Make your own free website on Tripod.com
My interview with Al Franken-uncut version follows this version that appeared on Alternet.org in September 2003

Q&A: Al Franken

By Robert J. Nebel, AlterNet
September 2, 2003

Conservative talk radio and television are multi-million dollar success models in most major media markets. Many credit syndicated conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh for sparking this phenomenon. Since Limbaugh went national in 1988, the conservative agenda has been sold to the nation in a simplified, entertaining form. Corporations such as Clear Channel Entertainment saw the "Limbaugh Phenomenon" as an opportunity to create "Rush Copycats" throughout the country. As the ratings for these programs have gone through the roof, critics claim that public discourse has plummeted through the basement.

Chief amongst those critics is comedian/political satirist Al Franken, who takes on the conservative media establishment with his fifth book "Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" (Dutton, 2003). It is a 379-page tome that examines what Franken says are the litany of lies that right-wing entertainers, who indirectly receive their marching orders from conservative politicians, lobbyists and corporate owners, disseminate into society.

For "Lies", Franken employed a staff of Harvard University students, also known as "Team Franken", to dig through right-wing entertainers' comments through their own books, radio and television appearances, newspaper archives and Lexis-Nexis searches Ė which provide television and radio transcripts. Through these techniques, Franken literally dissects every utterance. Franken shows how rumor or gossip is born in the dominant right-wing media culture.

Franken's best example is a recollection of the memorial service for Senator Paul Wellstone, which many say morphed from innocent ceremony into a charged political rally. As the nation watched video of Senator Trent Lott being booed; Wellstone's son yelling, "We will win"; and then-Governor Jesse Ventura commenting on how shameful the service was, Franken became enraged and said that was not the service he witnessed.

A close friend of the late-Senator, Franken devotes a 28 page defense titled "This Was Not a Memorial to Paul Wellstone: A Case Study in Right-Wing Lies", blasting conservative critics. According to Franken, the event at Williams Arena was a decent three and a half hour service that honored the senator, his family and accomplishments. Franken goes on to say that, "When Trent Lott's face appeared on the screen, a few people booed. It seemed like good-natured ribbing to me. Lott broke out in a grin and waved."

From all of the press he has received over his trademark-infringement lawsuit with the FOX News Network, it is quite obvious that Franken has no problem naming names in the right-wing media, as well as high-ranking conservative politicos. Among those Franken discredits are author Ann Coulter, television-radio host Bill O'Reilly and television-radio host Sean Hannity. Whether on the issue of tax cuts, patriotism, the military or the environment, all three are taken to task for their "deceitful take" on political and social issues.

"Lies" also takes apart the liberal media bias myth by shredding apart Rush Limbaugh and his copycats' claim that conservative media balances out mainstream media. Franken argues that there is a serious right-wing bias in The Wall Street Journal editorial page, The Washington Times, The National Review and of course, The Fox News Network. He believes their wrath is more powerful than most media and is mostly responsible for the current state of the union.

Critics of "Lies" might dismiss it as a series of rants and personal vendettas against successful media personalities and politicians with whom Franken has disagreements. Through a mix of good research, writing and humor, Franken proves his adversaries wrong. "Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" is an emotional roller-coaster with pages of charts disproving misinformation on the Clinton administration's record on the economy and military, to a hilarious chapter titled, "Operation Chickenhawk: Episode One". The fictional story is a pre-quel to the "Operation Chickenhawk" chapter, which appeared in Franken's second book, "Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot And Other Observations." In this episode, Franken paints a picture of Former Vice President Al Gore, Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Bill O'Reilly, Senator John Kerry, Rush Limbaugh and many others in a war scenario.

Are you afraid that the right-wing will hunt for mistakes in your book?

Franken: If there are any mistakes, I got them from British intelligence.

Are you a comedian or now, a political satirist?

It depends what hat I'm wearing. Sometimes I'm more comedian than political satirist. This book comes under satire.

How are the plans going for a liberal talk radio network?

I hope we will be a lot like Clear Channel. We will be so popular that we will just own half the radio stations in the country.

So, Rush says that he balances out all other media. What's your take?

