The Fox television show 24 featured Jack Bauer as the lead character, a U.S. counterterrorism agent. His task was to stop a terrorist plot over a single 24-hour day (i.e. 24-hour-long episodes were needed to solve the case). It was claimed that the program encouraged real-life terrorist interrogators to mimic the actions of the fictional Jack Bauer, and use tactics that involve torture.
The New Yorker magazine featured a story about a news report that said that the creator of the show, Joel Surnow, was visited by U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, who flew to Southern California to meet Surnow and the show’s writers. Finnegan, accompanied by three experienced military and FBI interrogators, came to voice his concern that the show’s message—that torture during interrogations is necessary to catch terrorists—was affecting the training and performance of military interrogators. According to Finnegan, he show’s graphic depictions of torturing suspects negatively impacted “efforts to train recruits in effective interrogation techniques and damage[d] the image of the United States around the world.”
Some recruits watched the television show, and were found to imitate the interrogation tactics they saw there, even though they are illegal.47 The Parents Television Council reported that 24 was the number one show in terms of showing torture on the air.
• What is the issue of moral permissibility in this situation?
• How should the ethical issue be approached from the perspectives of virtue, formalism, and utilitarianism?
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