Monday, February 02, 2004

I recently read the hilarious Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right by Al Franken. The book is a criticism of conservative pundits, ranging from Ann Coulter and Bernard Goldberg to the cast of Fox News. In many ways, the book is a sequel to Franken's earlier Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot which attacked the right wing talk show host. Franken is a talented comedian and reading his books is a real pleasure.

That's not to say that I am convinced by everything Franken has to say. Franken would have you believe that his books are satirical, ridiculing the dialogue that permeates the political spectrum. Example: when Franken got into a heated argument with Sean Hannity (who used to work for Rush Limbaugh), he claimed that his ad hominem attack on Limbaugh was justified because it is a ridicule of the kind of attacks that Limbaugh himself makes.

The same argument has been used to shield Franken from criticism of Lies. For example, during an NPR interview Fox News host Bill O'Reilly got into the following exchange with NPR's Terry Gross:

O'Reilly: Why [were you not as tough on Al Franken as you are on me] ?
Terry Gross: Well, Al Franken had written a book of political satire...

The implication is that Franken, as a satirist, should not be subjected to the same rigorous standard. But Franken's books are not works of political satire. They are real -- albeit humorous -- criticisms of Republican methods and ideas. The books do indeed have parts that are genuinly satirical; but these parts make up only a small percentage of the total text. Mainly, the books are full of serious criticisms: Ann Coulter lies, Bernard Goldberg is a disgruntled ex-employee, O'Reilly is a bully who cannot take criticism, the Bush administration squandered the post-9/11 good will.

Yet when someone accuses Franken of going over the top, the response is You just don't get it. Its satire. I can't help but feel its a cheap rhetorical device designed to avoid criticism.


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