- Used Books
- Staff Picks
- Gifts & Gift Cards
- Sell Books
- Stores & Events
- Let's Talk Books
Special Offers see all
More at Powell's
Recently Viewed clear list
Ships in 1 to 3 days
More copies of this ISBN
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Rightby Al Franken
Asking whether there is a liberal or conservative bias to the mainstream media is a little like asking whether al Qaeda uses too much oil in their hummus. The problem with al Qaeda is that theyíre trying to kill us.
The right-wing media tells us constantly that the problem with the mainstream media is that it has a liberal bias. I donít think it does. But there are other, far more important, biases in the mainstream media than liberal or conservative ones. Most of these biases stem from something called ìthe profit motive.î This is why we often see a bias toward the Sensational, involving Scandal, and, hopefully Sex or Violence, or please, please, pleeeze, both.
And thereís the Easy-and-Cheap-to-Cover bias, which is why almost all political coverage is about process and horse race and not about policy. Why have an in-depth report on school vouchers when two pundits whoíve spent five minutes in the green room looking over a couple of articles Xeroxed by an intern can just scream at each other about the issue on the air?
Thereís the Get-It-First bias. Remember the 2000 election? I believe there were some problems there associated with that one.
Pack Mentality. Negativity. Soft News. The Donít-Offend-the-Conglomerate-That-- Owns-Us bias. And, of course, the ever-present bias of Hoping Thereís a War to Cover. Does the mainstream media have a liberal bias? On a couple of things, maybe. Compared to the American public at large, probably a slightly higher percentage of journalists, because of their enhanced power of discernment, realize they know a gay person or two, and are, therefore, less frightened of them.
By the same token, Iíll bet the media were biased during the Scopes monkey trial. But they were professionals and gave the Noahís Ark side a fair shake.
But to believe there is a liberal political bias in the mainstream media, youíd have to either not be paying attention or just be very susceptible to repetition. Yes, weíve heard it over and over and over again. For decades. The media elite is an arm of the Democratic National Committee.
Anyone notice the mainstream mediaís coverage of Clinton? For eighteen months, it was all Monica, all the time. There were just a few news organizations that did not succumb to this temptation, and I like to cite them whenever I can: Sailing magazine, American Grocer Monthly, Juggs, and Big Butt (which is ironic, because I think Big Butt had a story).
How about the 2000 presidential campaign? Remember in the first debate, Al Gore said he had gone down to a disaster site in Texas with Federal Emergency Management Agency director James Lee Witt? Actually, it turned out that he had gone to that disaster with a deputy of James Lee Witt. As vice president, Gore had gone to seventeen other disasters with James Lee Witt, but not that one. The press jumped all over him. There were scores of stories written about how Gore had lied about James Lee Witt. It was as if James Lee Witt had been the most popular man in the United States of America and Gore was lying to get some of that James Lee Witt magic to rub off on him.
Contrast that with the mediaís reaction to this Bush description of his tax cut in the very same debate. Bush said, ìI also dropped the bottom rate from fifteen percent to ten percent, because, by far, the vast majority of the help goes to the people at the bottom end of the economic ladder.î
ìBy far, the vast majority . . . goes to the people at the bottom.î That is what George W. Bush told America. The truth is that the bottom 60 percent got 14.7 percent. Gee, thatís a pretty significant misstatement, donít you think? More important than whether a Texas fire was one of the seventeen disasters you went to with American icon James Lee Witt. So what was the reaction of the liberal mainstream press?
Do I believe that this was because the mainstream media has a conservative bias? No. I just think the attitude of the press was ìHe doesnít know! He doesnít know! Leave the man alone! He doesnít know!î
But, of course, he did. Which is why George W. Bush said he doesnít mind being ìmisunderestimated.î Because by ìmisunderestimated,î Bush means being underestimated for the wrong reason. The media thought he was kind of stupid. He isnít. Heís just shamelessly dishonest.
The mainstream media does not have a liberal bias. And for all their other biases mentioned above, the mainstream mediaóABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, and the restóat least try to be fair.
There is, however, a right-wing media. You know who they are. Fox News. The Washington Times. The New York Post. The editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. Talk radio. They are biased. And they have an agenda.
