The show's devoted fans include Sen. John McCain, who appeared on the show -- in a cameo role -- last February. The senator, who has criticized the torture sequences on the series, joked to reporters that "I shoot one guy's kneecap off, only one ... A red-hot poker is planted in someone's chest, but other than that, there is no torture."
This is not the first time entertainment has caused fallout. In 1983 ABC aired the controversial TV movie "The Day After," which showed the horror of life after a nuclear attack. Parents received letters telling them not to let their children watch.
In 2002, White House officials questioned the timing and release of Paramount's action movie "Sum of All Fears" -- a film which depicts a nuclear bomb unleashed on an American sporting event.
But this fall, CBS debuted a series, "Jericho," which also details what life would be like after a nuclear blast; though the show has gotten solid ratings, it's not caused much controversy.
Afterall, it's only television, says Ron Kuby, a civil rights lawyer who co-hosts a New York's WABC morning radio show.
"If private citizens don't like the broadcast, they don't have to watch it," said Kuby. "Remember what mom said, it's not real. I recognize the power of an image to motivate people, but our political leaders are far more dangerous than the collateral effects of a mushroom cloud on "24."
But Jhally of the Media Education Foundation believes Hollywood's fascination with terrorism can have serious political consequences.
"Fear has been used to paralyze people's intellects," said Jhally. "If they can scare people, almost anything becomes possible. When people are afraid their brains shut off and it makes you confused and want easy solutions."
Television shows like '24' also reinforce stereotypes about Arabs, he said, and in this episode connections are drawn between terrorism, Arabs and nuclear war. With the U.S. wrestling with Iran over its nuclear capabilities, these associations are dangerous, he said.
"It fits into a mind set," Jhally said. "Iran is on the news about nuclear power, and now there is an American TV story on an Arab terrorist using nuclear power. It's dangerous because this present administration wants any excuse to attack an enemy. Fear is main enemy in our political culture and we have to cut through the fear to see the world clearly, and then we can find solutions to make the world safe."
Still, television critic Bianculli says the episode is fantasy and drama at its best. He says back in 2001 Fox showed corporate responsibility by cutting scenes of a plane exploding mid-air from one of the first episodes of "24," out of sensitivity to 9/11 victims.
And leave it to the TV critic to deliver the real zinger. Bianculli believes Fox is more manipulative with its product placement than anything else. "In CTU headquarters -- which is information central -- they are always watching Fox News," Biancilli said. "Now that is ridiculous."