It's all bullshit. The media have other biases that include sensationalism instead of covering the issues. It's cheaper to do it to get ratings. OJ, Condit, things that have pictures, laziness, pack mentality. Asking if there is liberal or conservative bias in the media is like asking if al Qaeda uses too much oil in the hummus. There is a bias in the right-wing media. The right wing media is FOX, Washington Times, Ann Coulter, Wall St. Journal ed page and talk radio. They will lie and cheat in talk radio to pursue. There is no equivalency.

Why haven't liberals been as successful in getting their message out?

I think there might be a different type of psychology between liberals and conservatives. There is some work being done on that. There are rabid Hannitys, Norquists, Bill O'Reilly personalities. Then there are liberal fighters like me. I'm not like them. They will intimidate. They will do what the FOX complaint did. They said I'm shrill, unstable, not funny, deranged and a parasite. The press that it came from is the Washington Dispatch.com. They say on their site that if you are an amateur writer you will get published. That's how desperate the right-wing is. I wrote in the Rush book: Fair mean vs. Unfair mean. I think it's fair to be mean to bullies to show where they are lying. O'Reilly writes about me but he has never actually said I said anything that wasn't true.

Where do you get your information?

I Nexis-Lexis a lot of stuff. I love certain blogs. The Note from ABC. I link up to Slate and read the NYT every day. I just read "The Sacred Age of Terror" by Daniel Benjamin.

What has happened to Dennis Miller. He has gone from being in the center to the right of center.

I'm sure this is what Dennis believes. This is what he's doing. He's not selling what I'm doing. I'm just doing some research. It's funny. While FOX was suing me for trademark, they were using it's Miller time (on his "Hannity and Colmes" segment).

Back in 1992, there was no FOX News Network and Rush Limbaugh was just becoming very popular. Would candidate Clinton have won if there was a FOX News Network and the Limbaugh copycats back then?

I don't think even then Bush Sr. would have won. Today, I think Bush Jr's credibility is cracking. Once that facade cracks, it will not be put back together again.

Uncut interview:

Q and A with Robert J. Nebel

Q: After taking Tucker (Carlson) to task in your book, how was it finally confronting him on CNN's Crossfire?
A: Well Crossfire was fun. It took me time to get the ropes. We had a couple of technical glitches the first day. The teleprompter didnít work for the first time in the history of the show. The first day took me a while to get into the rhythm. Carlson was good. We talked about Media bias. The second day we talked about Iraq.

Q:What is your take on the Democratic Jewish candidates in the 2004 elections?
A:Well, (Senator)Joe (Lieberman, D-CT)is obviously the real Jew in the fact that he is practicing. He is a devout Jew. You know, I wrote the "24/6" line for the 2000 campaign.
(Senator) John (Kerry)found out that his grandfather is Jewish. Wesley Clark is as well. I met Clark in Kosovo when he was NATO commander. I was doing this joke that Colin Powell could have been President. So it gave me the idea that we Jews should find a high ranking officer in the military that we could groom for President. We found out through research that the highest ranking Jew is in fact the Comptroller of the Coast Guard. Clark came up to me afterward and said, ďIím half JewishĒ.

Q: How has being Jewish helped you in comedy?
A: Being Jewish hasnít made me a great comic. There are plenty of great non- Jewish comedy writers. I think that Jews respect and honor comedy. The reason I became a comedian is that I spent hours with my dad watching comedy television. We had a lot of good quantity time. I am someone who has always been a strong proponent of quantity time. I spent a lot of time watching tv. I watched him laugh. My dad loved Buddy Hackett. I really saw what that meant to him and I became a comedian because. It was shared love. I had the thrill of working w/ Buddy when he was on ďLatelineĒ.

Q: What is your position on Israel? You actually seem to have a similar position on Israel with your cultural "enemy" Sean Hannity?
A: I donít know about the lies about Israel on ďHannity and ColmesĒ. Iím pro-Israel like Sean. I donít like the settlements. Iím not a fan of Sharon. Arafat gave us Sharon by turning down Clinton and Barakís offer. He said screw Ďem and Sharon was elected. Settlements are based on religious fundamentalism.

