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Chertoff says homeland security no '24'

Department secretary points out that the show is not reality TV
/ Source: The Associated Press

Take it from Michael Chertoff: The Homeland Security Department is no "24." Chertoff, the department's secretary, said Friday he doesn't have a way-cool, state-of-the-art Counter Terrorist Unit like the one on the Fox TV show. Bad guys aren't foiled on an hourly basis. And not everybody is romantically involved with co-workers.

So by the time the clock stopped on a two-hour panel that included "24" cast members, Washington policy wonks and Rush Limbaugh, some mythical similarities between the show and the government's counterterrorism campaign had been debunked. And that was none too soon for Mary Lynn Rajskub, who plays techno-chick Chloe O'Brian on "24," and clearly had her fill of those who take the show a mite too seriously.

"I got into acting to avoid politics and so I can remain in a fantasy world," said Rajskub, who seemed bewildered at questions about how closely "24" cleaves to reality. "And you guys are kind of bringing me out of it."

And so it went in the surreal meeting of Hollywood and Washington, sponsored by the Heritage Foundation think tank, about America's image in the war on terror. The audience included Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginny, in the front row.

The star of "24," Kiefer Sutherland — that's agent Jack Bauer — wasn't there.

In one parallel between Homeland Security and the show, Chertoff spoke of the challenges in "trying to make the best choice with a series of bad options."

Characters on "24" constantly face situations "where there is no clear magic bullet to solve the problem, and you have to weigh the cost benefits of a series of unpalatable alternatives," he said.

"That is what we do every day."

Limbaugh peppered the panel over whether "24" influences public perceptions about counterterrorism, and whether the actors are snubbed by Hollywood liberals for participating in what Limbaugh called a "pro-America show."

Gregory Itzin, who plays the nefarious President Charles Logan, said he has had to defend himself from one or two people "about the fact that the show does have torture issues and how could I live with that."

"It's a show!" he said. "I've done Shakespeare and have killed people with a sword."

Later, Limbaugh went back to the program's creation, saying: "You got lucky with 9/11 happening shortly after the show started." He quickly stopped himself, saying: "Sorry — not got lucky — bad choice of words." At another point, he offered a story line for a political cameo: Democratic Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, a tough critic of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, as "head of the new KGB."

David Heyman, a homeland security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said "24" may give the public a false impression of how fast and easy it is to battle terrorists and other threats against the nation. Agreed Heritage's James Jay Carafano: "If we're waiting for Washington to do something before we can start saving lives, we're all going to die."