How Accurate is Madam Secretary?

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The Barbara Hall’s political drama, Madam Secretary, focusses on the life of a smart woman, Elizabeth McCord, who becomes the Secretary of State of the U.S. Government. She is shown balancing her highly complex job with her family life and it makes for an interesting watch. What has added to the appeal of the show is the notion that it is quite accurate in its depiction of many people, places and events. This adds a hint of intrigue to the show and makes it even more palatable. Morgan Freeman is also one of the executive producers of the show along with Lori McCreary. Madam Secretary has already completed its first season and its second season is currently on air.

Of course, the showmakers would have taken creative liberties with the plot and screenplay. This is necessary to make the show more entertaining and fit for television. Let us pass the show through a litmus test to gauge how accurate it is one the overall. We will be randomly picking some scenes and see if they pass the accuracy test.

In the show, when the incumbent Secretary of the State dies, the President of the United States comes in person to offer Ms. McCord the opportunity fill in the position. This is a little daring on the part of the writers to make the President fly over to make the offer. Definitely, Secretary of State is a high position and an emergency may well demand an unusual measure. But, The President, in real life, would have rather done it on the phone. There are many security arrangements that have to be made before a President decides to fly. So, this one does not really depict the reality.

Madam Secretary in bed
Madam Secretary in bed

The second thing that does not go well down the fact lane is the two months she is made a secretary. This is not easy to do because the Congress has to agree on all these matters and just getting their consent may take a lot more time than just two months.

The showmakers have to be given their due for designing the set perfectly. They are quite accurate. This has been confirmed by many people who have worked in the original offices. So, the show has been successful in creating the right backdrop and atmosphere of one of the most powerful offices in all of the United States. It also helps for the show to be taken more seriously.

The show has never claimed to be a biography or even a depiction of any of the female Secretary of States, who have graced the office. That doesn’t mean that the audience doesn’t get a taste of reality on the show. Medaline Albright, the Secretary of State from 1997-2001, made a cameo on the show. She is the first lady to have held that position under Bill Clinton. Apart from her, Condoleezza Rice under President Bush and Hillary Clinton under Barrack Obama are the only two other women to ever hold the position. However, the whole character sketch does not seem to resemble in any way to the three women who have held the office in real life, except for some happy coincidences.

Téa Leoni is Elizabeth McCord
Téa Leoni is Elizabeth McCord

For instance, when the show portrayed the blonde Tea Leoni as the Madam Secretary, the viewers’ first thought was that it was going to be similar to the personality of Hillary Clinton. Elizabeth generally takes off her glasses in a certain fashion while speaking and that resembles that of Hillary Clinton. Some of Elizabeth’s crew also has some similarity to the people in Hillary’s staff, including Huma Abedin and Phillipe Reines. Hillary Clinton is married with two kids and so is Elizabeth. However, Elizabeth’s husband is a professor and not a former president. There are also many other differences. Since it is not possible to pinpoint which female Secretary of State she is playing, there is no basis for measuring the accuracy of the facts presented for Elizabeth or her professional and personal life.

Also, the show depicts only a handful of staff running behind Elizabeth, with her secretary trying to keep up with the classified files most of the time. This almost never happens, because a Secretary of State has a ton of staff to take care of everything.

Morgan Freeman has an unbelievable cameo in the show
Morgan Freeman has an unbelievable cameo in the show

Since the show directs some limelight on one of the highest positions in the US political arena, the show is most certainly going to have lots of international problems at the fore. However, international issues are quite complex and simple answers from a superhuman Secretary of State simply dilute the importance of the causes as well as the authenticity of the show. This is where the show has made a departure from real life. The Secretary does solve various problems on the show, but not always in conjunction with how the real authorities would do.

However, a particularly interesting incident took place in November, 2015. The writers showed the drone hit on an ISIS executioner named Jihadi Judd. The very same week, America also ordered a similar strike to take out Emwazi, an ISIS operative. Emwazi was a British national and was nicknamed Jihadi John by the British media. However, in the show, the terrorist is shown to be of American origin. This episode was more of a coincidence than a factual insertion into the show’s script.

Wallis Currie-Wood also stars in the show
Wallis Currie-Wood also stars in the show

The show will definitely have the elements of the US polity, and will also, on occasion, showcase personalities resembling important people in the US Senate. However, the show does not claim any factual correctness and that should be kept in mind. Madam Secretary is not necessarily a political satire, but a drama series that highlights an intelligent woman making her way through one of the toughest jobs in the world. She is a good negotiator and has her head in the right place. With such a strong female character in the lead, a good plot and impressive performances from the actors makes for good television entertainment. How close it is to reality? Well, not too close apparently.


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