Black President on '24' Says He Paved Obama's Way

From Reno, Associated Press reporter Scott Sonner reported actor Dennis Haysbert likes to believe his portrayal as the first black U.S. president on Fox's 24 may have helped pave the way for Barack Obama:

''If anything, my portrayal of David Palmer, I think, may have helped open the eyes of the American people,'' said the actor, who has contributed $2,300 to the Illinois Democrat's presidential campaign.''And I mean the American people from across the board -- from the poorest to the richest, every color and creed, every religious base -- to prove the possibility there could be an African-American president, a female president, any type of president that puts the people first,'' he said Tuesday.

But that might inspire comparisons of Michelle Obama to Sherry Palmer, not a desirable comparison. NPR tackled this in January on All Things Considered:

MICHELLE NORRIS: Of course, Hollywood has produced all kinds of presidents we've yet to see in real life - women, Latinos, handsome, single dads who date beautiful, brainy lobbyist. But we wanted to test the question about a black man in the Oval Office. After voters have seen several black presidents on screen, are they more likely to elect one in real life? We put this to Todd Boyd, professor of critical studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

TODD BOYD: I'm a bit hesitant to say that because James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman, you know, or Dennis Haysbert played a president in a television show or in a movie, that, you know, it means Barack Obama can be president. I think that's a bit of a stretch. NORRIS: When it comes to presidential portrayals, does it make a difference if we're talking about portrayals in film or on television, on television, in particular, in the case of "24," for instance, where David Palmer and later his brother Wayne Palmer were portrayed in that series as black presidents beamed into people's homes every week for a period of time?

Prof. BOYD: When you talk about, you know, a popular television program, it's not, you know, simply the representation on "24," but it's that representation in a larger context where we've seen African Americans do things in the last 10, 15 years that we've not seen before. For people watching a program like "24," perhaps this representation, you know, may have unconsciously made some things in society seem less troubling than it may would have been had this representation not beamed in in the first place.

But this logic was also discussed with Hillary Clinton and the flopped Geena Davis ABC drama Commander-in-Chief. Hollywood has certainly telegraphed to those rubes in Flyover Country that they ought to expand their racial and gender horizons for president. But would anyone admit that TV made all the difference?

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis