“Wag The Dog” – The Sequel (The Difference Between The Clinton And Trump Scenarios And Media Lessons Learned From Them)


Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant

“Wag the Dog” is a 1997 American political satire movie about a PR person who creates a diversion to change the media coverage of the president’s sex scandal. (Any association with Sean Spicer or Kellyanne Conway is purely coincidental.) 

Many people thought that the idea for the film originated with Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. But it didn’t. The movie was released before Clinton’s relationship with the White House intern became known. Nevertheless, for many years, when the phrase “wag the dog” is used many people immediately think of Clinton.

But now the phrase will also forever be connected to President Donald J. Trump because of his order to eliminate Iranian General Qassem Suleimani.

(“Wag The Dog” is the phrase used for an action that diverts attention from something important to something thought to be less important.)

Unlike President Clinton, whose association with the term “wag the dog” was coincidental – the movie was released weeks prior to Clinton’s scandal become page one news – many people think President Trump attempted to divert media coverage of his impeachment with the takeout of the Iranian general and Trump’s continuing threats against Iran, and now Iraq, after the Iraqi government voted to have the U.S. military expelled because of the killing on its territory.

There’s a major difference between the two president’s associations with “Wag The Dog.” Clinton didn’t make his affair with Lewinsky public to coincide with the opening of the movie. Some people think that Trump decided to target the Iranian general in order to redirect media attention from the continuing negative news about his being impeached and his impending trial by the Senate.

Remember. The subject of the possibility of additional impeachment charges being brought against Trump made headlines during the Congressional holiday break because of the continuing negative new impeachment-related news regarding a Trump cover-up.

There is a distinct parallel between Trump’s ordering the killing of the Iranian general and Clinton’s actions. Clinton ordered an attack against al-Qaida targets in Afghanistan and Sudan on the day Lewinisky was to testify before a grand jury. Difficult to fault people who think that like Trump’s action it was a coincidence.

People who believe that Trump is capable of doing only what’s best for him have a valid point. Look at his history:

  • Before becoming president he reneged on contracts with contractors, forcing them to settle for less money than agreed upon.
  • The New York State Attorney General said he paid $2 million to eight charities as part of a settlement in which the president admitted that the Trump Foundation, allegedly a charity, misused funds for his presidential campaign, for settling business debts and other misuse of funds.
  • He agreed to a $25 million dollar class action lawsuit settlement in the scam known as Trump University.
  • He apologized on national TV for his unsavory conduct with women and has been accused of paying off some of them.
  • Despite his tough talk abut illegal immigration, his properties have employed illegal immigrants.

And those are just the ones we know about. Trump has been said by TV pundits that he is a master of diverting attention regarding negative news about him by disseminating outrageous tweets. That’s only half true, in my opinion.

While his tweets have received news coverage, mostly by the less than informative commentary on the cable political TV shows, there always was room enough to cover other aspects of Trump’s problems. In fact, the coverage of his tweets in major print pubs, like the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times, was negative, pointing out the lies in them.

Regardless of his trying to divert the media’s attention from his impeachment problems, one thing is certain: There’s enough room on the media landscape to cover more than one story at a time. By now, the president should know that.

The problem for Trump, even if he’s telling the truth about his Iran actions, is that his confirmed history of lying is so long and confirmed that you never know when he’s fabricating facts or speaking with a forked tongue. Thus, if ever there is a movie about Trump my suggested title is “The President Who Cried Wolf.”

There are important lessons about media relations that PR practitioners should remember from the Trump saga:

  • During a PR crisis, be careful of what you or your client says. Reporters will check on the veracity of statements.
  • You can’t brow beat reporters into writing favorable articles.
  • Your title, the name of your agency or the importance of your client will not intimate reporters. (Want proof: Check the statements of top executives of Boeing, BP and Wells Fargo.)
  • The best minds of self-anointed PR cries specialists can’t stop the flow of negative news. . (Want proof: Check the coverage of Boeing, BP and Wells Fargo.)
  • Once you lie to a reporter whatever you say in the future will be questioned for its validity.
  • No matter how often you or your client repeats the same talking points, it will have no effect on media coverage.
  • And, of course, attempting to divert attention from your client’s PR crisis will not work.

The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net.