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December 2, 2003
LIES and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
by Al Franken (Dutton)
Al Franken sums up his game plan this way: “We have to fight back. But we can’t fight like they do. The Right’s entertainment value comes from their willingness to lie and distort. Ours will have to come from being funny and attractive.”
Franken takes his own advice in this book, subtitled “A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.” It’s well researched and full of interesting quotes, facts and discoveries. With fourteen Harvard students serving as research assistants, the author documents some of the distortions, half-truths and lies being promulgated on the public by the Bush administration and its rightwing media mouthpieces. But instead of pounding away humorlessly as is the usual style in contemporary political discourse, Franken filters his information through a comedian’s lens. It’s a style he calls “kidding on the square.”
Through facts and figures, he disputes the whole “liberal media bias” charade that’s been trotted out so long that many people accept it as a given. Pointing out that the mainstream media have other biases---speed, scandal, negativity, sexiness, the establishment----he notes that the right wing media not only have a bias but an agenda, and in fact serve as an “adjunct of the Republican Party.”
He discusses “The Blame-America’s-Ex-President-First Crowd,” and provides evidence of the accomplishments of the Clinton administration. The chapter titled “Who Created the Tone?” starts off this way: “’Scumbag,’ ’sociopath,’ ’perpetual preener,’ ’rapist,’ ’unserious,’ ’craven miscreant.’ Sound like anyone you know? Actually, it was the forty-second President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who was called all of these things.”
And despite the current President’s promise to change the tone in Washington, Franken notes that “the right, by contrast, appears to have a well-oiled puppy mill for pit bulls, bred to kill and trained to go for the jugular.” He then discusses the Bush campaign’s use of push polls to spread lies about John McCain during the 2000 South Carolina primary.
Like the Saturday Night Live skits Franken once wrote, a couple of the 43 chapters don’t work. There are too many four-letter words, but the depth of “TeamFranken’s” reporting on the misinformation spread about Senator Paul Wellstone’s funeral, the Bush administration’s lack of interest in terrorism prior to 9/11 (“Operation Ignore”) and subsequent farcical war on terrorism, the Bush tax cut, and the administration’s attacks on environmental protection exemplify first rate journalism and analysis.
This is serious business, but in Franken’s comedically experienced hands it makes for wickedly funny, biting satire. While I was filled with rage as I often am at the Republican Party’s so-called conservatives’ concerted attempt to undermine the American way of life, I laughed out loud…a lot. A book that can make me angry while simultaneously making me laugh is one that gets my highest recommendation.
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