24 gives insight into how media can 'coordinate' with government to produce propaganda
A popular television action drama may have given viewers some insight into how the government can coordinate with news media to shape public opinion. In Monday night's episode, the good guys of Fox's 24 tricked the bad guys by getting a local television news channel to broadcast a false report.
Pursuing weapons of mass destruction set loose on New York City, Jack Bauer and the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) found themselves needing to mislead terrorists into believing their dead comrade was still alive.
"CTU, this is Bauer. We lost him. Farhad is dead," the nearly super agent portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland said.
But, as always, the hero of 24 had another plan.
"Whoever shot Farhad couldn't confirm that he was killed. We came up on him too fast. They don't know how bad he was wounded," Bauer told CTU Director Brian Hastings.
"What are you proposing, Jack?" asked Hastings.
"I'm saying we use Farhad as dead bait. Leak it to the press [that] we've got him in custody and he survived. We're transporting him to a local hospital where authorities are going to question him. They'll have to move on him. He knows too much," explained Bauer.
"We'll figure out a hospital route and put a press statement together," Hastings agreed.
Only moments later, the terrorists were watching Fox 5 news anchor Ernie Anastos announcing the capture of Farhad Hassan. "We have just received word from New York Counter Terrorist headquarters that Farhad Hassan, brother of Islamic Republic of Karnistan President Omar Hassan, has been found alive," announced Anastos.
"We're told Farhad Hassan contacted CTU a short while ago and agreed to turn himself in to authorities. CTU responded immediately. When they arrived they found him shot," explained Anastos. "We do know that he is expected to survive and he's being transported to St. Julian's Hospital under heightened security where he will be questioned by authorities."
Inevitably, the terrorists fell for the trap and proceeded directly to the hospital to take out Hasan.
Later in the show, the CTU Director indicated that news organizations may have been in on the ruse. "We coordinated with news outlets," Hastings told Bauer.
The LA Times remarked that "real life WNYW New York anchor Ernie Anastos has a cameo, no doubt hoping to have something else to be remembered for other than the guy who suggested his local weatherman commit an unnatural act with a chicken."
(NSFW Anastos "keep f*cking that chicken" video at this link)
While it might seem odd for a TV news outlet to allow its anchor to be part of a storyline that involves false reporting, since it was to help the "good guys," and the station was a Fox affiliate, the decision probably wasn't a tough one to make.
In the real world, papers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have admitted to coordinating with the government in many instances. The Times recently kept secret about a reporter held hostage in Afghanistan and delayed stories such as James Risen's reports on the illegal NSA wiretaps.
This video is from Fox's 24, broadcast March 1, 2010.