Saturday, October 29, 2005

"West Wing" Reality Show

The New York Times has an entire article comparing "The West Wing" to the current real political events:
""The unusual overlap is partly by design, partly by coincidence. John Wells, the show's executive producer, recalled that his creative team began mapping out its leak story line 16 months ago as the Bush administration faced its own investigation over the leak of a covert C.I.A. officer's identity. The "West Wing" plot involves an unauthorized disclosure about a secret military space shuttle and the investigation to find the source of the leak.

"We got interested in the idea of, what is the responsibility inside the White House for taking individual responsibility for leaking?" Mr. Wells said. "How does leaking work? Why do people do it?"

Consulting with legal experts, the "West Wing" team concluded that the real-life special prosecutor in the leak case, Patrick Fitzgerald, would probably demand notes from reporters who learned the classified identity of the C.I.A. officer; that reporters would probably resist; and that the inquiry would take time.

For several months, too, Mr. Wells was aware that Mr. Fitzgerald's grand jury was scheduled to disband yesterday. And so, last Sunday night, the story line reached a climax when the character of the White House communications director, Toby Ziegler, outed himself as the source of the leak. Tomorrow night, Toby's colleagues wrestle with the consequences.

In real Washington, meanwhile, Mr. Fitzgerald announced yesterday that the grand jury had indicted I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements in the course of an investigation.

"We did take a look, this spring and summer, when reporters started showing up to testify and one went to prison, and we said, 'Wait a second, do we want to keep doing this?' " Mr. Wells said. "But we thought the investigation would go all the way to Friday. And we monitored things pretty closely in early September because we didn't want to end up in an awkward situation. We could have moved stories around earlier if we had to."

In trying to show how Washington works, "The West Wing" has also sought to comment on it, by offering an idealized version of the White House and the public servants working there. The leak story line is in this tradition, though for the players involved, the stakes seem higher than in most past story lines.

Richard Schiff, who plays Toby Ziegler, said the fictional leak took on moral dimensions that he imagined the Bush White House had faced as well. "I think the culture of leaks is about the culture of betrayal, no matter how you look at it, because Toby is betraying the trust and confidence of the man he most respects in the world, the president," Mr. Schiff said.

Mr. Wells said that leaks had afflicted Democratic and Republican administrations, and that his team had not been seeking to damn the Bush White House. The character of Toby, too, was hardly vindicated; his boss, President Bartlet (Martin Sheen), fired him at the end of last Sunday's episode and cuttingly dismissed the leak as shameful.

"What was more interesting to us was the notion of someone who had done something that they believed was the proper thing to do," Mr. Wells said. "Within the White House, do they ultimately take responsibility for what they have done, rather than wait to be indicted?"

The partisan makeup of "The West Wing" writing team, Mr. Wells said, includes a couple of dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, a couple of moderate Republicans and a bunch of centrists. Though some Republicans have long accused the show of being a liberal fantasyland, this season's main plotline - about the campaign to succeed President Bartlet - has featured a Republican nominee and his views."
"Real-world Democrats are most terrified of a George Pataki or Arnold Schwarzenegger as the nominee - a pro-choice moderate Republican who can galvanize the country," Mr. Wells said. "What we try to do is reflect common ground that most viewers can relate to.""

You can read the entire article by registering for free at the New York Times.

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