The members of the right-wing media are not interested in conveying the truth. Thatís not what theyíre for. They are an indispensable component of the right-wing machine that has taken over our country. They employ a tried-and-true methodology. First, they concoct an inflammatory story that serves their political goals. (ìAl Goreís a liar.î) They repeat it. (ìAl Gore lies again!î) They embellish it. (ìAre his lies pathological, or are they merely malicious?î) They try to push it into the mainstream media. All too often, they succeed. (ìTall Tales: Is What Weíve Got Here a Compulsion To Exaggerate?î New York Times, October 15, 2000.) Occasionally, they fail. (Despite their efforts, the mainstream media never picked up the Clinton-as-murderer stories.) But even their failures serve their agenda, as evidence of liberal bias. Win-win. You got to admit. Itís a good racket.
They used these tactics to cripple Clintonís presidency. They used them to discredit Gore and put Bush into office. And theyíre using them now to silence Bushís critics. Bush is getting away with murderójust like Clinton did. See? Thatís how insidious the - right-wing modus operandi is. Even I bought into the Clinton murder thing there for a second. And thatís my point. We have to be vigilant.
And we have to be more than vigilant. We have to fight back. We have to expose those who bear false witness for the false witness bearers that they are. And we have to do it in a straightforward, plainspoken way. Letís call them what they are: liars. Lying, lying liars.
Hence the title of this book: Al Franken Tells It Like It Is.
Ann Coulter: Nutcase
I know. You think the chapter title is a little harsh. But, believe me, in Coulterís case, ìnutcaseî is more than justified. I should know. You see, Ann and I are friends.
I personally wasnít aware of that myself until I read it in the New York Observer. They did a profile of Coulter when her bile-filled, relentlessly ugly best-seller Slander topped The New York Times list. And for some reasonóI guess to establish her bona fides as just a lovable gal about townóshe told the writer from the Observer that she was ìfriendly withî Al Franken.
I found that odd. I have met Ann Coulter once. At a Saturday Night Live party. When she introduced herself to me, I made what in retrospect was a terrible mistake. Instead of saying, ìAnn Coulter! Youíre a horrible person. Ooooh, I just hate you!î or something along those linesóinstead, I was cordial. For maybe a minute or two.
That is the sum total of my personal interaction with Ann Coulter. And yet, to her, it was enough to include me on a very short list of people sheís ìfriendly with.î Pathetic, to be sure, but no more dishonest than every other word that comes out of this woman.
Coulter, for those of you lucky enough to not have been exposed to her, is the reigning diva of the hysterical right. Or rather, the hysterical diva of the reigning right. Coulter has appeared on shows like ABCís This Week, Good Morning America, Hardball, Larry King Live, and The Today Show, to complain, among other things, that conservatives donít get on TV enough. Her books, like her TV appearances, consist of nonstop rabid frothing. Her first, High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton, put her on the radar as an up-and-coming liar.
Her next book, Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, argues that liberals use lies and shrill accusations to debase political discourse in America. Itís a fascinating exercise in dishonesty, hypocrisy, and irony of the unintentional sort.
Letís get right to some examples. And there are examples and examples and examples. Take the dramatic conclusion of Slander. After 206 pages of accusing liberals of, among other awful things, being elitist snobs, she trots out her crowning piece of evidence: proof of The New York Timesís disregard and contempt for what real Americans care about.
The day after seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt died in a race at the Daytona 500, almost every newspaper in America carried the story on the front page. Stock-car racing had been the nationís fastest-- growing sport for a decade, and NASCAR the second-most-watched sport behind the NFL. More Americans recognize the name Dale Earnhardt than, say, Maureen Dowd. (Manhattan liberals are dumbly blinking at that last sentence.) It took The New York Times two days to deem Earnhardtís death sufficiently important to mention it on the first page. Demonstrating the leftís renowned populist touch, the article began, ìHis death brought a silence to the Wal-Mart.î The Times went on to report that in vast swaths of the country people watch stock-car racing. Tacky people were mourning Dale Earnhardt all over the South!
Pretty powerful indictment, I have to admit. No mention for two days! One small problem. Dale Earnhardt died on February 18, 2001. On February 19, 2001, which by my calculation is the next day, the Times ran a front-page account of Earnhardtís death written by sportswriter Robert Lipsyte under the headline: ìStock Car Star Killed on Last Lap of Daytona 500.î Here. Look at it.
Frankly, I think the fact that The New York Times did have a front-page article on Dale Earnhardt the day after he died kind of undercuts her point that they didnít. Donít you? I mean, if they didnít, that would have been something, huh? But they did.
