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A Day in the White House: Interviewing Toby Ziegler

Standing here at the gate of the White House just makes me even more nervous. I can't believe he agreed to meet me. This is very scary.  I take a deep breath as I tell the guard who I am and what I am here for. He nods and lets me through. I walk into the White House in awe. I can't believe it really looks like the set of 'The West Wing.' Another guard gives me a visitor's pass and tells me where to go to find Toby Ziegler. I thank him kindly and walk through the halls.

I'm surprised I didn't get lost. This place is busy! If only you could see it. I can feel my heart skip a beat as I enter the Communications bullpen. Then I see his office. I can see that the door is closed. Great. He probably forgot.

"May I help you," a woman not much taller than me with blondish/redish hair asks.

"Yes, I'm here to interview Mr. Ziegler," I say nervously.

"Oh, yes. I'll let him know you're here. Have a seat." She points to an empty chair. I thank her and sit down.

A few minutes later, his office door opens and I bolt up to my feet.  I smile as best I can. "Mr. Ziegler," I say in my most professional voice.

He looks at me. Wow, he's looking at me! Okay, Lisa. Get back to Earth now.

"May I help you, Ms....," he asks.

Oy, I forgot to give him my name. "Oh, I'm Lisa. Lisa Verson? I'm the one who is supposed to interview you today. I'm from Lake Forest College and my assignment is to--"

He nods, "Yes, I remember. Please, come in." He is very gracious.  I thought he was tough, loud, whatever.

I walk into his office and he points to a chair in front of his desk for me to sit down in. This is so cool. I can't believe this.

I watch as he sits down at his desk. I wait until he looks ready. I then clear my throat and begin. "Mr. Ziegler, I am very interested in politics. My major is History, and for an assignment, I decided to interview someone who will someday go down in history along with the President." I smile.

He smiles. I could just faint at the sight of that smile. Oh, wow.  "Very commendable, Ms. Verson. So, where would you like to begin?"

"Well, I was thinking of starting from when you first got interested in politics and going from there." I say cautiously.

"All right." He waits for me to take out my notebook. "Well, I first got interested in politics when I was just a little younger than you are now. I loved watching the debates on television, and I knew that I could write better speeches for the candidates."

I nod as I write down what he says. "So you knew right away that you wanted to do something with writing?"

"In a way. Either that or journalism. But I knew I wanted to be in a place where there was always something interesting with politics going on."

"Okay." I finish writing down what he has just told me. "So, after college, what did you do?"

"Well, I got married to a woman who is also into politics. She's a United States Congresswoman." He pauses. "Of course, she didn't start out as one. She was a lot like me. She had ambitions to do something with politics."

I must look confused. "I thought you were divorced..."

"Oh, well I am, but at the time I had been married for a year."

"Oh, I see." I blush.

"No need to be embarrassed by it," he said, smiling a little.  "Anyway, after we moved to our new home, I got a job working for one of the Senators of New York. Unfortunately he lost the next election so I made sure to not work for him anymore."

"If you don't mind me asking," I say, trying to sound professional, "What was your job when you worked for him?"

"I was his speech writer."

Oh, yeah, well duh. Jeez, Lisa could you be any more dense? "Oh, yes of course." I smile and write down what he just told me. "So who did you work for next?"

He sighs. "A bunch of nobody's who wanted to be in politics but who just couldn't make it in the real world. Finally, I got a phone call from someone in New Hampshire about a man running for Governor. I asked my then wife how she would like to move to New Hampshire. She looked like she was going to burst. We had an all out fight about moving--" He pauses. "Long story short, she didn't go with me."

I nod and write down what he said. "Who was the man you were going to be working for," I ask, knowing who it was in the back of my mind.

"Our current President, who was only running for Governor back then.  Jed Bartlet."

"What was he like back then?"

"Well, he couldn't remember my name. Not at all. This was his third time in running for Governor, but things changed a little."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, somewhere in there his advisor, our current Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry told him to run for President, and he listened. Talk about a challenge. He hated nearly everything everyone wrote for him. He suddenly became very picky as to how he wanted things written and everything." He laughed a little. "I remember I almost got fired after a meeting was held that took place after one of his speeches."

"But you obviously didn't get fired, right?" I ask as I write everything down.

"No, I didn't get fired, I was just fed up because the man was so damn picky."

"I see," I say. "So what happened next?"

"Well, I wrote speech after speech and then suddenly, out of nowhere, I got an assistant to help me write the speeches."

I point towards Sam Seaborn's office. "Him, right?"

"Yes. Anyway, we fought and wrote and fought some more. Then I decided we needed a good PR person. So I went up to Leo and asked him if I could bring in my friend from California."

"C.J. Cregg." I say knowingly.

"Yes. He said that was a brilliant idea, since he had her so much about her. So I went to get her, and talked her into coming to work for the campaign, now called 'Bartlet for America.'"

"And how did that go?"

"Well, other than Bartlet barely knowing any of our names, it went pretty well. We ended up winning the next Presidential election. He asked the man running against him to be his Vice President."

"John Hoynes," I say matter-of-factly.

"Yes. Little did we know that two and a half years later, we'd find out that the President was hiding a tiny detail about him from us."

I just look at Toby. I know this must be hard. "The MS?"

"Yeah," he says kind of quietly. "The MS. We all wanted to kill him for not telling us anything, but we eventually started to once again focus on the important things. Re-election, mainly."

"So that's where you all are today?"

"That's right," he says as he gets up and walks over to me. "That's about it. There isn't anything else really."

I nod and put my notebook and pen away. "Thank you very much, Mr. Ziegler. It was an honor interviewing you." I smile.

"Please, call me Toby. And you're welcome. Would you like to meet the others?"

I am dumbfounded. "I'd love to."

"All right." We walk out of the office and walk all the way to Leo McGarry's office.

As we walk, I can't help but to tell him, "Did you know that there are several groups on the internet dedicated to you?"

He looks at me. "There are?"

"Yes. One in particular called 'Toby's Tarts.' Well, actually that one got eaten by the internet, so it's now called 'Toby's Tarts 2.'"

"Interesting." He pauses. "Wait, this isn't like that site that was dedicated to Josh, is it? LemonLymon.com?"

I laugh. "No, not at all. It's a great bunch of people."

He nods and we continue to walk and talk. Eventually I meet the rest of the staff.

"And that is my interview on Toby Ziegler, White House Director of Communications."

The class applauds and my professor tells me after class that I got an A. Cool. I should go to the White House more often. Or not...

END

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