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September 26th, 2010

Tea Party Television on CBS

The ends justify the means. At least that’s the message I’m getting from two new cop shows on CBS, both of which indicate it’s ok for law enforcement to step on every constitutional right, so long as charges stick and society is protected. It’s as if the Strike Team on The Shield is suddenly a shining example of good, effective police work.

Friday night, the Tiffany Network premiered Blue Bloods, the new Tom Selleck vehicle. A character driven police drama revolving around a family of New York City cops, the opening episode is immediately reminiscent of the old Dirty Harry movies with Clint Eastwood. Here the premise seems to be that the police could be doing their jobs a lot better if they weren’t hampered by obstructions like the constitution.

In a key scene, an Iraqi war veteran turned police detective named Danny applies his own version of water boarding (we might call it “toilet watering”) on a suspect to extract crucial information in a child kidnapping case. When Selleck, as the Police Commissioner who’s also Danny’s father, tells his son he’ll have to face an internal investigation on the brutality rap, he add that it doesn’t look good “unless you make your case stick.”

In other words, the ends justify the means. If the suspect goes to prison, then brutality is justified. To add legitimacy to this populist position, this family of upright police officers is not-so-subtly named Reagan.

In a later scene over the Reagan’s extended family dinner table, one of the family women (who’s probably a card carrying member of the ACLU) calls Danny on his unethical tactics. In a Willie Horton moment, Commissioner Frank defends his son by asking, “What if it was your daughter who was kidnapped?” For a moment it seemed as though the show was turning into a commentary on the 1988 presidential debates between George H. W. Bush and Dukakis, from a Republican perspective.

Maybe even worse than Blue Bloods is the new version of Hawaii Five-O. Here we don’t see the cops bothering with niceties like warrants at all. It’s about nothing but the ends justifying the means. Unlike Blue Bloods, in this show nobody seems to even notice that constitutional rights are being trampled upon (excuse the expression) left and right.

Near the end of the series opener, when McGarrett obtains a confession by making threats against the suspect’s wife and child, the perplexed suspect asks, “What kind of cops are you?”

To which McGarrett replies, “The new kind.”

The message is clear. In this brave new world we are no longer interested in maintaining our hard-fought-for rights, no matter how much we may claim to want a government that’s fundamentally constitutional. These days, when it comes to law enforcement all we are concerned with is our safety – until it’s our own face we find being forced down into a flushing toilet by an overzealous cop.

I hope the Tea Party finds these shows entertaining. I certainly don’t.

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