And, by the way, the article that Coulter refers to? The one written two days later? It was by Rick Bragg,1 a Pulitzer Prize winner who grew up in Piedmont, Alabama. Boy, I hate those Piedmont snobs! Itís always ìPiedmont has the best this and Piedmont has the best that.î Yeah, well, fuck you, Piedmont!
1-Bragg resigned from The New York Times after using an uncredited TeamBragg to research a story on oyster men in Apalachicola, Florida. Rick Bragg, the pride and subsequent shame of Piedmont, Alabama.
Where did Ann Coulter come from? Well, sheís a lawyer, one of the ìelvesî who helped Paula Jones go after Bill Clinton. Thatís a feather in her cap. She was born in 1961. Or 1963. Depending on whether you believe her old Connecticut driverís license (1961) or her newer D.C. driverís license (1963). (The Washington Post looked into this.) Ann claims the D.C. license is correct, which means that when she registered to vote she was sixteen. (The Post checked with the New Canaan, Connecticut, registrarís office.) That, of course, would be voter fraud.
Either way, she lied on at least one of her driverís licenses, a government I.D., which is a violation of federal law under the Patriot Act. I believe she could be locked up indefinitely for that without being allowed to talk to a lawyer or a judge. Or Paula Zahn.
Now, lots of women lie about their age. But it raises a concern about Coulter (if that really is her name). Coulterís misstatements about her age make us question the veracity of the seemingly factual statements in her book, such as:
l ìLiberals hate America.î
l ìLiberals hate all religions except Islam.î
l ìDemocrats actually hate working-class people.î
l ìLiberals hate society.î
l ìEven Islamic terrorists donít hate America like liberals do.î
l ìDemocrats . . . will destroy anyone who stands in their way. All that matters to them is power.î
l ìLiberals canít just come out and say they want to take more of our money, kill babies, and discriminate on the basis of race.î
l ìLiberals seek to destroy sexual differentiation in order to destroy morality.î
l ìThatís the whole point of being a liberal: to feel superior to people with less money.î
l ìLiberals are crazy.î
All this seems the slightest bit odd considering that the first line of the first page of Slander is ìPolitical ëdebateí in this country has become insufferable.î And she explains, ìInstead of actual debate about ideas and issues with real consequences, the country is trapped in a political discourse that resembles professional wrestling.î
So what is Coulterís contribution to civilizing our political discourse? Well, in the entire 206 pages, she never actually makes a case for any conservative issue. Not school vouchers, not supply-side tax cuts, not privatization of Social Security. The entire book is filled with distortions, factual errors, and vicious invectiveóslander, if you willóbolstered by the shoddiest research this side of the Hitler diaries.
Take, for example, this gem from page 68. To support her claim that the mainstream media is in the hands of lefties, Coulter makes the point that Newsweek Washington bureau chief Evan Thomas ìis the son of Norman Thomas, a four-time Socialist candidate for president.î Actually, Norman Thomas was the Socialist candidate six times, running first in 1928 with a radical proposal for something called ìSocial Security.î Itís odd that Coulter understates the number of times that Thomas was the Socialist party nominee, because that would make her argument that much stronger. If Norman Thomas had been Evan Thomasís father. Which he was not.
Now, in fairness to Coulter, this kind of research is tough to do. I asked TeamFranken how someone might be able to find out something like that. There were a number of suggestions. Google search. Nexis search. Go into The New York Times archives for the obit. Then one of the kids hit on a simple, yet quite brilliant idea. Why not call Evan Thomas?
Just for future reference, Ann, hereís a transcript of my call with Evan Thomas:
ME: Evan, thank you for taking my call.
EVAN THOMAS: No problem, Al. Whatís up?
ME: Was Norman Thomas your father?
That sounds simple enough. But to protect my reputation for thoroughness, I didnít let Evan off the hook quite so fast.
ME: Are you sure?
ME: And your father? What was his name?
EVAN: Evan Thomas, Sr. Iím a junior.
ME: Uh-huh? And your father, Evan Thomas, Sr., did he ever run for president?
EVAN: No. He was in publishing.
ME: And youíre sure?
EVAN: Yes. Al, is this about that Ann Coulter thing?
EVAN: I heard about that. Is there something wrong with her?
