The Times Finds a Politically Slanted Television Show: '24'

Television-beat reporter Brian Stelter reported Saturday on the cancellation of Fox's action-drama "24" after eight seasons. The media, which is reluctant to spot obvious liberal propaganda in shows like "Law & Order," has focused laser-like on the use of harsh interrogation tactics in "24," which stars Kiefer Sutherland as special agent Jack Bauer.

If any one show has represented the post-9/11 era on television, it is "24," the Fox drama that has offered counterterrorism as entertainment for nine years.

On "24," torture saves lives. On "24," phones are tapped, plots are disrupted, terrorists are killed, and one man, Jack Bauer, will stop at nothing to protect the American people. For viewers, "24" is part sum of all fears, part wish fulfillment in an age of shadowy enemies.


After this season's finale in May, "24" will live on, possibly as a feature film, and surely in classrooms and in textbooks. The series enlivened the country's political discourse in a way few others have, partly because it brought to life the ticking time-bomb threat that haunted the Cheney faction of the American government in the years after 9/11.


But for the same reasons the show found fans in Bush-era Washington, it has also faced severe scrutiny for its depictions of torture.

"On some level '24' is just a big ole' ad for torture," David Danzig, a deputy program director of Human Rights First, a nonprofit group, wrote in an e-mail message. "Those of us who watch the show a lot - and there are tens of millions of us who do - know exactly what is going to happen as soon as Bauer starts to beat a suspect up. He is going to talk."

The torture sequences were misleading, Mr. Danzig said, because they contributed to a "pervasive myth" that torture was effective. He recalled that Gary Solis, the former director of West Point's law of war program, once called "24" "one of the biggest problems" in his classroom.

In an e-mail message this month, Mr. Solis said that when he would preach battlefield restraint in class, a "not infrequent cadet response" would be something to the effect of "Yeah? Well, did you see Jack Bauer last night? He shot a prisoner right in the knee, and that dude talked."

The cadets knew right from wrong, and the comments were usually made with a grin, Mr. Solis said. Still, "24" presented a conundrum for the law of war professors, some of whom personally enjoyed the show but wished the torture scenes could be toned down if not eliminated altogether.

Solis has his own strong opinions about war that Stelter didn't mention: He wrote an oped this month for the Washington Post titled "CIA drone attacks produce America's own unlawful combatants."