Review

Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

by Al Franken



There's nothing more dangerous than an idea --- particularly when
you only have one.

Right now, there are a bunch of Americans who have reduced a richly
complex philosophy called conservativism to one ugly idea. That is
to win. Crush. Destroy.

Al Franken, bless him, has stepped forward to take these so-called
conservatives on, one by one.

He starts with Ann Coulter, the leader of the pack. In case you
don't watch cable, she's against liberals, Democrats, most of the
media. They're all traitors, every last one of them.

This is very difficult to prove, given that it's a crazy idea. So
Coulter has to lie (or, to take the charitable view, be the most
incompetent person ever to graduate from a good law school). She
says it took the New York Times two days to put the death of
blue-collar hero Dale Earnhardt on the front page. Nonsense, says
Franken --- and he shows you a picture of the Times front page the
day after Earnhardt died, with a big circle around the piece.
Better, he exposes how Coulter confuses quotations with
endorsements. (What Coulter does is like Bill Nobody writing in
Bookreporter, "John Grisham is, for my money, the worst novelist
alive," and you telling friends, "Bookreporter says Grisham sucks."
Nothing of the kind. Unless you think quoting someone is endorsing
him --- an idea taught in no journalism school I've ever heard
of.)

One good reason to buy this book: Franken holds Coulter to the
standards of her profession. So far, she hasn't thanked him for
that. Or commented at all. (But don't we breathlessly await her
response?)

Then there's Bill O'Reilly. Alone among mortals, he lives in the
penthouse of the tower of truth. He never makes mistakes.

With a bully like O'Reilly, refutation is easy. He said he won a
prestigious journalism award. So Franken looked up the award and
found that, no, he didn't. The show he was on did win another
award, though --- the year after he left. Or his childhood home.
O'Reilly has sworn it's Levittown, New York, a working class
suburb. In fact, he grew up in nearby Westbury. (Source: O'Reilly's
mom. Franken looked up an article that quoted her.) Confronted with
the truth, O'Reilly lied again, insisting he grew up in "the
Westbury section of Levittown." Alas, that doesn't exist.

Summary won't do justice to Franken's demolition of Fox's Sean
Hannity. So rush out to a bookstore and read pages 85-87 for his
confrontation with Hannity, whose allegiance to Rush Limbaugh is so
great that he makes himself look like a total idiot. This passage
ends with a side-splitting "tribute" to Alan Colmes, Hannity's
"liberal" sidekick, and all the odd jobs he does at Fox (in
addition to being trounced by Hannity on a daily basis).

Which brings me to the big difference between screamers like
Coulter/O'Reilly and Saturday Night Live grads like Franken:
Franken's book is downright funny. Here, you might almost want to
make the case that "liberals" are funnier than "conservatives."
Because unless you're really, really political, you'll giggle when
you read that O'Reilly's new book is LIVING WITH HERPES and
Coulter's is THE SLANDER DIET. And you'll smile knowingly at
Franken's take on the Bush response to terrorism: "At the orange
level, the second-highest level of alert, people are still
encouraged to go to the mall. At the red level, the highest state
of alert, the President suggests that you stay away from public
places and instead shop online."

Along the way, Franken makes some serious points. If the press is
so liberal, why did it kick Gore around? What were the 18 months of
Monicagate about? No, if the press has a bias, he says, it's for
profits. He compares conservatives to four-year-olds who blindly
love Mommy and think anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad; liberals,
in comparison, "love America like grown-ups." He examines media
coverage of Sen. Paul Wellstone's memorial service to show how Rush
(of course), Peggy Noonan (surprised me) and Tucker Carlson (ditto)
didn't do their homework and, with no apparent concern, repeated a
libelously slanted account of that event. And he wonders why real
conservatives who abhor the culture of hate in the media don't
speak out against the Coulters and O'Reillys.

The bad news: Along the way, Franken delivers a lot of stuff that's
just…filler. A ten-page cartoon about "Supply Side Jesus"
isn't funny. Neither is a ten-page one-act play. His encounter with
Barbara Bush is six pages, but it also feels like ten. And I get a
little tired of Franken squabbling with O'Reilly.

On the other hand, that jawing made O'Reilly crazy. And it's
probably the reason that Fox News sued Franken and his publisher
for violating its "fair and balanced" trademark. As everybody now
knows, Fox not only got laughed out of court, but the
pre-publication publicity pushed Franken's book to #1 on Amazon.com
and sent his publisher back to press.

So much for O'Reilly never making a mistake.

In our daily lives, when we run into someone who is always angry
and insists on simple answers to complex questions and lies a lot,
we tend to think, "Wow, this person is in a lot of pain. He/she is
acting out all over the place. He/she needs help."

In book publishing, when an editor runs into someone like that,
he/she gets a fat book contract.

Which means we can expect more and more "conservative" books that
rant and rave but never quite tell us how we're going to get our
jobs back or pay for our retirement or make peace in the Middle
East.

Which means that more and more "liberals" will be writing books
like Franken's --- books that have some verifiable facts, books
that offer the occasional solution, books that even have a bit of
humor. How will the so-called conservatives respond? Take a wild
guess: They'll go on the attack. Says Franken, "I don't want to
make it personal, and Bill O'Reilly really has. He's gone after me
and said I'm a smear artist. He has not pointed out one thing I've
said that isn't true."

Don't stay up waiting for O'Reilly to do that. But do catch Franken
as he takes his victory-lap tour around the country. Because,
whether you agree with him or not, at least he'll give you a laugh.
And these days, we can sure use one.



Al Franken is the Spongebob Squarepants of the radical left.
Outside of the obvious physical resemblance, Franken has other
characteristics in common with the cartoon character. He is almost
competent at what he does, has an over-inflated value of his
self-importance, and is all too frequently given over to mindless
bleeting when upset. The comparison is probably a bit harsh, and
it's an unintended insult to Spongebob that my five-year-old
daughter probably won't forgive. It is, however, true --- unlike 99
percent of what is in Franken's new book, LIES: AND THE LYING LIARS
WHO TELL THEM.

Franken spent two decades writing tedious skits for Saturday
Night Live
, providing mildly interesting fodder to fill up the
space between "Weekend Update" and the second performance of
whatever group happened to be on that week. In 1995 Franken's
request to host the "Weekend Update" segment was denied; he drove
off in a cherry-red, four-door snit and began writing books with
mixed success. LIES, his latest, is going to be wildly popular,
like one of his books, but ultimately is largely forgettable, like
all of his books.

LIES and the majority of Franken's skits for Saturday Night
Live
have a number of things in common: they have an air of
"Oh, aren't I clever" about them that suffocates whatever humor
might otherwise have been found; they go on (and on) for far too
long; and ultimately, aren't funny. While LIES purports to be
satire (particularly when the author is the subject of a trademark
infringement suit), satire is supposed to be funny. LIES isn't.
Actually, that's not quite accurate. There's an unintentionally
hilarious picture of Franken and John Glenn, with both gentlemen in
flight gear. Glenn, you will recall, was a combat pilot and
astronaut who valiantly distinguished himself in service to his
country until he sustained a head injury as the result of slipping
in his bathtub. The head injury precluded the furtherance of his
military career; he was, however, able to go on to become one of
Ohio's most liberal senators. Franken's unfortunate picture with
Glenn should be captioned "One is a little smarter than the
other."

Other than that miscue, there are --- to be fair --- a couple of
real yucks and one genuine HOO HEE! to be found in LIES. The yucks
are located at the very beginning and at the very end of LIES,
while the genuine HOO HEE! is found in a chapter titled "Five
Get-Rich-Quick Tips the Wall Street Fat Cats Don't Want You to
Know." The reader gets dry-gulched in between. When you drive
through Nevada, you'll occasionally see a sign that says "Last
gas/water/slot machines for two hundred miles." There should be a
similar warning in LIES, something along the order of "Last
interesting text for 150 pages." It would help.

Franken did not write LIES by himself. To his credit, Franken
generously distributes the blame. LIES was written with
TeamFranken, and Franken graciously pictures the group and
introduces them, telling us enough about each one so we know that,
while fine people they may be, we will never have any of them over
for a barbecue. TeamFranken is in actuality a group of 14 students
from Harvard or the Harvard Kennedy School of Government who were
loaned to Franken from the schools gratis for the sole purpose of
writing LIES.

This would not be worth mentioning --- not even if I really
expected that, in some alternate universe, Harvard would lend R.
Emmett Tyrell a group of munchkins for the purpose of writing a
tome on, say, William Clinton --- except for one point. In a
chapter entitled "Fun With Racism," Franken attempts to impute some
sort of anti-black attitude to the Republican Party by stating that
only eight percent of blacks voted for George Bush in the 2000
election. Franken doesn't note where he gets that statistic; my
guess is that he pulled it out of his a--...er, left ear. But let's
assume, arguendo, that it's accurate. Now let's take a look
at the picture of TeamFranken. Hmmm. A bunch of white kids. Well,
there's one person who may be of Indian descent, but that doesn't
count. And Team Franken is 80 percent male, to boot. Now let's
apply Franken's racial quota standard. The Republican Party
actually comes out quite well. Gee Al, couldn't you find any black
students who met your exacting standards? And why so few women? Was
Shirley Lee busy that weekend? Was Angela Davis attending a Herbert
Marcuse convention? I really want to know!

