Torture in The Living Room

(Kelsey McNeal/FOX)
We wrote last month about the debate around whether "24," on Fox, is a conservative show. (Time: "Is 24 just a TV show or right-wing propaganda?" Newsweek: "Depending on your perspective, "24" is either a neocon sex fantasy or the collective id of our nation unleashed.")

Now comes a New Yorker profile of Joel Surnow, the man behind "24." And it's a doozy, so much so that it has Nikki Finke calling for a boycott of the show. Surnow is a Bush supporter who says "[p]eople in the Administration love the series, too. It's a patriotic show. They should love it." The series' "show runner," however, is a self-described "Moderate Democrat" who believes "people can differentiate between a television show and reality."

Much of Jane Meyer's story focuses on the regular use of torture on "24." In November, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, met with many of the minds behind the show. Writes Mayer:

Finnegan told the producers that "24," by suggesting that the U.S. government perpetrates myriad forms of torture, hurts the country's image internationally. Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors—cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by "24," which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, "The kids see it, and say, 'If torture is wrong, what about "24"?' " He continued, "The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do."
Finnegan also said in the meeting that DVDs of "24" circulate among soldiers in Iraq, who "then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they've just seen." When asked about the prevalence of torture on "24," Rush Limbaugh, a friend of Surnow's, said this: "Torture? It's just a television show! Get a grip."