It occurred to me recent that I’ve read and reviewed Al Franken’s 2005 The Truth (With Jokes) three times since the start of this meme (1, 2, 3), but never its predecessor, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, which is arguably an even better book.
Conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly hates Media Matters, a website/organization which mostly just documents lies and distortions of conservatives. It’s important to note that there are really no polemics or extended rants of the Ann Coulter variety—the site is, by and large, either transcripts or video clips of the TV appearance/radio show/etc. in question, usually followed by evidence to the contrary. Given O’Reilly’s penchant for dissembling on-air, it is little wonder that he hates them so much.
I tell you this story largely because Franken’s tack in Lies… is along the same lines. Published in 2003, the book takes some shots at the Bush presidency and its major players, but at least half the book is dedicated to notable conservative talking heads such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Bernard Goldberg. Usually, his critiques come in the form of examples from their appearances or written works which contain a lie or distortion, followed either by a factual rebuttal, or—even better—a separate instance from the same pundit where they claimed something entirely different. There is an especially good story about “Billo.”
At the very least, Franken is an excellent researcher and compelling debater. On the other hand, there are some cases in which the book falls flat. First, while it’s usually clear when Franken is joking, his tendency to lurch back and forth between the two is both distracting and detracting—sometimes, he blurs the line with a self-described “kidding on the square,” which means joking, but really meaning it. Perhaps Franken simply jokes so much so that the book doesn’t come off as 400+ pages of froth-flecked attacks. He is vicious and thorough, and didn’t want it to turn into a screed, easy though it would have been. Of course, the unmentioned side effect is it gives Franken a lot of wiggle room.
While Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot was Franken’s first major foray in punditry, I feel as though it was Lies… which really propelled him to pseudo-stardom in this regard. It was after this that he hit the radio scene with the dubious Air America Radio and followed up with another successful book and (looking successful now) Senate campaign in Minnesota. It’s doubtful that you’ll be reading Lies… if you are already left-leaning. It’s not so much a scholarly critique as it is a scathing, comedic, and surprisingly accurate lambasting of conservative pundits and conservatism generally. So, in many respects, it’s preaching to the choir here. Still, it’s an enjoyable book and I recommend it.