West Wing Wiki
West Wing Wiki

The multiple sclerosis scandal was a political scandal that occurred in 2001 and 2002, on the eve and during the presidential election. It began when incumbent President Josiah Bartlet revealed to the country that he had been diagnosed eight years earlier with a relapsing/remitting course of multiple sclerosis, a severe debilitating illness, and that he had not disclosed it during his campaign for the presidency in 1998. The scandal, often politically motivated during an election year, resulted in a terminated special investigator, and a congressional investigation to determine whether the president had perpetrated a fraud against the public or even launched a massive conspiracy to win a presidential election.

The investigation ended with a deal between Congress and the president when the hearings ended (partly to save Leo McGarry's reputation due a congressman's desire to humiliate him on national TV due to his past history of alcoholism) in exchange for a censure of the president for lying to the public. First Lady Abigail Bartlet, MD, nearly suffered the worst of the consequences, because her actions to quietly treat her husband put her medical license in jeopardy. Instead she voluntarily suspended her activities as a physician.

The Administration did what it could to alleviate the fallout. They dealt with many issues, though, such as a large number of voters who erroneously believed that the President's condition was fatal. They also had internal issues with staffers who felt betrayed. Although the scandal severely tarnished President Bartlet's image, the public nevertheless reelected him president in a landslide in the 2002 election.

The scandal echoed in the 2006 presidential race. Vice Presidential nominee Ray Sullivan repeatedly alluded to Bartlet's MS in his speech to the Republican National Convention. Meanwhile, the Democrats needed to avoid another health surprise. Eric Baker's last-second attempt to secure the Democratic Party nomination ended when it was revealed that he did not publicly disclose his wife's struggles with clinical depression.

During the race, Bartlet confided to Arnold Vinick that it was a mistake to have kept his MS a secret. Vinick seemed surprised to hear that. Abigail eventually returned to practicing medicine, volunteering nights at a free clinic when the furor had passed.

Behind the scenes

  • The MS storyline is touched on in every season of The West Wing, however the scandal doesn't erupt until the Season 2 finale, "Two Cathedrals".