Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them)--A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right
By Al Franken
Dutton, New York, NY
This is Al Franken's fifth book, and given the title it should come as no surprise that it was already the subject of a lawsuit before it was actually available for purchase. It seems that Fox News took exception to the use of the phrase "fair and balanced" in the subtitle, a phrase that Fox shamelessly uses to describe its news coverage. The judge threw the case out on grounds that Franken was using satire in a manner protected by the First Amendment.
People with a sense of humor (even some Republicans) will find this book very entertaining, but this is almost a weakness of the book. The irreverent approach and name calling of well known conservatives will make it very easy for those same conservatives to dismiss this book. I point this out because in the writing of Lies, Franken made a decision not to repeat a weakness of his bestselling book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, the fact that it didn't really have any sources or notes to support his assertions. In part inspired by Ann Coulter's misuse of notes in her books, and probably because with the title he chose his book will undergo immense factual scrutiny by conservatives, Franken includes many notes and sources in Lies and had 14 undergraduate and graduate students at Harvard research and fact-check this book. I actually started to check some of his references (they were legit) until it occurred to me that I didn't have to. If he made any factual errors I'm sure some conservative pundit will be on TV screaming, "SEE! Franken's the liar!" Then again, they'll probably say that anyway.
The book covers a lot of ground, so after a short chapter discussing the media and its failures, he gets right down to business with two chapters on Ann Coulter ("Ann Coulter: Nutcase", and "You Know Who I Don't Like? Ann Coulter"). His long list of targets also includes Bernie Goldberg, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Jerry Falwell. He analyzes the theory that the American media is liberal, digs into the differences between what George W. Bush says and what he does, and revisits the topic of conservative draft-dodgers he started in Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, including a prequel to the "Operation Chickenhawk" story from that book. I also highly recommend the chapters on "Supply Side Jesus" and "Vast Lagoons of Pig Feces: The Bush Environmental Record". Lies also includes something you will probably never see in a book written by one of his political opponents--an admission that he made a mistake. Franken and one of his research assistants decided to play a joke on Bob Jones University, and he admitted to feeling guilty about it.
Overall I found this to be an entertaining book. It was mostly funny, occassionally hilarious, and I would have found it informative had I not already been familiar with much of the factual content. Being an independent voter* I can't be sure, but the appeal of this book will probably follow party lines in the United States, and will have only limited interest to the rest of the world.
*Due to its closed primary system, I am technically a Republican according to the state of Illinois. That's fine with me, it means the Republicans waste a lot of money mailing me reality-free leaflets on how their opponents are enemies of America. Next year I may give the Democrats the same opportunity.