LadyGhosts of TV Past

LadyGhosts of TV Past: West Wing 2.03, “In This White House”

This episode opens with Sam Seaborn meeting head-to-head with the beautiful Ainsley Hayes on a political talk show. Ainsley is a leggy blonde Republican who the host all but dismisses until the show goes live.

As the Capitol Beat goes live, the host asks Sam the advantages of President Bartlet’s education bill. Ainsley then dissects each part of Sam’s answer. It is a beautiful introduction to one of my most favorite West Wing ladies.

When the show goes to break, the scene opens at the White House.

Josh: Toby, come quick, Sam’s getting his ass kicked by a girl.

Toby: Ginger, get the popcorn!

And we see Toby move faster than in other episode.

After the opening credits, CJ is briefing in the press room. She tells the press that the president is meeting with a representative of the African nations. They are meeting with the drug companies, who hold the AIDS anti-viral drugs the African nations so desperately need.

Sam appears, and CJ ribsĀ  him on his Capitol Beat defeat. Sam challenges her to a round of general knowledge trivia, eager to defend his honor. When Toby appears on the scene, it’s clear he’s passionate about helping Equatorial Kundu (A fictionalized sub-Saharan African country in turmoil) access American pharmaceuticals for the treatment of AIDS, instead of black market drugs (sold at a fraction of the cost) from other countries, which violate U.S. drug patent laws.

CJ is then greeted by a cub reporter who asks her a question about a grand jury trial. She answers him quickly, and in the next minute she realizes her grave error. She spends most the episode wondering if it’s going to bite her in the butt.

A lot information about the African AIDS epidemic is presented in this episode as dialogue between two characters. President Bartlet and Leo discuss the demographics of AIDS and HIV in their opening scene, then conversation then turns to Ainsley. The president tells Leo that Ainsley should be hired by the White House. Leo thinks it’s a joke, but when Bartlet starts talking about Ainsley’s civic duty, Leo knows he’s got some phone calls to make.

The president then meets with President Nimbala, the representative from Equatorial Kundu, for a photo op andĀ  quick questions. President Nimbala makes it clear that Africa needs a miracle. His solemnity is palpable. His response to the president’s optimism of making progress in the next few days?
“I hope so, Mr. President. My country is dying.”


Leo then tries to talk the president out of hiring Ainsley. Bartlet is adamant, and tells Leo to smooth it over with the staff.

We then get a rare glimpse into a staffer’s (well, she’s currently a future staffer) personal life. Ainsley is working on learning about Caller ID while her friends are watching her television escapades. The scene closes with her realizing that the White House is calling her.

The next morning, CJ arrives wearing black (ruh-ro). She’s stressed and disheveled. She almost comes clean to Sam about her answer to the cub reporter regarding the grand jury trial, but she delays.

Leo then summons the two of them to the hallway.

Leo: I wanted to tell you this out where there were people so you wouldn’t scream about it.

CJ: Scream about what?

Leo: The woman who was on Capital Beat with Sam on Sunday night.

Sam: What about her?

Leo: I’m offering her a job.

Sam: Where?

Leo: Here.

CJ: Are you kidding?

Leo: No.

CJ: Are you kidding?

Leo: No.

CJ: Are you kidding?”

Leo: NO.

CJ (screaming): What the hell made you think I wouldn’t scream where there were people?

Leo: I took a shot.

Sam and CJ: LEO!


And we see why Bartlet told Leo to smooth the news over with the staff.

Dona and Josh then review the African AIDS crisis on their walk to Josh’s meeting. The bottom line – the drugs cost about $150 a week, and a police officer in Kenya makes about $43 per month. This is clearly one of Sorkin’s social justice episodes.

Josh enters the meeting as the drug companies try to defend their practices of charging less to European nations than to African nations. As the conversation gets heated, Toby explains a point the leader is trying to make: “There’s more profit in giving a white guy an erection than curing a black guy of AIDS.” (Thank you, Toby.)

The drug rep then defends their practices, and Toby points out again that the drug companies are showing preference to white customers. The mood is tense, and when they take a break, it doesn’t seem like the day will accomplish much.

Leo meets with Ainsley, who is excited and incredibly wordy. Ainsley then tells Leo that it’s wrong and inappropriate to summon someone to the White House to be reprimanded. Leo tells her that’s not the reason at all. Leo offers her a job, and Ainsley keeps talking. She then stops, and realizes what’s being offered to her.

