By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It's an intriguing image: a brooding President Bush — beset with his multiple woes of more than 2,000 dead GIs in Iraq, the Harriet Miers debacle, Plamegate, gas prices, polls and inflation — self-medicating his anxieties du jour by watching past seasons’ reruns of West Wing.
So claims gossip gadfly with Republican connections Cindy Adams. And this was before Scooter Libby was indicted, or Karl Rove and Dick Cheney implicated, or the White House humiliated by Democrats forcing a rare closed Senate session demanding that the GOP-led body kick into high gear its investigation into the veracity of intelligence leading up to the Iraq war. (Come to think of it, doesn’t that sound like it came straight from West Wing?)
As for Bush’s new TV-viewing habit, which used to be baseball 24/7, “I choose to believe it. We all here choose to believe it,” one of the series’ producers, Lawrence O’Donnell, tells me. “But he’s making a mistake in watching reruns when what he should be doing is watching this season’s shows.”
Leave it to Dubya to screen not only the wrong series (Fear Factorseems more his style), but the wrong year, since art is imitating life now that President Bartlet’s top staffers are suspected of leaking a national-security secret to a New York Times reporter. Still, it’s cool that we’re treated to something straight out of the third act of Nixon: presumably, a flickering TV screen in a darkened room where a swaggerless Bush slumps on the sofa in the White House private quarters, morosely munching pretzels (and trying not to trip and fall while choking on them).
The question is, What could, and should, Bush learn from West Wing?
Well, aside from the obvious (that being a crackhead paid off handsomely for West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin), the real Leader of the Free World could take away valuable lessons about dealing with terrorism effectively at home and abroad, stopping a brutal Middle East dictator without engaging the U.S. in an ill-defined and protracted war, eschewing politics to compromise with congressional opponents when it’s for the country’s good. In other words, artful solutions to Bush’s surfeit of problems.
West Wingexecutive producer John Wells tells me he and his writers can present to Bush “a different way that the presidency can be run.” Such as?
“We have the alternative of letting it work out well for us in dramatic terms,” Wells explains. “There was a great deal of hopeful optimism when Bush went on that aircraft carrier after the Iraq invasion and declared mission accomplished. He just wished it so, but in our world, we could have made it so. Unfortunately, in the real world, the presidency has to deal with incontrollable circumstances.”
For instance, if only W had watched a week ago, he’d have seen how a White House should treat a national-security leaker. Begun 18 months ago, the storyline wrapped up just four days before Libby’s indictment came down. “We thought Plamegate was going to go away, and we didn’t think it should,” Wells tells me. “We did time it to the real grand-jury ending. But we didn’t know it would so conveniently line up.”
In this episode, written by Peter Noah, senior adviser Toby Ziegler confesses to the crime and then offers his letter of resignation. Instead of accepting it as Bush/Cheney did Libby’s, Bartlet says: “Rip it up.”
Bartlet: “I can’t accept your resignation. I have to fire you. For cause.”
With that, Toby reaches for the door. Says Bartlet: “Toby, when you walk out of here, there’ll be people out there, perhaps a great many, who’ll think of you as a hero. I just don’t for a moment want you thinking I’ll be one of them.”
And, if he were watching the series this Sunday night, he’d get a tutorial in giving real responses on the issues, and not just repetitive slogans, when West Wing goes live.
That’s right, NBC is so desperate to register on the ratings’ Richter scale that it’s resorting once again to stunts. The network that finished fourth last year is going into November sweeps brimming with buzz kill, its schedule saturated with Law and Orders, its reality shows bottom-feeding (and Donald bitch-slapping Martha in public). Things are so bad that a stinker sitcom like My Name Is Earl may be moved to Thursday night to prop up Joeybecause the latter can’t even reliably beat Chris Rock’s lame sitcom, Everybody Hates Chris, on UPN, the official network of Attention Deficit Disorder. So that’s why West Wing will feature a live debate between the presidential candidates duking it out to succeed Bartlet in the Oval Office: hunky Texas Democratic Representative Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) versus whorey California Republican Governor Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda).