Franken takes on media monsters

Book review

Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them): A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, By Al Franken, E.P. Dutton, 377 pp., hardcover, $24.95

Al Franken is back. The comedian and author of the highly successful Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot and Other Obsevations now takes a broader view of right-wing influence in the media and some of the other personalities involved.

Franken’s portrayal and criticism of the influence and distortions of the right media in the U.S. is the basic theme of the book. He explains, “The members of the right-wing media are not interested in conveying the truth.”

Franken also notes how the right media will first concoct an inflammatory story that serves its political ends, then repeat and embellish the story, finally pushing it into the mainstream media where it often becomes the “official” version. He charges that “They used these tactics to cripple Clinton’s presidency. They used them to discredit Gore and put Bush into office. And they’re using them to silence Bush’s critics.”

Fox News Channel, founded in 1996 by rightist billionaire Rupert Murdoch, is a prime mover of right-wing propaganda in the media. Long-time Republican party activist, Roger Ailes, heads Fox’s news operation. Ailes helped elect Nixon, Reagan and Bush, Sr., and has gained the reputation in various circles as “the Dark Prince of right-wing attack politics.” He has also been known as a creator of the Willie Horton attack ads against Michael Dukakis.

PWW readers who regularly view cable television (which reaches 70 percent of U.S. households) will recognize some of the right-wing talk show hosts made famous by Fox News Channel. One of them, Bill O’Reilly, or “Bill O’Lie-lly” as Franken calls him, is an accomplished artist at verbally bashing, outtalking, interrupting, and putting down many of his liberal and progressive guests.

Franken describes the behind-the-scenes threats O’Reilly made to one of his guests, Jeremy Glick, last February. Franken also discusses the contractual lack of debate on the left/right “debate” show, “Hannity and Colmes.”

Franken’s nearly 30-page description of the memorial service for the late Senator Paul Wellstone is a very moving part of his work. Franken grew up in Minnesota, and.his parents knew Wellstone and worked on his campaigns. Franken describes how two minor events at the service: a single political eulogy and Governor Jesse Ventura’s walkout (after three hours at the service) were turned into a major propaganda story for the right-wing media

Since this review can only touch upon a small part of Franken’s book, I have to adivise readers of some of my concerns. First, is Franken’s admission of support for the invasion of Iraq, and probably worse, was his participation in a pro-war rally sponsored by Clear Channel, a conglomerate of 1,200 radio stations that pushed a strong pro-war agenda. Franken especially regrets the rally participation, which he explains as a family decision that was based on an honest fear of weapons of mass destruction.

Second, Franken also announces his support for free trade, but at times it is hard to determine whether his support is real, facetious, or just plain selfish. He says he is “pro-NAFTA, pro-GATT, and pro-fast track authority” as long as his job is not at risk for exportation. In other words, he’s not worried about being replaced by a comedian from a developing country.

Overall, the book is worth reading, but the progressive readership of this paper will probably take issue with some of Franken’s views. His portrayal of right-wing media influence, personalities, and even institutions (including a guided tour of Bob Jones University), as well as a lot of laughs, make the book worth reading. If you can afford the book, buy it, or ask your local library to order it.

Al Olson(pww@pww.org)