Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire

When I heard that Al Franken had written a book entitled Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them I thought, finally-here’s that sympathetic biography of the Clintons we’ve all been waiting for. Instead, this is Al Franken’s attempt to join liberal would-be bestsellers like Joe Conason (Big Lies), David Corn (The Lies of George W. Bush), and Thierry Meyssan (9/11: The Big Lie) in the popular new “Lies” section of your favorite book-store. I guess accusing conservatives of being liars is an example of the new, new tone. Then again, at least Al didn’t call anybody a big, fat idiot this time.

Like so many “Saturday Night Live” sketches, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them promises much and delivers little. Plus, for a book with the words “lies”, “lying”, and “liars” in the title it’s remarkably short of each. This book is more like a list of Al’s personal gripes about people like Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity. It’s also got a short “Band of Brothers”-type drama starring Bush and Cheney which I guess was supposed to be funny, a “graphic novel” (i.e., comic book) making fun of Jesus Christ, and a one-act play about a sad, low-income waitress. Plus the usual chapters about himself and his family Al puts in most of his books. These aren’t really funny, but they’d come in mighty handy if you were ever a contestant on Jeopardy and the category was “Al Franken Trivia.”

The “lies” in this book mostly fall into one of three categories. The first in which Al’s “facts” from unimpeachable sources such as People for the American Way or a Paul Krugman column are used by Al to rebut facts from sources such as the Heritage Foundation, the Office of Management and Budget, or the Constitution. Like when President Bush said that poor people would benefit most from his tax cut, which was perfectly true when considering the percentage of tax relief and not as true in absolute dollars. Or as Al would say, it’s another one of President Bush’s huge lies.

The other kind of “lies” Al Franken reveals here aren’t lies at all, but simple misstatements. As when Dick Cheney says “row upon row of crosses” to describe Arlington National Cemetery instead of saying “row upon row of headstones with crosses.” Or when Bill O’Reilly said “Peabody Award” when he meant to say “Polk.” Or when Ann Coulter said Newsweek Editor Evan Thomas’s father was a prominent Socialist when it was his grandfather. Does this detract from Coulter’s point? No more than a typographical error would, but, again, Al claims he’s unearthed another gargantuan “lie.”

Finally, Al punctures some stubborn conservative myths, with mixed results. By “mixed” I mean some he debunks poorly, and others not at all. Like the “myth” of the liberal media, which he casually dismisses based on a single analysis (his!) of a single event (Election 2000) by a single left-wing foundation (the Pew Charitable Trusts). Really, Al? That one bogus analysis gets the entire media off the hook?

But this is not to suggest that Lies isn’t full of falsehoods. Problem is, most of the really big, made-from-whole-cloth, Clinton-sized whoppers here are told by Al himself. Like the time he went to Bob Jones University posing as the guardian of an applicant (who really wasn’t applying), hoping the people there would say something stupid or racist (they never did). Or when Al wrote to John Ashcroft (on Harvard stationary) pretending to be writing a book on abstinence and asking the attorney general to share some stories about his single days (not being retarded, Ashcroft didn’t fall for the ruse). Maybe for his next book Al will have David Duke visit a Hebrew school posing as the father of an applicant and see if people there say anything stupid, funny, or just really Jewish-y.

Franken defends these “pranks,” as he calls them, by claiming that he was misleading Ashcroft and the school officials, not his readers. Which is, of course, Al’s biggest lie of all. Because when you write a book named Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them and it contains nothing more than innocent misstatements, factual disagreements, and ungrounded counter-arguments, you’re deliberately misleading anyone foolish enough to buy the book. Which I guess shouldn’t come as such a big surprise coming from Al Franken, who (frequently) calls himself a professional comedian and yet resorts to jokes like, “He [Bill O’Reilly] should be called Bill O’Lie-lly.”