But in the words of those wacky kids who want to subvert our
government, let's move on. The tone of LIES is generally
mean-spirited. That's no surprise since Franken is mean-spirited,
as in foaming at the mouth mean-spirited. Fair enough. Ann Coulter
has a take-no-prisoners approach, as does Bill O'Reilly. James
Carville isn't called the Ragin' Cajun for his diplomacy. Franken,
however, puts one in the mind of the grade school kid --- every
class has at least one --- who will dance around people, attempting
to provoke a fight, and who after getting socked in the jaw
complains that he was only kidding while congratulating himself on
how clever he is. The tone I get from Franken's work, however, is
that he's not so much passionate about his cause as he is ...
jealous.

Almost all of the people who are the subject of his attacks ---
Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and even fellow lefty
Alan Colmes --- have their own television and/or radio shows.
Franken, on the other hand, can't even get a lousy 10-minute
segment on "Weekend Update" at 12:15 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I
mean, no wonder Franken is bitter! Televangelists do better! Nope.
Franken, like our misbegotten schoolkid, is just jealous and is
trying for a bit of attention. He is neither kidding nor funny. He
tries to be. Take the little comic book story included in LIES
entitled "The Gospel of Supply Side Jesus." The problem with this
little screed isn't just that it proceeds from an incorrect
premise; it's that it keeps reaching for a laugh that isn't there.
I WANTED the thing to be funny. I mean Franken calls himself a
satirist, but he is a satirist in the same way that my 5'7',
200-pound self is a basketball player. He keeps coming up too
short, and too heavy.

Well then, if Franken flunks as a satirist, how is he as a writer?
He is very well-schooled at the art of misdirection. He is so
slippery, in fact, that you would think he dips his word processor
in Astro-Glide before he commits thought to paper. As a result, you
have to watch Franken on two occasions: 1) when he is speaking
specifically and 2) when he is being generally. Otherwise you don't
have to read him too closely. There are examples of both sprinkled
liberally (heh heh) throughout the 379 pages of LIES. I'm not going
to cover them all (maybe I'll write a book someday entitled THE
TRUTH ABOUT 'LIES') but I'll cover a couple.

The first concerns Matt Drudge. Franken accuses Drudge of lying
about an incident that took place at the 2003 White House
Correspondent's Dinner. According to Franken, Drudge saw Franken
prior to the dinner. Franken at that point was bleeding from the
chin due to a shaving nick. He subsequently roamed the banquet
hall, picking fights, and was involved in several verbal
altercations with Alan Colmes, Karl Rowe, and Paul Wolfinitz, among
others (please see my comment about the grade school kid,
above).

Franken takes issue with the following quote from newsmax.com:
"According to Internet Scribe Matt Drudge, when witnesses spotted
the liberal ranter later he was bleeding from the chin." Franken
takes pains to note that Drudge saw Franken before the dinner and
concludes, "(t)hese guys love to lie." Drudge, however, did not
report that he himself saw Franken bleeding "later" but that
witnesses saw it. Given that Franken was by his own account
wandering about arguing with people, it is entirely possible that
1) the scab from the shaving nick broke open ("the lip is connected
to the chin bone, the chin bone's connected to the jaw bone...")
and 2) people noticed it. Franken doesn't deny it. He connects the
dots, but he does it in Z to B to C fashion. And for all of his
faults, he is too intelligent for this to be anything other than a
deliberate effort to mislead. Remember, the name of the book is
LIES: AND THE LYING LIARS WHO TELL THEM. Franken's picture is the
largest one on the cover, and it's not just because he wrote the
book.

Yet another item of interest is that Franken accuses Fox News
Channel of harboring a right wing bias and of protecting President
George Bush. In fact, Franken's misappropriation of FNC's "Fair and
Balanced" trademark as a subtitle for LIES resulted in FNC reacting
in a silly manner by actually suing Franken over it, an act that
undoubtedly gave Franken the most self-satisfaction he's had since
the last time he retired to the restroom with the latest copy of
The Nation clutched in his sweaty little hand.

There's one problem, though. Remember the story concerning W's
drunk driving arrest in the 1970s --- the one that broke just a few
days before the 2000 election? Well, gee, that story was broken by
... Fox News. Franken even notes that in passing, but fails to
connect the dots. Is that how Fox News protects George Bush? If
Rupert Murdoch ever starts hawking home protection systems as a
sideline business, count me out. I'll continue to rely on my
12-gauge and my beagle.

Franken was recently interviewed for an article about LIES in the
August 28, 2003 edition of the Washington Post. Franken was
quoted as stating, "First of all, I'm funny, it's done for comedic
purpose. And I don't lie." First of all, he is funny, but only
rarely. My five-year-old daughter tells better jokes. So does
Spongebob, by the way. Secondly, he's not doing it for comedic
purpose. He's just jealous. And with respect to Franken's statement
that he doesn't lie ... well, he doesn't, at least when his fingers
don't type and his lips don't move.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
by Al Franken

  • Publication Date: July 27, 2004
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Plume
  • ISBN-10: 0452285216
  • ISBN-13: 9780452285217