Three Little Words: Fox News Sues
Published on Tuesday, August, 12, 2003 by the Washington Post
Three Little Words: Fox News Sues
by Lisa de Moraes

Fox News Channel has sued Al Franken and his publishing house to stop them from using the expression "fair and balanced" in the title of his upcoming book.

"Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" is due out next month from Dutton, a unit of Penguin Group.

But Fox News, in a trademark infringement lawsuit filed in Manhattan, claims that it registered the expression "fair and balanced" in 1998. Franken and Penguin, the suit claims, are trying to exploit the trademark to boost sales.

In its fair and balanced way, Fox News refers in its suit to Franken as an "unstable" and "shrill" "C-level commentator" who is "not a well-respected voice in American politics."

The attorneys do concede that Franken "achieved some renown as a comedy writer in the 1970s when he worked for the television program 'Saturday Night Live' " but add he since "has attempted to remake himself into a political commentator" and "is neither a journalist nor a television news personality." (Note the distinction being made between "journalist" and "television news personality.")

"His views lack any serious depth or insight," Fox News sniffed for good measure.

And in its fair and balanced way, the suit filed by Fox News refers to Fox News Channel as that "world famous" cable channel.

The biggest star in the FNC firmament, Bill O'Reilly is, according to the suit, "a national celebrity."

The suit also takes issue with the preliminary cover of Franken's book, which, the attorneys charge, resembles the cover of an O'Reilly book called "The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life."

The use of "fair and balanced" in the title and the resemblance of the cover to the O'Reilly book is "likely to cause confusion among the public about whether Fox News has authorized or endorsed the book and about whether Franken is affiliated with FNC." They are referring, of course, to the large segment of the population that still counts with its toes.

Franken could not be reached for comment yesterday but his publishing outfit could:

"It is extraordinary that one of the largest media corporations would take such action," Dutton responded late yesterday via a rep. "In trying to suppress Al Franken's book [Fox News Channel owner] News Corporation is undermining the First Amendment principles that protect all media, guaranteeing a free, open and vigorous debate of public issues. The attempt to keep the public from reading Franken's message is un-American and runs contrary to everything this country stands for."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company