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West Wing Wiki

TOBY GRILLS PRESIDENT OVER SECRET MEDICAL CONDITION DURING TERRORIST ALERT -- After a foreign terrorist is caught at the border with explosives, Bartlet (Martin Sheen) ponders the impact of ordering a heightened security alert for the nation's airports while an exasperated Toby (Richard Schiff) is shocked to learn of the President's secret affliction with multiple sclerosis -- and he details its political and legal ramifications. In other White House corridors, Sam (Rob Lowe) and Josh (Bradley Whitford) try to punch up an upcoming presidential speech with snappy one-liners while Josh jousts with Donna (Janel Moloney) over many contentious subjects, including the exact start date of her employment. In addition, Sam and Ainsley (Emily Procter) fuss over the 14th Amendment and equal rights for women.



The Same Night [after the Stackhouse Filibuster][]
Toby is in his office bouncing the ball against the wall.
Two Nights Later[]
Toby is working on a speech and is not happy with any of the drafts.
Two Nights After That[]
Toby comes to see Leo to ask if there has been a discussion about dropping Hoynes from the ticket in 2002.
The Next Night[]
Toby is still in his office bouncing his ball against the wall.
The Next Morning[]
Leo arrives for work and finds Toby in his office - Toby wants to know why Hoynes would put a poll in the field if he's not planning to run for President until six years from now.
That Night[]
Toby returns to Leo's office to tell Leo that he has learned that Hoynes is planning to give a speech in Nashua, New Hampshire.  Leo tells Toby the Vice President wouldn't give an official speech - he would mask it with something.  Toby tells Leo that it comes in the middle of a three day camping trip to Killington, Vermont.  Toby asks Leo why the Vice President thinks the President isn't going to run again.

Act I - The West Wing - 11:35pm[]

Leo comes into the Oval Office to inform the President that Toby has figured it out and they have to tell him about the MS.  Leo sees this as an opportunity to gauge staff reaction to the President's disease.  The President is not convinced that Toby's reaction is going to be indicative of the rest of the staff but tells Leo to go and get him.

Josh and Sam are looking over the President's remarks for the Correspondents Dinner, but find the draft's jokes to not be very funny.  Josh asks Toby if he wants to help, but Leo arrives to bring Toby to the Oval Office.  Donna arrives and Josh asks her if she received the flowers.  He tells her that he sent her the flowers to mark when she started working for him.  She reminds him that she started working for him in February, not April--but he reminds her that she stopped working for him and then came back in April.  He asks her if she wants to help with the Correspondents Dinner speech.

Sam goes to see Ainsley to ask her to help with the speech.  She is working on remarks that she will give at Smith College, her alma mater.  Sam and Ainsley have a discussion in which in becomes clear that Ainsley is against the Equal Rights Amendment, which astonishes Sam.

The President meets with Toby and Leo in the Oval Office, and in between describing a developing situation on the Canadian border in which a terrorist was found with explosives, Bartlet tells Toby about his Multiple Sclerosis.

Act II[]

Toby asks about the difference between Relapsing-Remitting and Secondary Progressive MS and several other questions.  Toby cannot believe what he has heard and steps outside the Oval Office to process it.  Leo comes outside to talk to Toby.  Leo tells Toby about the attack that happened before the State of the Union a year ago.  The two come back inside and Toby asks how this could be kept a secret.  Toby wants to know who else knows. Leo tells him that he is the 16th person to find out.  The President comes back into the room and the conversation continue. Bartlet impresses upon Toby that no one was asked to lie about his condition.

In the Roosevelt Room, Josh, Donna, Ainsley, Sam, Ed, and Larry get to work on "bringing the funny" to the Correspondents Dinner speech.  Josh comes to see Charlie to ask how long Toby is going to be.  Charlie tells Josh that he doesn't know.  Josh goes back to the Roosevelt Room where Sam is talking about the ERA and trying to understand how Ainsley could be against it. Ainsley argues that it would be redundant as the 14th Amendment already protects her rights as a U.S. citizen.  They go back to trying to find the funny for the speech.

