Legislators love 'West Wing,' but not its ANWR episode

Posted: Thursday, April 04, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A recent episode of the television show ''West Wing'' raised the hackles of a number of members of the Alaska Legislature.

They penned a letter to the show's producer, Aaron Sorkin, asking for equal time.

The March 27 episode, entitled ''The U.S. Poet Laureate'' contained misleading information about drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, they said.

House Majority Leader Jeannette James, R-North Pole, sent the letter this week asking the show to consider arguments in favor of opening ANWR to drilling.

In the television episode, President Josiah Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen, criticized efforts to allow energy development on the coastal plain.

Sheen is an activist who last year taped a theater ad for a campaign against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

''Because of the show's popularity, and because it strives for accuracy in the way it portrays political figures, the inaccurate and misleading ANWR dialogue probably amounts to millions of dollars in free advertising for the anti-ANWR effort,'' James said.

The letter was signed by James, Senate President Rick Halford, R-Chugiak, House Speaker Brian Porter, R-Anchorage, and 26 legislative committee chairs. Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, and Sen. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, also signed the letter.

Overall, lawmakers gave the series high reviews, saying ''The writing, directing, acting and production of this show set high industry standards.''

And lawmakers invited the cast and crew of ''West Wing'' to travel to Alaska and learn more about the state.

Lawmakers disputed a scene in which a character said Alaska Natives are opposed to developing ANWR. The Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. and the Alaska Federation of Natives support drilling in the plain, lawmakers said.

The Gwich'in Indians of northeast Alaska and northwest Canada strongly oppose drilling because they rely for subsistence on caribou that migrates through the area.

Lawmakers also took issue with arguments that oil reserves in ANWR would last ''just a few months'' and that it would harm the Central Arctic herd of caribou.

''Alaska's economy depends on resource development. Currently, far too many of your show's Alaskan viewers are leaving the state because they cannot find a family wage job,'' the letter said.

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