In the CBS TV political drama Madam Secretary, Season 1 Episode 17, Secretary of State comes back from Iran after successfully stopping a coup secretly plotted by some Iranian anti-government officials in coordination with a few U.S. officials. During a meeting with her in his house, Foreign Minister of Iran is killed and her bodyguard gets gunned down trying to cover her. She comes back unscathed but feels very sorry and guilty for his death. It (stopping the coup) becomes a big story and she can be a national hero.

The following conversation takes place after she comes back to her office.

Her assistant: If there's a hero in this story, it's you.

Elizabeth McCord (Madam Secretary): What did you just say? Because what I thought you said is that I'm the hero of this story.

Her secretary: Excuse me, ma'am, Daisy didn't mean to imply...

Elizabeth McCord: Excuse me, Nadine. See, what's confusing is how you could possibly say something like that just days after you attended Frank Cole (her bodyguard)'s funeral. A man who literally threw himself in front of bullets to save me, which is the very definition of heroism. You come at me with this win the cycle crap again, it'll be the last time you do. You understand?

I can guess what it means from the context, but I can't find the exact meaning even though I tried Googling and looking it up the dictionary.

  1. What does win-the-cycle crap mean? What is its etymology? I tried Ngram Viewer but there was no result. Is it neologism?

  2. What is the definition of cycle in the context?

  • 2
    Check this out. Dec 23, 2015 at 18:35
  • I don't know the show or full context but in US politics there are two potential cycles that can be won, the "news cycle," and the "election cycle". For a discussion of how they interact, see the "Feiler Faster Thesis" en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feiler_Faster_Thesis
    – user662852
    Dec 23, 2015 at 18:48
  • 1
    And the idea that a politician would purposely pass up an opportunity to "win the cycle" is a clear mark that the show is pure fantasy. :-)
    – Hellion
    Dec 23, 2015 at 19:37
  • Obviously they're talking about the Tour de France.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 23, 2015 at 21:13
  • @HotLicks I would not appreciate such a comment. If you have an answer, post it. If you have any reason to downvote my post, post a justifiable reason. Do not post a comment just for a comment's sake.
    – user140086
    Dec 23, 2015 at 21:16

4 Answers 4


They're referring to the "News Cycle".


You "win" the cycle if your "message" is the most heard version of the given events. Especially if it is picked up by social media and by late-night hosts.

The "News Cycle" doesn't have a hard & fast definition yet, but it goes roughly like this:

  1. Pick your topics for political and/or economic reasons (celebrity cross-promotion works best).
  2. Hype the topic heavily in morning shows. Breakfast and drive-time works best.
  3. Use the same repetitive talking points, even across "rival" networks.
  4. Promise big reveals for the evening programs, continue hyping all day.
  5. Deliver the evening spectacle, hopefully to big ad revenue.
  6. Repeat, the next day, changing topics or spin for something "fresh".
  7. Unexpected events are actually pretty rare, but shoe-horn these in as best as can be.
  8. Ignore stories that don't fit the narrative as much as you can. Release these after 5 PM or on weekends if they can't be avoided.
  • That's extremely cynical, and certainly does not apply to all journalists and news outlets, but it is often too true. Well said. Dec 23, 2015 at 18:47

The character played by Tea Leoni ("Madam Secretary") is saying, "[If] you come at me with this 'win the cycle' crap again, it'll be the last time you do!" refers to the short "news cycle" on television that she, and all Americans, have to tolerate. The character "Nadine" was trying to "spin" the information released to the press to reflect well on her boss, the Secretary of State. "Madam Secretary" wanted nothing to do with such "spin," and was threatening to fire Nadine from her job if Nadine did it again.


"The cycle" is the 24 hour news cycle. Each cycle consists of reporting on the event and then on reaction to it, with the presumption that after 24 hours the news will have moved on to something new. For PR types "winning the cycle" means that coverage of an event you are involved with is positive.

In this case 'winning the cycle', i.e. publicity victories, are considered 'crap' when compared with the death of a colleague.


The cycle here refers to the news cycle [ODO]:

A round of media coverage; the period from one broadcast or printing to the next.

The phrasing win the news cycle is slangy, as ordinary consumers of news would not think of it as a competition. Those working in politics and in news rooms, of course, would differ. Consider the older phrase win the Internet.

Put together, win the cycle crap is a dismissal of cheap tactics which a politician could use to draw attention and favorable mention in the media in the current news cycle. The assistant is painting the scenario as a particular narrative; McCord is not interested in spinning the event for her selfish benefit.

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