24 Examines Constitutional Issues, Upsetting Conservatives

It is best to watch 24 for the pure enjoyment of the show without thinking much about either the reality of the stories or its politics. Neither entirely hold up to close scrutiny. In early seasons conservatives tended to cite the show as an example of their beliefs, although liberals could still sometimes find lessons, such as that, although Jack too quickly turned to torture, the torture rarely provided reliable information in past seasons.

There was some concern about the show’s frequent portrayal of Muslims as the villian to the point where they found it necessary to issue this diclaimer during the fourth season:

Hi. My name is Kiefer Sutherland. And I play counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer on Fox’s ‘24’. I would like to take a moment to talk to you about something that I think is very important. Now while terrorism is obviously one of the most critical challenges facing our nation and the world, it is important to recognize that the American Muslim community stands firmly beside their fellow Americans in denouncing and resisting all forms of terrorism. So in watching 24, please, bear that in mind.”

Jack didn’t bother with issues of warrants, although I suspect this was more a matter of keeping the action moving and the story resolved within twenty-four hours than a conscious desire to disregard such legalities. Craig Crawford noted the similarities between Jack Bauer’s actions and current conservative disregard for civil liberties in 1995:

I have been watching dozens of back episodes of Fox Broadcasting’s “24” over the holidays, and so far I haven’t seen rogue U.S. anti-terrorism agent Jack Bauer stop once for a court warrant — not even when he sawed off the head of an informant he was interrogating. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard the Constitution mentioned a single time as Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, repeatedly breaks the rules to thwart terrorist plots.

This is how the President wants us to see the real world. Indeed, George Bush is the Jack Bauer of presidential power. There are no rules in Bush’s world when it comes to the War on Terror — only wimps like the whining bureaucrats on “24” balk at torture, spying, propaganda, whatever it takes.

I guess I am one of those constitutional wimps. Even the reality cop shows get me riled, as we watch the police routinely trample the individual rights of hapless suspects. Maybe we do live in a Jack Bauer world where constitutional liberties take a back seat to stopping killers. But I’d rather live in Patrick Henry’s world: Give me liberty or give me death.

Conservatives still remained big fans of the show last June as the Heritage Foundation hosted a panel discussion on the lessons of 24 in fighting terrorism. (A previous post on this panel is reprinted under the fold.) Liberals also found a reason to be excited by the show last season’s story about President Logan, a rogue President with similarities to both Richard Nixon and George Bush. This season appears to continue this trend, upsetting many conservatives such as Debbie Schlussel. There is conflict between Presidential advisor Thomas Lennoix (Peter McNichol) who “treats the Constitution like a list of suggestions” and those who understand the need to preserve our Constitutional liberties. Detroit Free Press TV critic Mike Duffy wrote:

So in addition to delivering a gangbusters contemporary thriller, executive producer Gordon aims to focus even more this season on such hot-button, post-9/11 topical issues as torture, ethnic profiling and the erosion of civil rights.

“All the terrible byproducts that come from a desperate population is what we try to convey,” notes Gordon.

Of course, in addition to being the scarred victim of torture, Jack Bauer has often been the one delivering agonizing pain in an attempt to extract vital information.

“Sometimes in the rare ticking time bomb context of ’24’… some sort of coercive interrogation is sometimes called for,” explains Gordon. “That said, Jack pays a terrible price. We see the cumulative wear on his soul, and never more than this season.”

Over the years, “24” has occasionally been criticized for trying to have it both ways, using torture as a topical talking point … and torture as entertainment.

“We’re far more sensitive to it than we’ve ever been and really, really would seek not to trivialize it in the storyline,” insists Gordon.

Ironically, despite the apparently more liberal philosophy of the show, Sunday’s episode provided one of the rare incidents in which torture did provide meaningful information, except in this case it was done by a Muslim after Jack uncharacteristically backed down. Most likely the show will continue to provide incidents which liberals and conservatives can both agree and disagree with, and all must remember that this is essentially escapist fantasy and not evidence for any political viewpoint.

Update: Not all conservatives are upset about the discussion of Constitutional issues on 24. Right Wing Nut House differes from many conservative bloggers in writing:

But after all, it is a just a television show. And despite the extremely serious nature of the civil liberties vs. security debate perhaps, in the end, it may be that reducing the complex arguments for and against extraordinary security measures to one line sophisms is the best way to get a national conversation going on the topic. Goodness knows we need it. Too often, when it comes to discussing this vital issue, people have been talking past each other rather than trying to come to some kind of consensus on the best way forward.

Republicans Confuse Reality and Fiction With 24

Posted by Ron Chusid
June 24th, 2006 @ 8:08 pm

While David Brooks takes on Kos, Maureen Dowd had a bigger target, Michael Chertoff, who attended a panel entitled ” ‘24′ and America’s Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction or Does It Matter?”

These guys were so lame they asked an informant for boots, radios, binoculars, uniforms and cash, believing he was Al Qaeda — and that jihadists need uniforms.

Instead, the cadaverous Chertoff was gallivanting on stage yesterday morning with some fictional counterterrorism experts from “24.” The producers, writer and three actors from the Fox show appeared at an event sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

Drawing on his old scripts, Mr. Reagan was a master at mixing fiction and fact, but he was a piker compared with the Bush crowd.

It is understandable that the Republicans would prefer fiction to reality. “Better to have a panel in praise of Jack Bauer than admit we have no real Jack Bauers to find Osama and his murderous acolytes.” Rush Limbaugh was master of ceremonies, and praised “24 for giving torture a good name.”

Dowd pointed out that not all aspects of the show played to conservative tastes:

This past season, the show began exploring what happens when a Nixonian president becomes so obsessed with national security that he starts undermining the country’s laws.

That’s the kind of fiction you hate to see become fact.

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