Yes, there is. Particularly considering that when going after the book publishing industry, Coulter complains that ìliberal jeremiads make it to print without the most cursory fact-checking.î (Which reminds me, I really should be fact-checking this thing as I go along.)I
Actually, I do take great pains in my research. In my last book of this nature, a little number one New York Times best-seller entitled Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, only one claim was arguably inaccurate, and I am pleased to be the first person to point it out publicly. In writing the book, I cited preliminary findings from a study by Kathleen Hall Jamieson regarding the political literacy of radio talk show listeners. In the final version of the study, the findings showed that people who listened regularly to political talk radio were able to identify the President more frequently than I had given them credit for. I regret the error.
Even John Fund, Limbaughís ghostwriter on The Way Things Ought to Be, acknowledged to me, a bit grudgingly, that I had done an honest, though thoroughly vicious, job on his guy.
Coulter, however, has spawned a cottage industry of Slander debunkers, some of whomódailyhowler.com, spinsanity.org, and Salon.comóI am cribbing from. Coulterís defense, heard in countless appearances on talk shows, is ìI have footnotes,î or ìThere are thirty-five pages of footnotes,î or ìI have 780 footnotes,î or ìItís in the footnotes.î Thereís a big emphasis on footnotes. Which brings me to:
How to Lie with Footnotes
HOW TO LIE WITH FOOTNOTES #1: ï DONíT HAVE FOOTNOTES
Ann Coulter doesnít have 780 footnotes in Slander. She has zero footnotes. None. Not one footnote. She does have thirty-five pages of endnotes. Footnotes are easy to reference. Theyíre at the bottom, or the ìfoot,î of the page.2
Endnotes are much harder to reference.ii If you are using your ìfootnotesî to lie, make them endnotes.
HOW TO LIE WITH FOOTNOTES #2: ï HAVE 780 OF THEM
Coulter knows that her readers, the ones who buy her books out of an obsessive need to read stuff that reconfirms everything they already know or think they know, are probably not going to check one, let alone 780, of her endnotes.
Let me illustrate how Coulter exploits this simple principle of lying with footnotes (endnotes) from page 12 of Slander. This is a good one, and in a way, sort of sums up everything you need to know. (Just so thereís no confusion, the endnote numbers are hers.)
After Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion contrary to the clearly expressed position of The New York Times editorial page, the Times responded with an editorial on Thomas titled, ìThe Youngest, Cruelest Justice.î That was actually the headline on a lead editorial in the Newspaper of Record. Thomas is not engaged on the substance of his judicial philosophy. He is called a ìcolored lawn jockey for conservative white interests,î ìrace traitor,î ìblack snake,î ìchicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom,î39 ìhouse Negroî and ìhandkerchief head,î ìBenedict Arnoldî40 and ìJudas Iscariot.î41 All this from the tireless opponents of intolerance.
Okay. What percentage of Coulterís readers do you suppose read this and thought, ìMy God! The New York Times called Clarence Thomas ëa chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tomí! I knew the Times was bad, but I never dreamed it was this bad!î? High nineties? And what percentage do you think bothered to go to the back of her book and wade through the endnotes to discover that the quotes came from a Playboy interview with former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and from a black leader at a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who was quoted in The New Yorker.
The key here, of course, is the sleight of handóì. . . editorial in the Newspaper of Record. Thomas is not engaged . . .îóthat deliberately leads gullible readers to the conclusion that the Times called Clarence Thomas ìa colored lawn jockey.î This should tell us a couple things about Ann Coulter. First, sheís dishonest. No surprise there. But more importantly, it shows the contempt she holds for her own readers.
HOW TO LIE WITH FOOTNOTES #3: ï -CITE A SOURCE, BUT TOTALLY MISREPRESENT WHAT IT SAYS
She really works this one into the ground. Early in the book she writes: ìNew York Times columnist Frank Rich demanded that Ashcroft stop monkeying around with Muslim terrorists and concentrate on anti-abortion extremists.î Except he didnít. In the column, written during the anthrax scare, Rich simply criticized Ashcroftís refusal to meet with Planned Parenthood, which has had years of experience with terrorism in the form of bombings and sniper attacks from pro-life extremists. The piece doesnít include the words ìmonkeyingî or ìIslamicî or ìMuslim,î or make any suggestion that Justice abandon its efforts against al Qaeda. Coulter pulls this wild distortion, like so very, very many, directly out of her ass.
