MSNBC Descends Into a 'Wag the Dog' Obsession Over Trump and Syria

April 16th, 2018 6:14 PM

It turns out that Rachel Maddow's speculation, articulated twice on Friday, that President Donald Trump ordered air strikes in Syria "because of scandal" is not limited at MSNBC to one far-left host. It's a perceived, widely-shared likelihood which has frequently been tied to Wag the Dog, a movie which appeared just before the late-1990s Clinton-Lewinsky scandal broke.

Wag the Dog's plot: "Shortly before an election, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer join efforts to fabricate a war in order to cover up a Presidential sex scandal."

The movie debuted on Christmas Day in 1997. The New York Times's December 26 review noted that it was "filmed ... in 29 days," a virtually unheard-of timeframe.

Why the rush? Maybe it was because the contours of the Lewinsky scandal were already known to insiders wishing to protect President Bill Clinton by October of 1997, when Linda Tripp met "with Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, Lucianne & Jonah Goldberg at Jonah's apartment in Washington," during which "the Goldberg's (sic) listened to a tape of Tripp/Lewinsky conversations." Matt Drudge broke the Lewinsky story after Newsweek initially refused to publish Isikoff's work on January 17, 1998.

The film's became a hot topic in August 1998 when Clinton ordered bombings in Afghanistan and Sudan "three days after admitting for the first time an inappropriate relationship with Ms. Lewinsky."

At the time, Wag the Dog director Barry Levinson ridiculed the notion of any relationship between the film and Clinton's real-life scandals:

"The world's media right now are giving the filmmakers far too much credit for being clairvoyant," said their spokesman, Simon Halls. "The filmmakers put together a movie that was entertainment, and it was well received, but that's what it was: entertainment. Anything that is happening in the world today really has nothing to do with the movie."

Earlier this month, Levinson appeared on Lawrence O'Donnell's MSNBC show, insisting that his film is totally about presidents like Donald Trump:


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: When you hear Robert DeNiro, in that moment of, well "Who's going to tell them?" (during the movie) that is the Trump theory of how to deal with the news media.

BARRY LEVINSON: Yeah, you just keep, you just keep building stories and stories and distractions and distractions, and you get further and further away from where the actual subject was.

O'DONNELL: And little did you know when you were doing Wag the Dog how easily it would actually be. I mean, Donald Trump doesn't have to invent war. He just does a tweet to, you know, insult somebody, to change the subject.

BARRY LEVINSON: You can just do that, or you can, which no one never thought to do before, just, y'know, lie all the time.

O'DONNELL: Just relentlessly.

BARRY LEVINSON: Just lie about it. I'll just say anything I want to say. And that will be okay. And if someone criticizes it, that's what's fake. But I'm real, and that's fake.

Even if one concedes that Donald Trump doesn't always tell the whole truth, he's miles away from the disastrous impact of "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it," the bald-faced lie President Barack Obama told "all the time" on at least three dozen occasions spread over several years.

This past weekend, apparently "inspired" by Levinson's movie, "wag the dog" has become an MSNBC obsession, as seen in the following montage, which includes mentions by Chris Matthews (several times), Hugh Hewitt,  O'Donnell, George Will, Maddow, and several others:

To be clear, not everyone on MSNBC who has used those words subscribes to the "wag the dog" notion. But, as RedState's Caleb Howe observed, the fact that it has been so frequently discussed shows that all too many of these supposedly responsible professionals "saw the movie and it was just exactly what they want to think about Republicans, and so they simply do."

Howe's sadly legitimate concern: The "wag the dog" lie "is in the early stages of becoming a Known Fact."

Cross-posted at