It's not unusual for hit TV shows to attract fans and draw crowds at fan conventions.... such as for ABC's "Lost," or CBS's "CSI." But in Washington today, there was a fan convention that was a tad unusual.
At the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, the Heritage Foundation hosted a forum on the hit FOX-TV show "24" that can only be described as adulatory. Though the panel featured homeland security experts, the co-creators of "24" and three of the show's stars to purportedly discuss "'24' and America's Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction, or Does it Matter?" the event became a love-fest -- a lofty, intellectual, probing one, but a love-fest nonetheless, with the amphitheater packed with rows and rows of the show's fans from the city's conservative power structure.
Front row center sat Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff gave the opening remarks. And it was a chance to see Rush gush.
"I am literally in awe of the creativity of the brains behind the program," said conservative talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh, who moderated the panel. "The vice president's a huge fan. Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld's a huge fan."
Conservatives are usually rather disdainful, at least officially, of Hollywood's productions, which they view as often being liberal dreams (see: "West Wing") or propaganda (see: MTV). Since its debut a few weeks after 9/11, however, "24" has managed not only to climb to the top of the ratings, but to build a serious conservative fan base that reaches the highest echelons of the U.S. government.
Chertoff noted that the show had some differences with his reality.
"I do not have an ops center like CTU," he said, referring to the sleek black office space in the show's Los Angeles counter-terrorism unit. He added that few matters in his world are resolved in 24 hours, and his employees don't get information "through measures that violate the law."
That said, the general themes of the show are real, Chertoff said. "The characters are presented with difficult choices, choices about taking violent and drastic action against a threat and weighing that against the consequence of not taking the action and the destruction that might otherwise ensue."
Chertoff said that the characters on "24," like Homeland Security personnel and others in the national security infrastructure "are always trying to make the best choice in a series of bad options. When there is no clear magic bullet to solve the problem and you have to weight the costs and benefits of a series of unpalatable alternatives. People are attracted to that because it reflects real life."
Limbaugh noted that he hadn't seen the show until someone gave him the DVDs of the first two seasons and on a flight to Dubai, he and former vice presidential aide Mary Matalin watched 18 hours of the show all the way through.
Amidst the fawning and the cheap shots about who should get a cameo (Limbaugh pitched antiwar Democratic Congressman "Jack Murtha as head of a new KGB") burned a big question -- why has this show been so embraced at this difficult time in the nation's history? Especially by conservatives?