Publisher’s Point: “Slaughter In Syria,” Or “Wag The Dog?”

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

In 1997, an Oscar-nominated movie was produced that went on to become one of “the granddaddies of ‘em all” when it comes to illustrating the power of spin as it relates to politics. It is called, Wag The Dog, and was creepily correct in real life when it beat the initial breaking of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal by about a month. It even showed the intern wearing a beret long before the hat style became inextricably linked with a stained blue dress and the sullying of virtue.
In the movie, there is a presidential campaign that has just been hit with the news of Weinstein-like behavior on the part of the incumbent that threatens to sink any hopes of POTUS getting a second term. Rather than dealing with any part of the truth, the president’s advisors decide to create a massive diversion by throwing a fake war. The advisors, played by Anne Heche and Robert De Niro, secretly hire a famous Hollywood director, played by Dustin Hoffman, to draw national attention away from the scandal, courtesy of the nightly news.

Every CGI stop is pulled out as the green screen background plays behind a production crew-crafted movie set of a “bombed out building in Albania,” with Kirsten Dunst portraying a desperate and beautiful orphan repeatedly running away from the rubble clutching her cat. The net result is that the clip is played over and over by the networks, fake news of troop deployment and then victory circulate, the president wins the re-election, and no one is the wiser. Then the movie producer mysteriously dies of a heart attack…

On Monday, ABC news did what appears to be the closest thing to Wag that I have heard of in more than 20 years, except they got caught, thanks to the ubiquitous smart phone and its ability to take pics and make films. ABC ran a piece on the nightly news, as well as Good Morning America, with the screen caption of “Slaughter In Syria.” It claimed, “A border town bombarded by Turkey’s military, this video right here appearing to show Turkey’s military bombing Kurd civilians in a Syrian border town.” I suppose the use of the word “appearing” might have almost saved them, except the anchor went on to say, “The Kurds, who fought alongside the US against ISIS; now horrific reports of atrocities committed by Turkish backed fighters on those very allies.” I’m not saying that the Turks are incapable of committing atrocities, but who was making the “reports,” and who was verifying them?

The big problem was that the film being passed off as “breaking news” was in fact made at a nighttime gun range firepower display held in Kentucky in 2017. The original clip shows several people being seen standing and watching at the edge of the explosive ordnance show, and yet, when it hit the news, the onlookers had been conveniently edited out. ABC did issue an “apology” as stated below:

“We’ve taken down video that aired on ‘World News Tonight’ Sunday and ‘Good Morning America’ this morning that appeared to be from the Syrian border immediately after questions were raised about its accuracy. ABC News regrets the error.”

I guess all you have to do is rework the definition of “error” by Photoshopping out the humans who were actually there with their cell phones, and you are golden. At least this photojournalistic faux pas appears to have been made to make the president look bad, but hey, maybe there will be spinners who will spin the spinners’ spins and come up with a whole different explanation, as well as an equally empty “apology.” At any rate, whoever invented the term “wag the dog” appears to have gotten it right when they say, “A dog is smarter than its tail, but if the tail were smarter, then the tail would ‘wag the dog.’” There’s a whole lot o’ waggin’ goin’ on.