Jack Bauer: Quiet, Ruthless Defender Of America On TV's 24, he's focused and fearless when it comes to defending his country from terrorist attacks. Is he a hero? A rogue? And do fans think — or hope — there's a real Jack Bauer out there?

Jack Bauer: Quiet, Ruthless Defender Of America

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Unidentified Man #4: It's Superman. Yes, it's Superman.





INSKEEP: He's a ruthless counterterrorism agent who has to fight the clock to protect the nation. As part of series "In Character," NPR's Pam Fessler explores why Jack Bauer, of the Fox TV show "24," has fans across the political spectrum.


PAM FESSLER: What is it about Jack Bauer that's so appealing? He's always yelling.


KIEFER SUTHERLAND: Damn it, Chloe, just do it now.

FESSLER: Or torturing people, including his own brother, who admittedly was a bad guy.



SUTHERLAND: (Unintelligible) you will experience a pain I can't even describe. At eight CCs I run the risk of...

FESSLER: People say they admire Jack Bauer because of one thing: he's committed to saving the United States from attack. And he's willing to risk everything - his life, those he loves, the Constitution - to succeed.

ROBERT THOMPSON: In a world in which we think that so much is out of control it is incredibly satisfying to watch a human being who is so completely in control.

FESSLER: Thompson thinks Bauer is the quintessential hero for a post-9/11 world, an escape valve for a sometimes frustrated nation.

THOMPSON: If real life in the war on terror we are not going to be able to kick the enemy's butts in noticeable ways, then we are going to demand to see the enemy's butt kicked in our fiction.


SUTHERLAND: I'm not here to take anybody down. I just want a little information.


FESSLER: "24" premiered right after 9/11, but Jack Bauer's character was created before the attacks. Bob Cochran, one of those creators and the shows executive producer, says it was always the plan that Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, would be the type who'd slice through the bureaucracy to do what had to be done.




BOB COCHRAN: The notion that was on our minds was here's a guy who, although he's flawed and makes mistakes, he's uncompromising.

FESSLER: And Jack Bauer makes that clear in the first episode as he directs his chief of staff, Nina Myers, to check out a suspicious superior.


SUTHERLAND: Nina, you can look the other way once and it's no big deal, except it makes it easier for you to compromise the next time and pretty soon that's all your doing is compromising because that's how you think things are done.

FESSLER: The show has both liberal and conservative fans, including top members of the Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, to name two. Chertoff says he sees parallels between the difficult choices Bauer has to make and the real fight against the terrorist threat.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF: He knows sometimes there are only bad choices and you've got to make the least bad choice. And then he does it and he takes responsibility for it. And I think that's, in many ways, something that the public values. In fact, it's something that I think gives great aspiration.

BARRY STEINHARDT: But it doesn't mean you agree with everything that you enjoy. This is pure escapist entertainment.

FESSLER: That's Barry Steinhardt, a top official with the ACLU. In real life, he fights many of the choices Chertoff has made. But like Chertoff, he's also a huge "24" fan. Steinhardt says it reminds him of the cowboy movies his grandmother took him to when he was five, when the hero would rush in at the end and save the day.

STEINHARDT: But the difference between being five and fifty-five is at fifty-five hopefully you've learned that the lone cowboy move doesn't work. It doesn't either protect us and it certainly doesn't protect our civil liberties.

FESSLER: Take torture, for instance. Steinhardt points out that when Jack Bauer does it, it always seems to work.

STEINHARDT: Well, in the real world torture doesn't work.


SUTHERLAND: (Unintelligible) Who is his supplier? Who is his supplier? Jake?


FESSLER: Bob Cochran says the shows producers took the comments under advisement, but that little has really changed. He says it is after all just a TV show.

COCHRAN: I think the Army's responsible for training its own people. We're not. And they should be able to explain the difference to their own people between fantasy and reality.

FESSLER: And he says it's not like Jack Bauer isn't bearing a cost for his actions. A cost that creates the kind of tragic storyline that keeps an audience engaged.

COCHRAN: What happened over time was Jack Bauer found himself paying a higher and higher price in his personal life for doing the things that needed to be done in his professional life.


WILLIAM DEVANE: You're cursed, Jack. Everything you touch, one way or another, ends up dead.

FESSLER: That's the fictional Secretary of Defense telling Jack Bauer to stay away from his daughter. Over six seasons Bauer has lost just about everyone he's close to. His wife was murdered. He's estranged from his daughter. He even killed his long time buddy Curtis to stop him from derailing a mission. And Stephanie Romanski loves every minute of it.

STEPHANIE ROMANSKI: He's duty bond, honor bound, the whole shebang.

FESSLER: I ask if the thousands of people who visit her site seem bothered that we don't really have a Jack Bauer to save the day.

ROMANSKI: Who's to say that we don't? I mean, maybe there is a Jack Bauer out there or maybe there is a team out there, you know, kind of dedicated to making sure that we stay safe. I want to believe that.

FESSLER: And clearly so do many others.


SUTHERLAND: You know those guys I blew away (unintelligible)? You think they were the bad guys? Because they weren't. They weren't bad guys. They were just like you and me, except they compromised once.

FESSLER: Pam Fessler, NPR News.


INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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