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Franken's Book Bravely Presents the Truth
Published on Sunday, September 21, 2003 by the St Paul Pioneer Press (Minnesota)
Franken's Book Bravely Presents the Truth
by Deborah Locke

At least two sections of Al Franken's book ought to grab the attention of people from Minnesota. In "Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them — A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right," Franken recounts the Paul Wellstone memorial. The chapter is a good example of the way right-wing pundits aided by their media outlets will distort the facts to the American people. A more chilling theme throughout the book is the way mainstream media organizations buy into the lies and report them as fact. In short, while Democrats grieved in October, Republicans handled. You know the outcome.

The other section — and I call them sections because the book is strangely organized — contains Franken's shrewd analysis of the Clinton administration's anti-terror program and the Bush administration's indifference to it once Bush took office. Franken does what no journalist or political analyst that I'm aware of has done — connected the pieces into a troubling whole.

So far I may have given the impression that the book is a ponderous policy analysis. But come on. Most of you out there know Al Franken — Minnesota-raised and a former Saturday Night Live writer and performer. Consequently the ample data in the book is balanced with biting, laugh-out-loud humor.

The book got its start when Franken became disenchanted with what he viewed as gross distortions from right-wing pundits whose comments fed right-wing news outlets, like the Fox network and the Washington Times. He began to see patterns of sheer nonsense reported as fact, such as stories that Al Gore "invented" the Internet.

Meanwhile, an intimidated and terrified mainstream press bought and still buys into the lies. For example, newspapers and broadcasters throughout the country merrily swallowed press secretary Ari Fleischer's reports of "vandalism" by departing Clinton White House staffers. (Guess what. It never happened.)

The lies take on a life of their own to a point where a largely innocent and moving event, like the Sen. Wellstone memorial, become tinged with disrepute. The Wellstone chapter describes "a story of pure cynicism in the pursuit of power," Franken wrote. "It is the story of how the lying liars took the death of my friends and invented a myth that changed the 2002 elections."

Franken, who knew Wellstone well, attended the memorial organized by the family members of those who died. He repeats parts of the three hours of moving tributes, including those of Mark Wellstone and David McLaughlin. Franken described Rick Kahn's eulogy for Wellstone as "dead-on" at the start. However, Kahn's emotional plea to Republicans to support Walter Mondale was "bizarre," wrote Franken.

Republicans pounced. Former Republican Congressman Vin Weber told the Star Tribune that the "memorial" was instead a "political event," and an "absolute sham." Republican policy analyst Sarah Janacek told reporters that the audience was prompted by screen messages on when to laugh and clap. (The screens provided closed captioning for the hearing impaired.)

The next day 20 million listeners heard Rush Limbaugh describe the memorial as a "sham" and "disgusting," with a "planted audience." On CNN's Crossfire, Tucker Carlson called the memorial "nauseating" and "hijacked by partisan zealots," even though he didn't watch it. Christopher Caldwell with the Weekly Standard called the memorial "twisted, pagan, childish, inhumane and even totalitarian."

Pagan? Totalitarian?

Franken wrote, "Once the right wing had created its myth about what had happened, it became a lot easier to report the distortion than to report the truth." He concluded that the right, not the left, tried to cheapen Wellstone's life by dishonoring his death.

"The right-wing media … seized on an opportunity to use tragedy for political gain. It was Rush, and the Republican Party, and the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal, and Fox — then it was CNN and MSNBC and all the newspapers that wrote hundreds of articles — that got it wrong."

Through a great deal of investigative reporting by Franken's research assistants, "Lying Liars" gets it right. Yes, the "Operation Chickenhawk" chapter read like a bad SNL skit and I skipped the "Supply Side Jesus" comic. However, the book is like the Wellstone memorial in one sense. A small portion is bizarre, but doesn't reflect the whole. Franken does what many in my profession haven't done — present the truth and expose the lying liars.

Copyright 2003 Knight-Ridder


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