Book Review: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
By Scott Spicciati Editor | More Book Reviews
May 20, 2005

One must view the title to Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right with a bit of skepticism, considering Mr. Franken isn't exactly holding himself to the standards he sets for pundits like Ann Coulter, actually falling well below them. Consider the title of Franken's last book: "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot" (admittedly designed to sell more books). As far as personal attacks go, Franken reigns king. That he distorts the images of his targets on the cover of his book suggests that the satirical comedian hasn't grown up much since the days of Stewart Smallie.

So this is it? This is the answer liberals have for all those right-wing bestsellers day in and day out on the charts? If you have a hard time finding any substance in those books then good luck coming out with anything that holds water in Lies and the Lying Liars.

Among the many conservatives in the crosshairs, Ann Coulter gets the honor of having two chapters (2 & 3) of 43 written exclusively about her, but combined they only make up 15 pages out of the nearly-400 page book. You'd expect someone without enough dirt on a character who graces the cover of your book to get more than 15 pages, unless her image is yet another selling strategy for Franken. The first "lie" Franken debunks of Coulter's is the "Dale Earnhardt death" story, in which Coulter wrote in her book Slander: "It took The New York Times two days to deem Earnhardt's death sufficiently important to mention it on the first page."

And sure enough, Franken provides a photocopy of the front page from the day after the accident. A story is mentioned about Earneardt's death. Score one point for Franken.

Technically, Ann Coulter was wrong. But consider how the Times went about reporting it giving it the vague title: "Stock Car Star Killed on Last Lap of Daytona 500." Nowhere in the article is Earnhardt's name mentioned and it's not the first story you see when you pick up the paper. It's actually buried under other articles with titles like: "A Message in Eroding Glacial Ice: Humans Are Turning Up the heat," "Clinton's Defense of Pardons Brings Even More Questions," "Beneath New Surface, an Undertow," "In Layoff Plans, Reality is Often Less Severe in U.S.," and "Pakistani Tale of Drug Addict's Blasphemy." In the bottom right corner of the paper, next to an article about the death of an expert on sex, is where you will find the Earnhardt piece. Most newspapers dedicated the top-half of the front page to the accident, and used Earnhardt's name in the title, whereas the Times placed it under six articles in a corner next to another one. Hardly fair treatment.

Coulter later corrected the mistake in her syndicated column, but she should have elaborated the point she was making the whole time which was that the Times is out of step with the mainstream public. NASCAR has been gaining popularity and is followed by many Americans. When Earnhardt died, the story took up the large part of the entire front page on most newspapers, but not the Times which didn't even have the decency to use his name.

That would be similar to Tiger Woods dying and the front page headline reading: "Golf Star Killed in…." under six other stories and next to another one about a sex expert. We wouldn't expect a "Basketball Star Killed…" if the person was someone like Michael Jordan.

Continuing, Franken rants about how Coulter lies through her use of footnotes, which are really called endnotes, making Coulter's first lie being that she calls her endnotes footnotes. Another great lie you found, Mr. Franken.

Chapter 14, "Hannity and Colmes" has a little more substance to it. "H&C" is really Sean Hannity's show, with Alan Colmes being nothing more than a guest host. Franken rips into Hannity's book, "Let Freedom Ring," proving how deceptive and untruthful the right-winger's tactics are. He starts by presenting a graphic used in Hannity's book, and then presents the portion of the chart Hannity conveniently left out that would have contradicted his points. Finally a good distortion. Why wasn't Hannity on the cover then?

Franken's analysis of Alan Colmes is even better than his co-partner. Every time Alan Colmes is mentioned in the book, the font used to spell his name is reduced by at least one half, indicating that Colmes is obviously the weaker of the two and more independent than liberal which puts stronger emphasis on the conservative side. Anyone who watches the show on Fox knows that Colmes is given multiple opportunities to counter Hannity's arguments, but usually lets it go. When interviewing conservative guests he allows Hannity to strengthen his/her position while he often asks such questions as, "What lines in Bush's speech do you think will live on in the public memory," instead of pointing out errors and untrue statements. This isn't so much an attack on Colmes the person than it is Colmes the ideologue compared to Hannity.

A theme repeatedly mentioned is that there is a bias in the media, but it's a conservative one. Franken targets Bernard Goldberg, author of "Bias," and tells of the time when he got Goldberg to admit that he lied about some of his facts. It's a better story than the one on O'Reilly and Coulter, but it doesn't mean Goldberg's book and career were completely fabricated. Not a single statistic is reprinted suggesting anything about the media being conservative, so all we have to go on are the assertions of Franken. To believe the media is actually conservative would be down right foolish.

Ironically, Franken admits in his book that he's got a credibility issue with some people because of the way he inserts jokes into his commentary. And I'll admit the guy can be funny at times when he injects humor into his writing.

Most of the time you know when he's not being serious, yet often you have to think twice about a point being true or not. In one chapter, he writes about a non-existent conversation he had with Kenneth Lay, the former CEO of Enron, and it's quite long. Funny, yes, but long and untrue.

That's not the only time. In his weak chapter on Ann Coulter he writes: "Even people Coulter considers friends say she's 'a lying b*tch'"1 Also that she's "a horror show of epic proportions."2 At the bottom of the page his footnotes for 1 and 2 will read: myself; my wife. Hardy har har. Franken's vulgar style allows him to freely use four letter words--not that they offend me -- which is something I'm not used to considering I read a majority of conservative authors with "moral values," and it doesn't help his reputation which often labels him neurotic and impossible to debate with. He spends a good time saying how no civil person could argue with Ann Coulter yet he often uses the f-word to make a point. Look who's not being civil now.

Lies is an empty book that stretches beyond reason to make a few decent points. In the end I ask myself - does he prove a bunch of conservatives are nothing but liars? I have to say no. I think he actually helps Ann Coulter prove her own points, and the treatment of O'Reilly is just unfair. Whether it's distorting his image, calling him "splotchy" in the chapter titles or saying he won a Peabody instead of a Polk or the other way around, his dirt doesn't justify his assault.

Liberals will cherish Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right because it is a rare runaway breakthrough on the New York Times Bestsellers List usually reserved for conservatives. Not that I give too much credit to Franken, after all his book got an enormous amount of free publicity, press coverage and more advance reviews than the average conservative bestseller. Again, Franken helps Coulter prove another point which she goes into greater detail in the antithesis of Franken's book, Slander.

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