Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken
Publisher: Plume
Year: 2004
Pages: 448

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.

§3617 · February 28, 2009 · Tags: , , , , , , ·

5 Comments to “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them”

  1. ffanatic says:

    I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to pass "kidding on the square" into the American lexicon, as Franken so desired in the book. As you said, I think that phrase sums up the book the best., be it for good or ill.

  2. Jeff says:

    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.

    Don’t forget Fox’s lawsuit. I think FNC can credibly claim they made Franken into a star. Not that they’d want to, of course.

  3. Ben says:

    I think conservatives still have yet to learn that loudly denouncing something will almost inevitably make it popular. Or rich.

  4. ffanatic says:

    Indeed. There really is no such thing as bad publicity.

  5. Conor says:

    I remember reading this when it came out and liking it a lot. Embarrassingly, it more or less served as a who’s who for conservative punditry to me. So isolated was I that most of the names, while vaguely familiar, had neither face nor voice in my mind.

    Overall it was a decent read, but I’m these days a bit put off by the fact that to the more conservative leaning, this might look like an Ann Coulter book would to me or you. I’m busier these days with looking for a better way to do things, as thorough and well-researched as this book was.

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