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Saturday, September 6th, 2003


Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right

by Al Franken

A review by C. P. Farley

Al Franken loves to goad. At this year's White House Correspondents Dinner, after needling a few members of the administration and the entire Fox News entourage, he approached Paul Wolfowitz. "Hey, Dr. Wolfowitz, didn't the Clinton military do a great job in Iraq?" Our deputy Secretary of Defense responded with a friendly, "Fuck you."

Franken returns to this anecdote in the final pages of his new book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.

People say that Rush and Fox and their ilk are popular because they're entertaining. And if you can stomach that stuff, I suppose they are. But a part of their entertainment value come from their willingness to lie and distort. They fight with lies.

But we can't do that. We have to fight them with the truth. Our added entertainment value will have to come from being funny and attractive. And passionate. And idealistic. But also smart. And not milquetoast-y. We've got to be willing to throw their lies in their face.

When [Dr. Wolfowitz says] "Fuck you!"....We've gotta come right back and say, "No. Fuck you!" That's how we're going to win this thing.

Yeah, that'll teach 'em.

Can't a funny, attractive, passionate, idealistic, smart, and non-milquetoast-y former Saturday Night Live comedian-cum-political pundit come up with something better than that? Fortunately, on the basis of Lies, I can answer definitively, Yes, usually.

The book is meant as a persuasive and wildly entertaining catalogue of the dishonest tactics of the right wing. And more often than not, it is. The book gets off to a bang-up start with a chapter entitled, "Ann Coulter: Nutcase." Everyone knows that Coulter is mad as a gay Republican. Now everyone will know she's also a liar. Or, at the very least, that her wild assertions about liberals — "Liberals hate America," "Democrats actually hate working-class people," etc. — are based on the "shoddiest research this side of the Hitler diaries."

Franken is at his best when he shows conservative opinion-makers distorting — or fabricating — facts in order to manipulate public opinion. He catches Bias author Bernie Goldberg taking quotes out of context, George Bush stealing votes from John McCain by implying that McCain sired an illegitimate black child, and Rush Limbaugh and co. taking advantage of Paul Wellstone's death for partisan gain by shamelessy (and falsely) accusing the Democrats of taking advantage of Paul Wellstone's death for partisan gain.

But Franken is not always so effective. And, unfortunately, given the fact that many readers will buy the book to see why Fox News threw such a hissy fit, the chapter on Bill O'Reilly is the weakest in the book. Franken catches O'Reilly embellishing his biography and fibbing about past accomplishments. Not admirable, to be sure, but, really, who cares? Wouldn't it have been more damaging to discuss specific tactics O'Reilly uses to systematically mislead his vast audience? After all, isn't this the purpose of the book? The fact that Franken devotes an entire chapter to a few ego-flattering fibs implies that, perhaps, all Franken could get on O'Reilly was a handful of peccadilloes. And, if O'Reilly hadn't foolishly pushed Fox News into that ridiculous lawsuit, he would have come out no worse the wear.

Franken also works against himself in "Operation Chickenhawk: Episode One," an elaborate wish-fulfillment fantasy in which brave, competent John Kerry leads a band of lazy good-for-nothing privates named George Bush, Dick Cheney, Bill O'Reilly, John Ashcroft, Clarence Thomas, etc. through their first tour of duty in Vietnam. As Franken's fantasy future rulers of the world whine and toke their way from one disaster to another, they reveal themselves to be the liars, cheats, and responsibility-shirkers of Franken's imagination. I found this chapter at best silly, at worst gratuitous, and it seemed to say more about Franken than about the neo-cons.

Fortunately, you can simply skip "Operation Chickenhawk" and head for the good parts. And, if I haven't made myself perfectly clear, there are plenty, like the following satirical gem:

Our National Dialogue on Terrorism

Why do they hate us?

They hate us because they're evil.

That's it, huh? That's the entire story?

Yes. They're evil. And they hate us because of our freedoms.

They hate us because of our freedoms?

But really because they're evil.

I know they're evil. I was just thinking that maybe if we understood what specifically seemed to trigger the —

Why are you apologizing for the terrorists?

I'm not. They're evil. You have no quarrel there. It's just that maybe if we understoo—

Why are you on the terrorists' side?

I'm not! I hate the terrorists. I was just saying we might be able to prevent the next —

Three thousand Americans dead. How can you defend al Qaeda?

Believe me, I was not defending them. What they did was horrific and inexcusable. They're evil. I was just —

Then why are you apologizing for them?

I'm not. I'm trying to say that maybe there are lessons we can —

Why do you hate America?

Now, isn't that a lot more smart and funny than a Fuck You?

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