Just A TV Show?

(McFarlane Toys)
Conservative media critics have their knickers in a bunch over this latest trend among prime-time television critics: labeling Fox's "24" as a conservative show. Or, more specifically, that "[d]epending on your perspective, '24' is either a neocon sex fantasy or the collective id of our nation unleashed," as Newsweek put it recently.

In a review of the season's opener, critic Devin Gordon writes that as President Bush "is squeezing our civil liberties to fight a war on terror, the writers of '24' have come up with a story that asks whether something could ever happen here in America that makes civil liberties a luxury we can no longer afford."

Time's James Poniewozik posed this question to readers this week: "Is 24 just a TV show or right-wing propaganda? Or, to turn Jack Bauer's frequent refrain on him: Who are you working for?" After all, John McCain has done a cameo and Vice President Dick Cheney "is a big fan" of the show. And the show's stars were recently honored with an appearance by Rush Limbaugh and "softball questions" from an audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Eugene Kane of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who cites the Heritage Foundation event as well, writes that Cheney and Limbaugh's affinity for the show "suggests there may be something more than just television going on here."

What does that mean? Only that "'24' is to conservatives what 'The West Wing' was to liberals," says Kane. That is, the parallel version of President Bush's America and the fantasy version of the Clinton presidency, respectively.

But while the show "comes as close as anything has to being the Official Cultural Product of the War on Terrorism," Poniewozik goes through all the reasons why it may not actually be propaganda for the Bush administration. For instance, this season, Bauer teams up with a former terrorist leader to stop an attack. "He thus displays a better grasp of realpolitik than has the Bush Administration, which resisted the Iraq Study Group's recommendation to work with Iran and Syria."

Now that sounds like a bit of an overreach, but, conservative show or not, the mountain of free publicity can't hurt.