the pulse

Sutherland exemplifies dysfunction done right

Here is what qualifies today as a hero in Hollywood: When you're stopped in your car for DUI by the police, you don't speak ill of women or Jewish people but instead respond to the arresting officer(s) with courtesy and respect. You do not, in fact, voice your issues with any religion or ethnic group, and you take your lumps silently and peacefully.

Yes, the bar has been lowered just a smidgen on what might raise a celebrity to a position of deference. You can be a chronic screw-up and still meet the criteria so long as you do it with a certain dignity while at the same time eschewing any entitlement vibe. That tends to disqualify Britney, Lindsay, Paris and Mel.

If you're looking for dysfunction done right, search no further than Kiefer Sutherland. Here is a man who takes a drink and takes the car keys, but then he takes responsibility. Sutherland pleaded no contest this week to driving under the influence after driving off from a Fox fall season kickoff party Sept. 25, which violated his parole from the last time he was pulled over for DUI in 2004. This is on top of previous drunk driving convictions in 1989 and 1993.

Consequently, you might have heard that Sutherland, 40, has been sentenced via a plea agreement to serve 48 days in jail without possibility of at-home, ankle-bracelet confinement. This qualifies as something close to real incarceration, not the mamby-pamby 96-hour kind.

This is one stand-up guy. Sutherland refreshingly said in a statement Tuesday that he was "disappointed" in himself for the "poor judgment" he had recently exhibited. He also apologized to his family, his friends and the people at "24" and 20th Century Fox.

Imagine it: a star who earns gazillions annually from a thriving TV career and who comes clean and takes his lumps. He blamed nobody/nothing else, not even the booze, for making him get behind the wheel, start the car, hit the gas and make an illegal U-turn. In return, Sutherland gets to keep his job and keep intact his reputation as a really nice and really talented guy with a few chemical-dependency issues.

So impressed were execs at 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Broadcasting by this falling-on-his-sword display of accountability that they took things to the level of veneration. The statement fell just short of comparing Sutherland's selfless actions to those of his "24" alter ego Jack Bauer. One put his own welfare behind that of his country; the other thought first of his co-workers.

"Kiefer made clear to us at the time of his arrest that his first concern was the welfare of those he worked with and that he intended to do whatever was necessary to prevent shutting down the show because of his situation," the joint statement from Fox read. "He told us that even if he had to sacrifice more time in custody in order to protect the show and the jobs of those who work with him, he would do so. From what occurred today, it is evident he is a man of his word."

It's at times like this when you feel an overwhelming need to launch into "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" ("His truth is marching on!"). This is not to cast stones at Sutherland, who continues to face down his demons with candor and fortitude. But the man didn't throw his body onto a live hand grenade here. He simply did what he had to do to save his habitual-offender butt.

We should probably mourn a culture whose values have so plummeted that we mistake a man struggling with his own self-destructive impulses for a moral pillar.