(CNSNews.com) - Veteran NBC hospital drama "ER" is coming under fire for containing in its season finale story elements critical of the war in Iraq, including the suggestion that government officials misuse terror threat levels and that U.S. forces torture prisoners during interrogation.
"NBC should be ashamed of putting on the air in 'ER' such a blatant dose of political propaganda," Sal Russo, chief strategist of the conservative group Move America Forward, told Cybercast News Service on Monday.
The episode aired late last week began with the staff being informed by a desk clerk that "[the Department of] Homeland Security raised our threat level to orange this morning."
One of the series' lead characters asked: "Well, what does that mean, exactly?" and a passing doctor replied, "It means it's an election year."
"Dismissing terrorist threat levels as election-year posturing does a disservice to the dedicated public servants who are trying to keep America safe against the threat of international Islamic terrorism," said Russo.
According to the synopsis at NBC.com, the story then involved a patient named Kyle - who served time in Iraq as an interpreter - who was brought in after an apparent suicide attempt.
Later in the program, Kyle stole the key to the medicine cabinet and "took as many pain pills as he could get his hands on." By the time the staff broke in and got Kyle back to his room, "they realized he had taken an entire bottle of pills."
While Kyle was having his stomach pumped, Dr. Archie Morris heard him repeating a phrase in Arabic. When the patient was more coherent, the doctor asked him what he had been saying.
Kyle responded in Arabic, and then translated: "'Please don't hurt me. I've done nothing wrong. God have mercy.' I must have translated that a million times in Iraq, man. It didn't matter. They didn't listen to me any more than they listened to prisoners."
"Who didn't listen to you?" Morris asked.
"The interrogators," Kyle said. "The interrogators, they didn't--." At that point, Kyle broke down, crying and shaking.
A nurse asked: "You saw them beat the prisoners?"
"Beat, burn, other things," Kyle replied.
"You mean torture?" Morris said.
"Most of them that we questioned didn't even know anything," Kyle responded. "They were innocent. I tried to convince the interrogators, but they didn't believe me. So they kept hurting them. Everybody just kept translating their cries."
"It's not your fault," Morris said. "We're going to get you some help."
Russo said he took strong exception to the plot line.
"Using the al Qaeda tactic of grossly exaggerating claims against American troops is insulting to our military and every American," he said. "It is bad enough when NBC has distorted their news coverage, but to use their entertainment programming to undermine our military men and women in harm's way is inexcusable."
Near the end of the episode, one of the doctors attended a rally in downtown Chicago against the war in Iraq, where a speaker at the podium said: "It's not political. It's not Republican or Democrat. It's about young lives lost every day. Every day. And knowing when to say we've done what we could, and maybe it's time for us to go home."
"As one woman was giving her speech, war supporters begin heckling her," the synopsis said. "Just then, shots rang out, and chaos ensued. People began scrambling everywhere," and one of the show's characters "began to get trampled by the frenzy of people and disappeared in the madness."
'Hollywood writer's fantasy'
Kristinn Taylor, spokesman for the pro-military organization Gathering of Eagles, told Cybercast News Service that the final sequence was "a left-wing Hollywood writer's fantasy" that is "not grounded in reality."
"For the most part, the demonstrations on both sides have been peaceful and civil," Taylor said. "Considering how high the stakes are, it's a testament to the character of the American people that we've been able to engage in this vociferous debate without physically attacking each other all the time."
Still, he noted, people's emotions can get the better of them, which is why his group last Friday honored military recruiterswho they said "take the brunt of the attacks of the anti-war protesters."
Leslie Cagan, national coordinator for the anti-war group United for Peace and Justice and a regular "ER" viewer, told Cybercast News Service that she was glad to see the topic of prisoner abuse addressed on the show, "because I think it's real."
Regarding Kyle, she said, "It was pretty clear that he was not haunted by the fact that people were being asked questions, but that some degree of torture was going on. There was a pretty clear critique of that."
At the same time, Cagan admitted that she had been confused by the ending. "I have been to and organized many, many anti-war demonstrations in the last four and a half years, and I don't recall there being any incidents of violence.
"That plot thread was left dangling, which I guess is the mark of a good cliff-hanger," she added, indicating that was a good reason for her and other viewers to "tune in next season."
Ramona Joyce, media relations manager for the American Legion, told Cybercast News Service that "there are very few Jimmy Stewarts and Ernest Borgnines left," referring to actors who took time out of their careers to serve in the military during World War II.
"How many of those Hollywood producers and writers ever served a day in the military?" she asked. "That's what I want to know."
Still, "a veteran knows better than anybody that what he or she does is for those people's right to speak," Joyce stated. "If that's what they want to do with their talent, so be it. I just wish it were more balanced and not so political in nature. I'd at least like to see some program showing things like the fact that we haven't been attacked since 9/11."
Several telephone calls and emails seeking response from NBC were not returned by press time. According to the Futon Critic website, the "ER" season finale came in third at 10 p.m. last Thursday, with a rerun of "CSI" winning the hour and an extended episode of "Grey's Anatomy" and a "Lost" clip show coming in second for ABC.
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