Don’t want to do any research? Time for some weasel language

The Media Guardian has a curious article today on the effect that John Spencer’s death will have on The West Wing. I say curious because it seems to be written by someone who doesn’t know that much about how television works and can’t even be bothered to find out. Take this quote

The West Wing, which is in production on its seventh season and is thought to have got two or three episodes in the can before Spencer died…

“Is thought to have” is a great weasel phrase. You can use it in all sorts of articles. You can use it for making statements that you don’t have the facts to confirm, the confidence to assert or which may even be completely untrue (eg “The Prime Minister is thought to have refused the deal in no uncertain language”, “President Bush is thought to have taken bribes from Osama bin Laden”).

You can use it to avoid having to do research as well. Here a simple check would have revealed that the first nine episodes of The West Wing have already aired in the US. The NBC web site or would have shown that. A quick check of the calendar would have done the same, since the majority of US shows start airing in September and October. A little thought would also have highlighted the fact that production companies tend to shoot episodes weeks before they actually air, so it’s likely episodes 10 and 11, at least, are already in the can.

How are they going to address Spencer’s death in the show? I’m pretty sure a second fictional heart attack is the most likely option. The ongoing story line already has various politicians pressing his character to do more for the campaign, with Spencer refusing: “They’re trying to kill me”, a reference to his almost-certain fate were he take on even more stressful tasks than running for vice president.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.