Al Franken understands the role of showmanship in politics. In
his new book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” he takes on
the biggest showmen in the business: Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity
and even the president. But in crafting the story behind the book –
the triumph of free speech over Fox News Channel’s threats to sue
for slander – Franken has used the rumor mill of media for his own
good. He has engineered his own buzz, sending his book to the top
of the bestseller list for three weeks now.

Kate Green
(Courtsey of E P Dutton)
I refuse to beat myself up. I am an attractive person. I am fun to be with.

But “Lies” has enough incisive content to stand on its own. It
is incredibly up to date – guiding readers from the 2000 election
to the current debate on weapons of mass destruction – it is fact
checked by 14 Harvard University students, and most importantly,
it’s funny.

At times, it is even disturbing, as in the account of Bill
O’Reilly’s sexual suspense thriller “Those Who Trespass,” a novel
that is more ambitious than Ludacris’ Word of Mouf album: “While
Ludacris, like O’Reilly, enjoys describing oral sex scenes, there
are none on his album involving a teen crack whore.”

Franken fills his pages with small facts like these, choosing to
tear down today’s religious ideologies, sexual hypocrites and
chickenhawk patriots with whatever he can conjure. At his worst,
Franken pulls the reader into forgettable, petty squabbles. At his
best, he transcends the fray and provides firm maxims like
“Conservatives … love America like a child loves their mommy,” or
his analysis of media bias: “Politics – no liberal bias … The
Funnies – funny bias, or in the case of Family Circus, funny and
heartwarming bias.”

Unlike his enemies, Franken can fall back on a humble crutch:
“I’m a comedian.” But strangely, this “funny bias” does not prevent
him from being excessively partisan. He praises the Clinton
administration for the longest period of economic growth in
American history, for reducing crime rates, for suggesting the
homeland security plan implemented after 9/11 and for sustaining
“the greatest president of the twenty-first century.” One problem
with comedians is you can’t tell when they’re joking.

Franken makes some very far-reaching arguments in his book. He
warns of the power exerted by Rupert Murdoch, the world’s most
powerful media mogul, and by Clear Channel Communications. He
addresses exploitation in the third world, the tightening grip of
corporate hegemons and the active misinformation campaigns of this
administration. But too often, he brings the debate back to the
most simplistic and irrelevant question: Clinton vs. Bush.

Still, “Lies” is important for its unflinching look at the
conservative elite, whom Franken accuses of propagating “a
worldview designed to comfort the comfortable and further afflict
the afflicted.” Their attitude towards telling lies – that they
must have inherent value if they succeed in the “marketplace of
ideas” – is especially invidious. And judging by book sales,
Americans are eager for some truth.

Rating: 3 stars









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