“The West Wing” took on terrorism during a special episode last Wednesday.
But NBC’s presidential drama used words, not weapons, to counter the Sept. 11 attacks on Washington and New York.
“Isaac and Ishmael,” a stand-alone episode from show creator Aaron Sorkin, halted the routine of the fictional Josiah Bartlett administration. The episode trapped high-school students in the White House during a “crash”–a security breach that seals the building.
The crash set up two rather informational story lines, creating an episode more stage show than TV show.
In one story line, White House staff answered the students’–and the nation’s–questions about terrorism.
For example, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman gave this analogy to understand religious extremism in Afghanistan: “Islamic extremist is to Islam as KKK is to Christianity.”
He also urged the students to “remember pluralism. You want to get these people? I mean, you really want to reach in and kill them where they live? Keep accepting more than one idea. It makes them absolutely crazy.”
In the other story line, Chief of Staff Leo McGarry interrogated an Arab-American who worked in the White House. The innocent man defended his ethnicity and religion against McGarry’s growing anger.
The episode disappointed a few “West Wing” fans, but for different reasons.
The episode “was more like, let’s have all the West Wing actors stand in the cafeteria and make a couple public service announcements!” wrote one fan in an About.com discussion forum.
One “West Wing” fan site shut down in polite protest to the special episode.
“I just do not agree with airing an episode about terrorism so soon after a national tragedy of the magnitude that was suffered on September 11th,” wrote the fan site’s creator.
But most “West Wing” fans reacted favorably to Wednesday’s show, voicing their approval in online discussions.
Even George Stephanopoulos, policy advisor to former President Clinton, saw merit in the broadcast. He described it as “a prime-time town meeting on a lot of issues raised by the attacks,” in the Los Angeles Times.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find this sophisticated a debate on most news shows,” he said. “If the goal was to stimulate and provoke discussion, I’ve got to believe it did that.”
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.