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.