Though 24 follows an advanced counter-terrorism intelligence unit with access to advanced technology, it seems like Jack Bauer and his crew watch a lot of TV.
In Episode 3, the terrorists make themselves known through a localized broadcast system. They arrange themselves around a kneeling hostage in front of a camcorder, wearing the ski-masks and military gear we’ve all come to know. The broadcast is picked up simultaneously by the Department of Defense and the major public broadcast networks, and when given the choice between two sources, the advanced CTU and the President’s handlers both make the choice to flip the nearest television to the news. The President watches in horror as the terrorists make the demand that he halt the signing of his counter-terrorism treaty with Russia, begging his aide that they make the networks stop.
“We have to get this lunatic off the air!”
“Sir, we can contact the networks, but they’re under no legal obligation to comply.”
He then backs away hopelessly, seeming to accept that the fate of the nation is not in his hands, but in the media’s. Let’s think about that for a second. He is the president, and he is getting his information through TV. He is not in the Situation Room, or in a smoke-filled conference room working to resolve the issue facing his country. He flips on the TV. Real world precedents for the media coverage of pressing issues of national security definitely exist: but when the Unabomber demanded that his manifesto be published in major newspapers, the papers waited for the government’s position. It was determined that the publication could lead to the bomber’s capture and save lives. This logic seems not to reach the relevant parties in 24. Minimizing media presence of hostile terrorists could have diffused the situation, but the President and his aides cede control to the news media.
In the next episode, the same logic surfaces. The treaty-signing ceremony begins, and the aide refuses to accept that he could even stall the ceremony. He could not fathom the idea of adding a few paragraphs to the President’s speech.
“No, the entire world is watching this on live television; the presidents of the United States and Russia are onstage now. This process has been set in motion, no one can stall it.”
The ceremony is even allowed to run ahead of schedule, as the CTU scrambles to launch a rescue operation before the moment of the treaty signing. This seems to be an instance where the show’s obsession with the “nick-of-time” rescue causes the show to depart from reality. Governmental control takes a back seat to the supremacy of the media. It is unstoppable, and cannot be told what to do, even by the Counter Terrorist Unit and the President of the United States.