Just another quick one. On page 118 (by the way, when you see Coulter on TV, interviewers never ask her about anything past page 12. Youíve got to give me credit for being able to stomach the entire screed), she writes that when the media consortium study on the 2000 Florida vote was released, it showed ìthat Bush had won on any count.î But the Washington Post story she cites says that the ìStudy Finds Gore Might Have Won Statewide Tally of All Uncounted Ballots.î The reason there are so many capital letters in that quote is that it is from the headline of the story.
Donít you go to hell for this stuff?
HOW TO LIE WITH FOOTNOTES #4: ï -USE THE ìANY WORDS WRITTEN IN A NEWSPAPER CAN BE ATTRIBUTED TO THAT NEWSPAPERî TECHNIQUE
(This can also be used to defame newscasts and magazines.) To show just how much the media elite hates Christians, Coulter writes:
For decades, The New York Times had allowed loose associations between Nazis and Christians to be made in its pages. Statements like these were not uncommon: ìDid the Nazi crimes draw on Christian tradition?î . . . ìthe church is ëco-responsibleí for the holocaust. . . .î
Okay. The first quote (ìDid the Nazi crimes draw on Christian tradition?î) is from a 2001 book review. The Times reviewer, Paul Berman, was framing the question asked by the book he was reviewing, which was about a four-hundred-year-old play performed annually in Bavaria that portrays Jews as hateful and evil. Which, for the record, we are not.
The second quote is a quote of a quote from a 1998 Times article, ìJohn Paulís Jewish Dilemma.î The writer for the Times isnít saying that the church is ìco-- responsibleî for the holocaust. Heís quoting a critic of the church. In the same article, a Jewish historian is also quoted saying that ì[Pope] Pius saved 750,000 Jews.î
You really have to keep on your toes with Ann. In her next book, Coulter will probably write, ìAl Franken says Jews are ëhateful and evil.íî Look for the endnote.
HOW TO LIE WITH FOOTNOTES #5: ï OVERLOAD A LEXISNEXIS SEARCH
For those of you unfamiliar with LexisNexis, it is a state-of-the-art research tool/journalistic crutch. Like any powerful instrument, LexisNexis searches can be manipulated to produce misleading results. Itís like a chainsaw, which can be used productively (say, as a prop in a movie like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), but can also be used for evil (such as in an actual chainsaw massacre). Throughout this book, I use LexisNexis productively. In Slander, Coulter uses it to dismember the truth. Introducing . . . the Overloaded LexisNexis Search.
On page 8 of Slander, Coulter refers to a controversial 1994 Christmas Day speech given by Jesse Jackson on British TV. ìThe New York Times did not report the speech,î she complains. Checking the endnote reveals her methodology. ìLexisNexis search of New York Times archives from December 1994 through January 1995 for ëJesse Jackson and Germany and fascism and South Americaí produces no documents.î Well, yeah.
A more reasonable search (Jesse Jackson and Christmas and Britain) shows that, yes, of course, the Times did run an article on December 20 about the controversy using excerpts of Jacksonís speech, which was prerecorded.
Using Coulterís technique, I can prove that no newspaper has ever covered anything. For example, I can prove the Washington Times did not cover the incident in which George H. W. Bush threw up on the Japanese prime minister. A LexisNexis search from January 1992 for ìBush and Japan and prime minister and lap and cookies and tossedî produces no documents.
HOW TO LIE WITH FOOTNOTES #6: ï JUST MAKE SHIT UP
From page 134 of Slander: ìEven during the mediaís nightly flogging of Iran-Contra, Reaganís approval ratings fell only 5 percentage points, from 80 percent to 75 percent.î The endnote cites a Christian Science Monitor article from January 7, 1987. The article reports that ìin last monthís Gallup poll, Reaganís approval rating fell from 63 percent to 47 percent.î And remember, this is from people who are not only Christian, but also scientists.
So thatís how you lie with footnotes. Disgusting, huh? But itís not just you who thinks so. Even people Coulter considers friends say sheís ìa lying bitch,î3 ìa horror show of epic proportions,î4 ìoh, the poor thing,î5 and ìa bitch.î6
3Me, to my wife.
5My wife, to me.
6Me, to another friend.
What Our Readers Are Saying
Other books you might like
Arts and Entertainment » Humor » Narrative