Franken's humor overpowered by cynical Look at the Right

Al Franken is not known for being timid or for shying away from bold statements.

His last political satire, Rush Limbaugh is a
Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, savaged the right-wing talk show host. His current book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, continues on the same trajectory, taking other prominent conservative pundits to task, including Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.

I loved Franken’s Rush Limbaugh book; almost every page made me laugh out loud.
So I was surprised when I read
Lies.

There were hilarious parts, of course; Franken jokes President Bush got gentle treatment from reporters in 2000 because they felt he was no Phi Beta Kappa.

Franken’s subtle humor comes through, too, when he dubs the Bush administration’s inattention to al Qaeda “Operation Ignore.” But he also overreaches in places. He challenges
National Review Editor Rich Lowry to a fight after Lowry said Democrats have sissified politics. Fortunately, Lowry declined. If he had accepted, I’m not sure how two grown men having a fistfight about politics qualifies as humor.

Franken’s tendency to mix fact with fiction also left me wondering sometimes what was true and what wasn’t. For example, he claims that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, after being badgered into disagreeing with President Bush during a Senate hearing, rushed out of the hearing and knocked over veteran reporter Helen Thomas, breaking her hip and jaw.

The other reason Lies is less funny than Rush is that Franken addresses more serious subjects, among them the Sept. 11 attacks, the war in Iraq, the faltering economy and the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.).

But Franken hits his stride in criticizing Republicans and acting as their fact checker. He criticizes conservative commentators, including Christopher Caldwell and Peggy Noonan, for talking about Wellstone’s memorial service on television even though they hadn’t seen it. He ridicules Coulter’s hysterical arguments in her best-selling book Slander, such as her claim that “even Islamic terrorists don’t hate America like liberals do.”

Franken also shreds the right’s contention of a liberal bias in the media. If the media tilted left, he asks, why did George W. Bush get friendlier coverage than Al Gore did in 2000? It’s not because of a conservative bias in the press but because of the pack mentality, he argues.

It’s a sad case that the press relies too often on information spun to help a candidate’s chances without checking it out themselves, Franken writes, as he demonstrates how much Bush has done to worsen the tone in Washington rather than improve it, as he famously promised during his campaign.

I’m glad Franken wrote
Lies, if only to even out the political debate. Coulter’s new book, Treason, is high on the New York Times best-seller list — but not as high as Franken’s, which leads it — and O’Reilly has a new book coming out in the fall. Besides Franken, Michael Moore is the only other author successfully making the case for the left.

But I worry that such cynical books by Franken and other partisan authors, while entertaining, will turn off voters from politics. If they read
Lies, they’ll think all Republicans are scum; if they read Coulter’s book, they’ll think all Democrats are evil. That may make the Frankens and Coulters a lot of money, but it means politicians are less likely to put aside their differences and work toward solutions.

And that’s truly unfunny.