Act III[]

In the Oval Office, the President and Toby continue their conversation. Toby asks about the President's episode a few days before the State of the Union the previous year and if the President is receiving medication and from whom. When the President replies that he is receiving injections "from a doctor," Toby realizes he must be referring to the First Lady. Toby starts to openly lose his temper. He recounts the night of the assasination attempt, when it wasn't clear who was in charge of the country because the President hadn't signed a letter delegating authority in the event of his incapacitation--which Toby surmises was because if there was such a letter, people would ask why it existed.  The President finally also becomes angry, finding Toby's indignation to be "covered in crap" and self-centered, shouting that Toby is only mad that he didn't know sooner and isn't actually concerned about the implications for the country. Bartlet is also angry that Toby hasn't asked many questions about the President's health in light of the news, shouting at Toby, "I'm feeling fine, thanks for asking!"  Leo takes Toby outside.

Act IV[]

The "bring the funny" group continues to work on jokes while Sam and Ainsley continue to argue about the ERA. 

On the colonnade, Toby and Leo discuss what Toby has learned.  Toby asks if the Vice President is one of the 16 people and Leo acknowledges that he is.  Toby asks Leo why the First Lady came to see him after the State of the Union and why she was mad at the President. He realizes it was because the State of the Union sounded like a reelection speech and concludes the First Lady must have been under the impression the President wasn't going to run for a second term.  Leo and Toby discuss the possibility and the likelihood that Bartlet may not run for a second term. Toby speculates that the President could be impeached if it became public that he had been concealing his illness.

Donna comes to find Josh and she tells him the story about how she came back to work for him. She had been in a car accident and upon learning this, her boyfriend, instead of coming directly to the hospital, stopped to have a beer with his friends. Donna emphasizes that she is telling this to Josh because in spite of how Josh has been recounting the story -- as one in which she came back to work for Josh after her boyfriend dumped her -- she was the one who left him after this incident. Josh is surprised to learn this, and tells her, "If you were in an accident, I wouldn't stop for a beer."  Donna replies, "If you were in an accident, I wouldn't stop for red lights."

Leo, Toby, and the President wrap up their conversation in the Oval Office.  Toby tells the President they are going to need to talk to some lawyers about how to deal with this.  He then reminds the President that it's 17 people, not 16 -- they neglected to count the President himself.  Toby leaves the Oval Office and goes into the Roosevelt Room to help "bring the funny," still looking somewhat shocked.


Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn
Dulé Hill as Charlie Young
Janel Moloney as Donna Moss
Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler
John Spencer as Leo McGarry
Bradley Whitford as Josh Lyman
and Martin Sheen as President Bartlet

Special Guest Star

Emily Procter as Ainsley Hayes


William Duffy as Larry
Peter James Smith as Ed


You know, your indignation would be a lot more interesting to me if it weren't quite so covered in crap! . . . Are you pissed because I didn't say anything or are you pissed because there were 15 people who knew before you did?  I feel fine, by the way - thanks for asking
—President Bartlet
I have no kind of investigative mind, zero.  It took me six days and 23 minutes to figure it out
Toby:  Well, I suppose one of five things:  the President can decide not to run.  He can run and not win.  He can run and win.
Leo:  And?  What are the other two?
Toby:  Leo . . .
Leo:  You think he's going to need to resign?
Toby:  There's going to be hearing upon hearing upon hearing.
Leo:  He hasn't broken a law.
Toby:  Says you.  You don't have to break the law to be served with Articles of Impeachment.
Leo:  Toby, it is never going to get that far.
Toby:  Write down the exact time and date you said that.
Toby – It's 17 people, by the way
Bartlet – I'm sorry?
Toby – You knew. We weren't counting you. It's 17 people
Josh – If you were in a accident, I wouldn't stop for a beer
Donna – If you were in a accident, I wouldn't stop for red lights


  • Toby asks Leo if dropping Hoynes as Bartlett's running mate in the 2002 presidential election is being discussed. This one of few times The West WIng references the year in which the story is taking place. The other was in the Season 1 episode Mr. Willis of Ohio in which the manner of the 2000 Census is being discussed when it had been previously established that they had been in office for two years, or 1998. Season 3's The Women of Qumar also features a plot about the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, placing the episode in late 2001, and in The Two Bartlets a banner behind Amy Gardner says "Agenda 2002", while the Iowa Caucuses are occuring in the same episode.
  • The West WIng never addresses why presidential elections take place in different years than in the real world, although one potential explanation would seem to be simply to make direct correlation to genuine campaigns (on a time basis) impossible.
  • The 17 people in the episode's title are: the First Lady, the President's three daughters, the President's brother, Dr Herman Virkman and his team of 5 other physicians responsible for the initial diagnosis, Vice-President Hoynes, Admiral Fitzwallace, Leo McGarry, Dr David Lee (the anesthesiologist on duty the night that the President was shot), Toby Zeigler, and the President himself.


