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The Process Story: A Washington Distraction

Some stories say White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is too powerful; others portray a White House dominated by campaign staffers in which Emanuel's pragmatic advice on health care and the economy is ignored.
Gerald Herbert
/
AP
Some stories say White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is too powerful; others portray a White House dominated by campaign staffers in which Emanuel's pragmatic advice on health care and the economy is ignored.

Television shows have been ripping stories from the headlines for years, but lately that equation has been reversed.

In the past few weeks, Washington insiders have been riveted by newspaper and magazine stories about President Obama and his relationship with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Some stories say Emanuel is too powerful; others portray a White House dominated by campaign staffers in which Emanuel's pragmatic advice on health care and the economy is ignored.

It's a storyline almost identical to a fictional one during the first season of The West Wing — the hit television show starring the fictional White House of President Josiah Bartlet.

Staffers who work for President Bartlet find out that some reporter is about to print a story detailing the relationship between the president and his chief of staff, Leo McGarry. It's a story about how policy is made, not the policy itself — a "process story."

In The West Wing, it turns out the reporter who has the story works for the Washington Post, the same paper that this week published the real process story about Rahm Emanuel.

"I think it suggests how, in some ways, Washington is predictable because there are so many stories in the TV show that preceded real life," Dee Dee Myers tells NPR's Guy Raz. Myers was President Clinton's first press secretary and a consultant for The West Wing.

"The story is a distraction," she says. "It's very uncomfortable for Rahm. Both because some people are calling for his head, and other people are saying, 'If the president had only listened to him.'"

It's this type of palace intrigue that propelled The West Wing series through seven seasons.

"But it was process with an idealist's perspective," Myers says. "That's not necessarily the point of a process story in Washington. It's a Hollywood process story, so it's a rosier gloss."

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