food to
eat and showed them videos. It was a totally controlled world. When I was
watching at the time, I remember them saying, 60 days, 2000 missions a day. And
I remember thinking: I keep seeing -- which is one of the lines of the film --
that same smart bomb going down that chimney blowing up that factory. That
means they've got 120,000 videos of these sorties, how come I don't see at
least a couple hundred? I remember saying, you could fake that very easily --
not that they did -- but you could. The people don't see anything, they're in
the room, they have the food, they watch the video and someone comes out with a
map. But no one saw anything, really."
"Theoretically, anything is possible," says Dustin Hoffman, who in contrast to
his portrayal of a journalist exposing a Presidential cover-up in All the
President's Men here plays a Hollywood producer who creates one. "We ain't
seen nothing yet in terms of computer technology. So theoretically, you can
recreate a war. We also know that Vietnam was the last war where the
journalists were allowed total freedom and had, for the first time,
sophisticated equipment. You could almost simultaneously see what was going on
while you were eating dinner. Both Republicans and Democrats said 'We ain't
gonna have this happen again.' Grenada, restricted, wasn't it? Gulf War, most
restricted. There was video footage from that war made by people hired by a
public-relations firm that was working for the administration."
Levinson and Hoffman had a chance to play their own disinformation game with
President Clinton himself when they and other cast members met him at a
Washington restaurant while shooting the movie.
"We had a nice conversation," Levinson remembers. "It was only when he asked
'What's the movie about?' and we all looked at one another and thought, well,
what are we going to say here? Not that he'd be totally offended; he's got a
pretty good sense of humor. And Dustin, of course, jumped in and told the
story. Not this movie, some other movie. I have no idea what movie he was
"I don't think we demeaned him in the movie," says Hoffman. "First of all,
it's not him, it's any President with a healthy libido. And personally I prefer
a President with a healthy libido than one who compensates, to put it bluntly.
Better Clinton's missile, than the other kind, which is used in place of it.
But look at where we are now. Look at what's on the news. Is his penis bent? We
all know what he's accused of. Can anybody tell you what year we're going to
run out of rain forest? I've heard 2050, by the way. Talk about an age of