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COLUMN

Franken Turns the Tables on the Right

Andrew C. Thomas

I have a confession to make. You see, I claimed in writing (“Parodied? Don’t Panic,” Aug. 25) that a copy of Al Franken’s latest attention-getter, “Lies and the Lying Liars that Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right,” was being mailed to me as I wrote. Well, despite my intention to order the book online, I hadn’t followed through. So there you go; according to some, I might belong in the same group of liars that Franken wants to identify.

Well, almost.

It’s not like I was intentionally trying to deceive anyone with the claim (after all, the next day I bought the book at the Coop); that alone should set me apart from his targets. With his terribly subtle title, Franken is not aiming at those who slip up on occasion (heck, even he did, while writing the book, and he admitted it freely). His campaign is to expose those who deliberately misrepresent and distort the truth for their own purposes. And he starts in style by making the strongest case found between its covers: a thorough yet comical debunking of the tactics and professionalism of Ann Coulter.

By focusing on Coulter first, he also corrects what many see as her biggest offensive weapon: sloppiness, deliberate or otherwise. Franken’s book is very well researched, and it shows; he leaves easy traces so that anyone reading the book can confirm his findings. Or should I say, his group’s findings. For as he freely admits, he didn’t write the book alone. Like any reputable faculty member writing a text (Franken was with Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government at the time), he had the willing assistance of a group of Harvard students, affectionately nicknamed TeamFranken.

Yes, Franken is a comedian, and it doesn’t have the same rigor as a lengthy political essay; but it’s so much easier to read that way. There are passages where laughing out loud is not optional, including a passage where he “interrogates” Newsweek’s Evan Thomas in order to debunk a Coulter claim and put just a little more egg on her professional face.

But what is most amusing about this book is, ironically, not what is inside the pages; it is the almost-predictable reaction from the media. Those who agreed with him laughed out loud; those who didn’t, though, displayed the exact behavior he predicted of them. Internet scoopster Matt Drudge paid special attention to the book in the Drudge Report. As seen on the Web site on Aug. 28, Drudge made mention of three supposed Franken humiliations, all of which he atoned for in the book, and all of which were appropriate for his mission. But what would this be without irony? In true Coulter fashion, Drudge’s story links to each “embarrassment” were reviews with a positive angle and only passing mention to the offenses.

There was also a huff about Franken’s recent appearance on CNN’s Crossfire in a column by Carl Limbacher on NewsMax.com, a noted conservative news site, claiming that Franken was making “baseless complaints” about a right-wing media bias. Oddly enough, a cursory examination of the transcript shows a very concrete base for his claim: studies showing a dominant number of Republican editors and publishers in the press, as quoted by (liberal) guest Joe Conason on the show and by Franken in “Lies.” Limbacher is either a sloppy or dishonest columnist (I’m not sure which). If I’m the first one to point it out, I’ll be amazed.

Of course, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Franken didn’t portray Drudge and NewsMax.com in the best possible light.

Anyone who reads the book, or for that matter, even the first few chapters where Franken establishes his premise, can see that this pursuit is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. He sees it as jujitsu, using the opponent’s own techniques or words against them. Heck, even I can do it with nothing more than Google at my fingertips. Of course, it’s not like it couldn’t have been done before, but Franken just made it a hell of a lot easier, and more fun.

Franken has truly taken a leadership role in making all people accountable for their words and actions, not just on the right wing. And as an added bonus, he just marked a few targets for easy scrutiny for the rest of us. (Al, if you’re reading this, I have to say: for the next printing, pleeeease put in an index. It’ll make your points easier to find when people like me try to fact-check, except, of course, that making points hard to find works so well with the theme of the book.)

Franken has succeeded triumphantly in doing what satirists do, using his jagged sense of humor to do political good and making the opposition feel uncomfortable about it at the same time. Sadly, those who need the advice and technique he dispenses will likely not appreciate it or take it to heart.