Q: Do you fear the right-wing will find mistakes in your book?
A: The right-wing will hunt for the mistakes. If there are any mistakes, I got them from British intelligence.

Q:Are ou more of a comedian or political satirist?
A: It depends what hat Iím wearing. Sometimes Iím more comedian than political satirist. There are some parts of my work that more political than satirist and vice versa. This (new) book comes under satire.

Q:How are the plans for the liberal radio network coming along?
A: They (the potential creators) are in contact w/ me--Shelley and Anita Dropney. You know, Clear Channel is a great success model. I hope we will be a lot like Clear Channel. We will be so popular that we will just own half the radio stations in the country.

Q: Rush (Limbaugh) says that he balances out all media. What do you have to say about that?
A: Itís all bull_ _ _t. I talk about that there is no liberal or conserv. bias in the media. They have other biases that include sensationalism, covering horse races instead of issues. Itís cheaper to do it to get ratings. OJ, Condit, things that have pictures (get ratings), and of course there is laziness, a pack mentality. Asking if there is liberal or conservative bias in the media is like asking al Qaeda uses too much oil in the hummus. There isnít a bias there. There is a bias in the right-wing media. The right wing media is FOX, Washington Times, Ann Coulter, Wall St. Journal ed page and talk radio. They will lie and cheat in talk radio to pursue. There is no equivalency.

Q: Why is it that liberals cannot sell like conservatives in the media?
A: I think there might be a different type of psychology between liberals and conservatives. There is some work being done on that (a study). There are rabid Hannitys, (Grover)Norquists, Bill OíReilly personalities versus the liberals.There are liberal fighters like me. Iím not like them. They will intimidate. They will do what the FOX complaint did. They said Iím shrill, unstable, not funny, deranged and a parasite. The press that it came from is the Washington Dispatch.com. They say on their site that if you are an amateur writer you will get published. Thatís how desperate the right-wing is. I wrote in the Rush book: Fair mean vrs. Unfair mean. I think itís fair to be mean to bullies to show where they are lying. OíReilly writes about me but he has never actually said I said anything that wasnít true.

Q: Where do you get your information. What do you watch and read each day?
A: I Nexis-Lexis a lot of stuff. I love certain blogs. The Note from ABC. I link up to Slate and read the NYT every day. I just read The Sacred Age of Terror by Daniel Benjamin.

Q: What has happened to your old co-worker Dennis Miller? Why has he gone to the right?
A: Iím sure this is what Dennis believes. This is what heís doing. Heís not selling what Iím selling. Iím just doing some research. Itís funny. While FOX was suing me for trademark, they were using "Itís Miller Time" (for his "Hannity and Colmes" commentaries).

Q: Back in 1992, there was no FOX News and Rush (Limbaugh) was just picking up some steam. Do you think the Clintons would have won in this same of type environment?
A:Limbaugh wasnít as strong. I donít think even then Bush Sr. would have won. I think Bush Jrís credibility is cracking. Once that facade cracks, it will not be put back together again.

Q: Are you backing any candidate? Who would you vote for if the primary was tomorrow?
A: I am not backing any candidate. Thankfully the primary is not tomorrow.

Q: On "Hannity and Colmes", Arianna Huffington was taking a beating from Sean about her supposed hyprocritcal stance on her giving up her SUV, but still using privates jets?
A: Did he really say that? I know Arianna doesnít have a private jet. Iím not sure she uses private jets.

Q/Comment: I loved the Bill O'Reilly splotchy photo story.
A:In person he is not splotchy. That is a public domain photo. I needed something where he looked like he was talking. I was going to desplotch it, but OíReilly is such a jerk. I donít think there is a tremendous reservoir of goodwill among OíReillyís colleauges.

Comment: I hope you have a chance to visit Atlanta on your book tour.
A: I have asked (the publisher) to add Atlanta to the tour. I hope I can get down there.

(c)2003, Robert J. Nebel, do not rip this off. Al or I will sue you big time. Especially Al because he has a tendency to win huge lawsuits.

Back