Thursday, November 20, 2008

Y2K - The Good Old Days!

In recent days, I’ve been enjoying the first season of “The West Wing” on DVD. It’s incredible how well written that show was - more intelligent by a good stretch than anything on the air today - but I was struck by one episode I saw recently that showed in quite a few ways just how much the world has changed in a few short years.

The episode, “He Shall, From Time To Time”, was first aired in 2000, and takes place in the days prior to President Josiah Bartlet’s second State of the Union address. There is chaos at the White House – a developing scandal involving Chief of Staff Leo McGarry. Word has leaked out that six years earlier, Leo, who was then the Labor Secretary, had received inpatient treatment for an addiction to alcohol and Valium. In fact, the senior staff gathers at the White House one evening because the story has just popped up on the internet, and it is sure to be a big story once the newspapers get a hold of it the next day!

Meanwhile, McGarry, mindful that the President is about to give his State of the Union speech, tells Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman to choose a member of the cabinet to stay behind at the White House while the rest of the cabinet goes to the Capitol to attend the speech. Josh explains to his assistant, Donna Moss, that someone needs to stay behind to run the government in case all of the nation’s top elected leaders are killed in a terrorist attack. The two share a good laugh imagining what the government would be like if the Capitol was blown up and Donna was left behind to run things.

Now, here’s what struck me as odd…

1/ If a big story broke on the internet in 2008, it would be plastered on every cable news channel and on every other news website in the world within minutes… not to mention on cell phones and Blackberrys around the world. Back in 2000, when a big story really did pop up on, say - the Drudge Report – it really DID take several hours for the media to vet the story, and newspapers were still somewhat the arbiter of what constituted news. That’s not the case any longer.

2/ Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure if it was revealed that President Bush’s Chief of Staff had a substance abuse problem years before he worked in the White House that it would be that big of a story. I don’t know if the times have changed, but it’s certainly less of a big deal today than it would have been in the past.

3/ I seriously doubt in the post 9-11 world, even more than 7 years later, that anyone would show two TV characters in the White House making light or making jokes about a possible bombing at the Capitol. It just wouldn’t happen.

Here’s a clip from the end of that episode, as the President explains to the Agriculture Secretary in friendly, but by today’s standards, chilling terms, what to do in case the Secretary is left to run the nation:

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