How did Burma ease its transition from oppressive military state to forward-thinking democracy? With a little help from Aaron Sorkin, it turns out.
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrived at the White House on Wednesday to receive the Congressional Gold Medal she was awarded in 2008, while she was under house arrest.
During her remarks at the event, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recalled a conversation with a senior Burmese official during her historic visit to the country late last year -- the first by a U.S. official since early in the Cold War.
"He said to me, 'Help us learn how to be a democratic congress, a parliament,'" Clinton said. "He went on to tell me that they were trying to teach themselves by watching old segments of The West Wing. I said, 'I think we can do better than that, Mr. Speaker.'"
The exchange has been reported before. In November 2011, the New York Times wrote that the politician, Burma's current Speaker of the Lower House, told Clinton that the country's evolution from brutal dictatorship to democracy was like "coming out of a cave" for its newly elected parliamentarians, who were "passing around a DVD containing episodes of The West Wing."
Sorkin's White House drama -- which ran for seven seasons on NBC from 1999 to 2006 -- was praised by critics for its realistic depiction of backroom politics at the highest levels. Sorkin now oversees HBO's The Newsroom, a similarly realistic take on current events as filtered through the prism of a cable news network.
Burma itself managed to make its way into the West Wing's plot: Season 3 episode "War Crimes" features a reporter deported from the country for exposing truths about the government's involvement in sanctioned drug trafficking -- a detail based in fact when the episode first aired in 2001.
Video courtesy of BuzzFeed.
- Aaron Sorkin
- Aung San Suu Kyi