Opinion: Bill Clinton and the Jack Bauer exemption


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Former President Bill Clinton has been critical of Fox News, but he’s an unabashed fan of Fox’s entertainment offerings.

In yet another appearance today--of his how many dozen recent media appearances has it been ostensibly to promote his new book and global initiative to save the world?--on network rival NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ Sunday, Clinton spoke at length about the Fox drama series ‘24.’


In the series secret agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland, now in some different kind of trouble) of the terror fighting agency CTU routinely extracts information by torture in hopes of defusing bombs that are always set to go off somewhere in America.

Last year, Clinton told ‘Meet the Press’ host Tim Russert that he would authorize torture in a ‘24’-style situation, where terrorists were captured with a bomb ticking somewhere around the country. Those comments got new life last week when Hillary Clinton publicly disagreed with her husband on the issue; she argued that American policy should not permit torture.

Asked about the subject again by Russert on Sunday, Clinton backed off his previous endorsement of torture--but not his affection for the Bauer character. ‘It happens every season with Jack Bauer, but ... in the real world it doesn’t happen very much,’ Clinton said. ‘If you have a policy which legitimizes this, it’s a slippery slope and you get in the kind of trouble we’ve been in here with Abu Ghraib, with Guantanamo, with lots of other examples.’

Clinton said he didn’t know what he would do if confronted with the proverbial ticking bomb and terrorist in hand, but suggested -- currying no favor with the intelligence community -- that agents could torture but be prepared to face the consequences for violating the law or Geneva Conventions.

‘I think what our policy ought to be is to be uncompromisingly opposed to terror--I mean to torture, and that if you’re the Jack Bauer person, you’ll do whatever you do and you should be prepared to take the consequences,’ he said. ‘And I think the consequences will be imposed based on what turns out to be the truth.’

Clinton seemed willing to defer to the torturing Bauers of the world. “If you look at the show, every time they get the president to approve something, the president gets in trouble, the country gets in trouble. And when Bauer goes out there on his own and is prepared to live with the consequences, it always seems to work better.’


So, memo to the folks at CTU: this president loves your show - but he doesn’t have your back.

-- Joe Mathews