Sam finds CJ trying to relax in her office, and Sam asks her again what her question was earlier in the day. CJ tells him not to worry, but he’s worried. She asks how the talks are going. Sam instructs her to tell the press all of the parties are optimistic, however, she knows, from Sam, that none of the parties are optimistic.

We then go back to Leo and Ainsley hashing it out. Ainsley gives him a piece of her mind, and then, as Bartlet directed, he appeals to her sense of duty.

Josh and Toby discuss the drug issue on their walk back from the cafeteria. Toby stands strong with Nimbala. Josh plays devil’s advocate, and Toby rails against the drug companies. Josh asks about Nimbala, and Toby tells him he came himself, because he doesn’t have any delegates.You get the strong sense of how desperate the situation is.

Ainsley then learns of CJ’s stress inadvertently, when the cub reporter starts talking about the grand jury investigation to Ainsley. Ainsley takes note.

Back in the drug talks, the pharmaceutical companies make their point that supplying the drugs for free would make very little difference. It comes to light then, that the anti-viral drugs require the ten pills to be taken at precise times each and everyday.

Josh wants to know why that’s a problem, and Toby spells it out- the people who need these drugs in Africa don’t own watches and don’t know how to tell time.

And that’s when the severity of this epidemic becomes crystal clear.

To relieve the viewers of the enormity of the world AIDS crisis, we then find Ainsley calling on CJ in her office. CJ is riding her life cycle, and Ainsley introduces herself. Ainsley tells her that she’s not taking the job, and then awkwardly brings up comment made to her by the cub reporter. After giving CJ a heart attack, she lets her know that she’s in the clear– CJ’s source, a witness, was not under a gag order. CJ is suddenly seven years younger.

Toby and Josh sit down with President Nimbala and spell out the terms to a deal Toby knows they can get the pharmaceutical companies to agree to. It’s not going to be easy. The president reminds Toby that 38.5% that the adult population is infected in his country. He tells Toby that he is not concerned about patent law. Josh points out that not cooperating could lead to trade and aid sanctions. Josh and Toby talk him into it, although he is not happy about. Nimbala tells them, “It is a terrible thing to beg for your life. Terrible. My father was a proud man. He built homes. He wouldn’t like what I came here to do.”

“Yes, he would, Mr. President. Swear to God he would,” is how Toby responds.

Sam and Ainsley then cross paths for the first time since the beating on Capital Beat. Sam points out a few things about the Republican education bill that Ainsley neglected to mention, and as she starts to refute his points, Josh appears. Sam says that Ainsley has been hired by Leo, and as Josh expresses her disbelief, Ainsley announces that she’s not taking the job.

And then, as Sam writes her off, Ainsley starts into her next rebuttal. When she is done, she and Sam have short discussion on gun control, and Josh walks to the other side of the room. They both make valid points, and you see that they will be great sparring partners for episodes to come.

Toby then brings in a memo, and the senior staff gathers in the Oval Office. President Nimbala’s country is under a military coup. Bartlet tells President Nimbala, and he asks about his children. Nimbala refuses aslyum and wants to return home immediately. Bartlet pleads with him to stay. They get word that Nimbala’s brother and sons are dead.

Ainsley is watching the whole scene through an open door, until Margaret escorts her away. When she goes to meet her friends that night, she announces that she took the job. I think it was watching President Bartlet, in action, actively trying to save President Nimbala’s life that appealed to her highest sense of civic duty.

Ainsley Hayes, White House Counsel: Say they are smug and superior. Say their approach to public policy makes you want to tear your hair out. Say they like high taxes and spending your money. Say they want to take your guns and open your borders but don’t call them worthless. At least don’t do it in front of me. The people I have met have been extraordinarily qualified. Their intent is good. Their commitment is true. They are righteous, and they are patriots. And I’m their lawyer.

The next morning, Bartlet is educating Josh and Toby on the invention of the dwarf wheat. Charlie brings in the memo that President Nimbala was executed in the airport parking lot. After a long sigh, Bartlet closes the episode saying, “I”ll see you Monday.”


Readers, this episode aired nearly eleven years ago, in October of 2000. HIV and AIDS continues to infect millions in Africa. There are several heartbreaking graphics located at that are worth looking at to get a grasp on the depth of this issue. also has a comprehensive site regarding HIV and AIDS worldwide. Want to learn more about charities doing good work in Africa? Check out the American Institute of Philanthropy’s list of best-rated organizations.





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