Wag the Dog examines political cover-ups at the highest level. The story begins when the president is attempting to seduce a young girl behind closed doors. He is running for re-election in less than two weeks. The president's staff immediately hires a team to stage a cover up. The team is led by Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), who stages a fake war with Albania to give the media something else to focus on. Hollywood producer, Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) is hired to give the plan actors who can pull it all off.
Motss brings in a musical team that writes up a song for the campaign. He even fakes an orphanage situation from Albania to get the public attention focused on children rather than the president's foul play.
Motss becomes angry when he finds the president's re-election is due to his campaign instead of Motss' hard work. He wishes to set the public straight with the truth. Brean threatens Motss but the warning is ignored.
Brean has Motss killed with a mock death scenario. Motss allegedly died from a heart attack as he is sun bathing by his pool in his home.
As the film draws to the end, a news flash comes across the television screen, with reports of a stream of violence in Albania. The viewer is left with the decision on whether the event is fact or fictional.
Wag the Dog is one of the few films where Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman have played in the same movie. The writing of the film has been up for debate, including a trip to court where the original writer of the story hadn't received a credit for her screenwriting abilities. She told the producers she was quitting the Writers Guild of America. The Writers Guild gave Hilary Henkin the credit for her part in the script. Barry Levinson declared he would quit the Guild as well, due to his claims that David Mamet was responsible for every line of script in the film. He states that any parts that come across as similar is because the two wrote the script by using the same novel.