  • Aaron Sorkin 'yelled' at Emily Procter and Rob Lowe to stop flirting so much, when visiting the actors rehearsing the mess scene, after they'd been rehearsing the scene in in seclusion for a while. Procter retorted that he should then stop writing them flirting.[1]


  • With only three actors in the Special Guest, Guest and Co-Starring credits, it has the smallest guest cast of any West Wing episode.
  • Allison Janney was originally in this episode but had to be written out when she had to fly to London, England, to film extra scenes for The Hours.


  • In Ainsley's final retort to Sam in opposition to the ERA, she incorrectly refers to the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution as "Article 14".


  • There's a full website dedicated to this episode, complete with sketches, models and more! > Seventeen People

Notes and references[]

I PilotPost Hoc, Ergo Propter HocA Proportional ResponseFive Votes Down
The Crackpots and These WomenMr. Willis of OhioThe State DinnerEnemiesThe Short List
In Excelsis DeoLord John MarburyHe Shall, from Time to Time...Take Out the Trash Day
Take This Sabbath DayCelestial Navigation20 Hours in L.A.The White House Pro-Am
Six Meetings Before LunchLet Bartlet Be BartletMandatory Minimums
Lies, Damn Lies and StatisticsWhat Kind of Day Has It Been?
II In the Shadow of Two Gunmen (Part I)In the Shadow of Two Gunmen (Part II)The Midterms
In This White HouseAnd It's Surely to Their CreditThe Lame Duck CongressThe Portland Trip
ShibbolethGalileoNoëlThe Leadership BreakfastThe Drop-In
Bartlet's Third State of the UnionThe War at HomeEllie
Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to JailThe Stackhouse Filibuster
17 PeopleBad Moon RisingThe Fall's Gonna Kill You18th and PotomacTwo Cathedrals
III Manchester (Part I)Manchester (Part II)Ways and MeansOn the Day BeforeWar CrimesGone QuietThe Indians in the LobbyThe Women of QumarBartlet for AmericaH.Con - 172100,000 AirplanesThe Two BartletsNight FiveHartsfield's LandingDead Irish Writers
The U.S. Poet LaureateStirredEnemies Foreign and DomesticThe Black Vera Wang
We Killed YamamotoPosse Comitatus
IV 20 Hours in America (Part I)20 Hours in America (Part II)College KidsThe Red Mass
Debate CampGame OnElection NightProcess StoriesSwiss DiplomacyArctic Radar
Holy NightGuns Not ButterThe Long GoodbyeInauguration (Part I)
Inauguration: Over There (Part II)The California 47thRed Haven's on FirePrivateers
Angel MaintenanceEvidence of Things Not SeenLife On MarsCommencementTwenty-Five
V 7A WF 83429The Dogs of WarJefferson LivesHanA Constituency of OneDisaster ReliefSeparation of PowersShutdownAbu el BanatThe Stormy PresentThe Benign PrerogativeSlow News DayThe Warfare of Genghis KhanAn KheFull DisclosureEppur Si Muove
The SupremesAccessTalking PointsNo ExitGazaMemorial Day
VI NSF ThurmontThe Birnam WoodThird-Day StoryLiftoffThe Hubbert PeakThe Dover TestA Change Is Gonna ComeIn The RoomImpact WinterFaith Based Initiative
Opposition Research365 DaysKing CornThe Wake Up CallFreedoniaDrought ConditionsA Good DayLa PalabraNinety Miles AwayIn God We TrustThings Fall Apart2162 Votes
VII The TicketThe Mommy ProblemMessage of the WeekMr. FrostHere Today
The Al Smith DinnerThe DebateUndecidedsThe WeddingRunning Mates
Internal DisplacementDuck and CoverThe ColdTwo Weeks OutWelcome to Wherever You Are
Election Day (Part I)Election Day (Part II)RequiemTransitionThe Last Hurrah
Institutional MemoryTomorrow