The Show “24” Endangers Our Troops

Ken AshfordPopular Culture, War on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

If anyone has ventured into the conservative blogosphere, they’ll soon discover one thing: conservatives love the show "24".  To them, it’s not just a TV show — it reflects the gung-ho way that America should be fighting the war on terrorism. 

In September, Laura Ingraham justified torture techniques by pointing to the show. Around the same time, Glenn Beck did the same thing. Two weeks ago, Fox News ran a segment quoting a private investigator using 24 to justify the use of racial profiling when searching for terror suspects: “The fact of the matter is — I mean, you don’t watch 24 on Fox TV? They’re out there. They’re out there. There are cells out there. We have to protect ourselves against it, as Americans.”

On the January 16 edition of Fox News’ The Big Story — airing a day after the premiere of 24’s sixth season, in which “terrorists detonate a mini nuclear bomb in downtown Los Angeles” — host John Gibson stated: “Well, certainly may be fiction for now. But 24’s Jack Bauer has it right. People need to wake up to the possibility of nuclear attack.” Gibson later asked: “Is 24’s faux suitcase nuke bomb a real wake-up call for America? Should we take this as an early warning sign that something like this could happen here?”

Chris Orr of TNR wrote about this conservative love-fest of "24" recently, noting that Jack Bauer has somehow became a conservative hero.

As befits his training, he is a man of action: decisive, aggressive, and disinclined to play by the rules when he feels they’re getting in the way. He never wavers, second-guesses, or gives in to criticism, instead doing whatever needs to be done to safeguard American lives, regardless of the costs.

Conservative fans of the show frequently note the similarities between Bauer’s disposition and that of a certain White House resident, and they claim that “24″’s popularity is evidence that, whatever the polls may say, Americans want someone like Bush to defend them in these troubled times. [Pat] Buchanan has gone as far as to pronounce the president our “Jack Bauer in the war on terror.”

It’s mildly embarrassing how conservatives flock to a fictional TV show (made in liberal Hollywood) simply because it justifies and bolsters their own (dare I say it, fictional) world view.

So how, I wonder, will conservatives react to the news that the U.S. military thinks that "24" is inappropriate — and endangers our troops:

The United States Military Academy at West Point yesterday confirmed that Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan recently travelled to California to meet producers of the show, broadcast on the Fox channel. He told them that promoting illegal behaviour in the series – apparently hugely popular among the US military – was having a damaging effect on young troops.

According to the New Yorker magazine, Gen Finnegan, who teaches a course on the laws of war, said of the producers: "I’d like them to stop. They should do a show where torture backfires… The kids see it and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about 24’?

Even the show’s star, Keifer Sutherland, acknowledges that the show’s use of torture is, well, not really cool, and a dramatic device (rather than a policy lesson):

In a television interview last month, Sutherland said: "You torture someone and they’ll basically tell you exactly what you want to hear, whether it’s true or not, if you put someone in enough pain… Within the context of our show, which is a fantastical show to begin with, the torture is a dramatic device to show you how desperate a situation is."

[Emphasis mine]

Note to the un-reality-based neo-cons: Made-up characters working for made-up agencies in made-up scenarios don’t actually help bolster your policy positions.  And they endanger real-life troops.  Enjoy the show as a fictional tale, but don’t count on it for making real-world decisions.